Helping Children Deal with Jet Lag

Jet Lag is tiring enough. When children are involved it can be downright exhausting. Use these suggestions to minimize your child’s jet lag.
If you are planning to take your child on a distant trip, you will be dealing with the exhausting ordeal of helping your child adjust to a new time zone. If you have more than one child, the situation can be even more complicated because different children may react differently to time changes, resulting in each child being on different schedules. Here are some tips to help you work through jetlag with your child or children.

Take the First Couple Days Off
The first day or two you will not only be living in a different time zone, you will also be dealing with the exhaustion of missed sleep due to the long flight. Few children sleep well on airplanes, so your child will start off more tired than usual. It’s best to leave the schedule adjustments until the initial exhaustion is under control. Treat the first day or two like you would if you had just brought a new baby home. Sleep whenever you get the chance and give your child a chance to get over that initial fatigue.

Don’t Let Your Child Get Overtired
By the second or third day, you should start trying to adjust your child’s sleeping patterns back to a normal schedule. Do this gently. If your child is staying up most of the night and sleeping in, start by waking your child a few hours earlier. If your child is waking up in the middle of the night, keep the house dark and promote quiet play until a more reasonable hour. You can start the day earlier than normal, but try keep your child quiet as long as possible.

During the day, encourage activities that require some physical activity, but aren’t too exhausting. Outdoor activities are best. If going outside is impossible, try to keep your child in a brightly lit room during the day. This helps change your child’s schedule by exposing your child to adrenaline and sunlight during the day, two things that tell your child’s body it is daytime. If your child gets sleepy during the day, don’t try to keep them awake longer than they want to. Doing this will cause your child to become overtired which will further complicate the change back to a normal schedule. Instead of trying to keep your child awake, shorten daytime sleeping to nothing more than a long nap.

Eat Regular Meals During the Day
An essential step in helping your child adjust is making sure they eat enough during the day so they aren’t as likely to get hungry during the night. A good rule of thumb is to wake your child at each meal time, feed your child, and then promote activity until your child is too tired to stay awake. This should lengthen the amount of time your child stays awake during the day and help them spend more time at night sleeping.

Keep Nighttime Quiet
When normal bedtime arrives, get your child ready for bed using the normal routine and then darken the room and encourage them to stay quiet. If your child is not sleepy provide a dim light and allow them to play with toys quietly. Discourage physically active play that might promote adrenaline. If your child is falling asleep earlier than usual, allow your child to take a nap and then wake them at least an hour before bedtime. This will allow you to follow the usual bedtime routine, signaling to their body that it is time to sleep.

Jetlag can last for up to two weeks; however, your child will most likely adjust within the first week. Be careful not to force anything, either daytime play or nighttime sleep. Your child’s body will naturally adjust to sunlight exposure and nighttime darkness. If you find yourself fighting exhaustion, don’t be afraid to enlist outside help to care for your child while you take a nap. With a little time, both of you will be back on schedule.