Our comprehensive top tips for dealing with jet lag:
The Our Tribe Travels Facebook group regularly receives requests for advice from concerned parents about the dreaded pitfall of jet lag when travelling long haul with kids.
Anyone who has flown with their tribe in tow and experienced a significant shift in daytime patterns will likely have tales to tell of watching foreign language cartoons at ungodly hours, or half-heartedly playing games with spritely toddlers when you are utterly desperate to grab some shut eye.
I can personally recall the joys of constructing Lego sets at 3am in an apartment overlooking Kuala Lumpur, as well as having our son fall asleep on us in San Francisco before we had even got chance to grab food for the evening.
There are split opinions on which direction of flight is most difficult, the consensus tending towards West to East (For example USA to Europe, or Europe to Asia) being the most challenging, the rationale being that staying up later is easier than waking up earlier. As such, both kids and adults may find the adjustment to a new rhythm is regularly achieved in fewer days flying eastward
Whilst believing it is possible to entirely avoid the ravishes of jet lag is, at best, wishful thinking, you can at least mitigate the issue by following these tried and tested tips from the OTT community.
We’ve also interviewed Kate Cohen of Sleep Time Baby, a certified sleep consultant and avid family traveler to get a professional’s take on the unique challenges of overcoming jet lag.
1. Be Prepared
Your tactics for counter acting jet lag begin in the days before your flight.
Mentally accepting that the first few nights are going to be tough going will help you settle in to the new time routine.
If your children are old enough to understand the concept of time zones and the reasons for jet lag, you can set expectations by playing preparatory games, such as, saying “If we are eating breakfast here, what meal will they be eating in “destination”?
If you have a child that is flexible with bedtimes then another useful pre-departure tactic you might employ is to covertly adjust the bedtimes of younger children in the days leading up to a flight. This is not a recommended approach, but we found this could effectively shave two hours of an 8-hour time shift when we regularly travelled between the UK and Malaysia with a toddler. Naughty, but ever so worth it!
2. Choose the right flight
Selecting a flight to ease your family in to the new time routine may help make your children’s jet lag less harsh.
Whenever we fly eastbound on long haul, we will choose an overnight flight if at all possible. Arriving late morning or early afternoon can help chip away at the time shift. Beating jet lag is all about maximising those marginal gains as swiftly as possible.
3. Fight the light
As anyone who has spent a summer at Northern latitudes will know, light can be your worst enemy when trying to get kids to sleep. It can be difficult to convince kids that it’s time to sleep when their bodies are telling them it’s daytime.
During night time, try to darken the room as much as possible to encourage sleeping for longer periods and to assist in falling back to sleep if your child wakes up in the wee hours. Grabbing that extra hour’s nap can make all the difference in avoiding a tiredness-fuelled meltdown at inappropriate times and hours during the first few days of a trip.
Keep light pollution out and if possible use blackout drapes. This trick will also work during the long days of European summer to make the day length fit a newly imposed routine.
Used in the right way, the most powerful tool in helping your little ones adjust to a time differential can also be sunlight.
Exposure to natural light is a proven way to encourage your body clock to adjust. When your mind and body are screaming at you not to leave your room, force yourselves to at least take turns in getting the kids out for a short walk.
The sooner you can get the entire family to adjust to a daylight routine, the better, so try to get everyone up and about earlier than you naturally feel like when having travelled eastward.
When travelling Westward (eg. Europe to USA), it can be tempting to keep a child awake for as long as you can in the hope they will sleep through their first night. Experience tells me that approach rarely works to perfection and one parent will inevitably end up doing a play-shift during the witching hour. Use this strategy sparingly and make the extension gradual, stealing no more than an hour or two over each of the first few nights if possible.
4. Food as fuel
Be conscious of the potential for children to wake due to hunger. If your child’s body is telling you it’s lunch time at 4am it may cause them to wake up and make it challenging to fall asleep again.
Even if they are not hungry, providing kids with something healthy to eat before they retire to bed in a new time zone can encourage them to sleep for a longer period.
5. Ensure a soft landing on arrival
It is wise to avoid immediate plans for onward travel or activity at times when your kids are likely to be exhausted. Tempers can fray when tired so be accepting of each other’s space and needs for rest.
Although your ultimate destination may be tantalizingly near. Taking your time to get there will help make your holiday all the more enjoyable. If you are embarking on a long-term adventure, then relax. You’ve got all the time in the world!
Kate, a sleep expert, shares her advice to minimise jet lag.
Kate runs Sleep Time Baby and is a Certified Sleep Consultant and member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. She works with families all over the world via facetime and skype to offer friendly advice, help and support to identify issues with Childrens sleep and get everyone back on track! Her work covers children from newborns upwards and she believes in an approach that works for the family rather than one size fits all. You can find out more about her here www.sleeptimebaby.co.uk and book a free 15 min call if you would like to chat through anything sleep related or if you are looking for help!