We are all familiar with the term “jet lag”, and know it relates to sleep, but what really is it? How can we reduce the symptoms that affect our children so that traveling the world doesn’t have to be exhausting?
Jet lag occurs when people rapidly travel across time zones and tends to be more severe when the person travels from westward compared to eastward. Jet lag is a physiological condition that affects our body’s circadian rhythms. What the heck does this mean – in laymen’s terms? Think of a 24 hour cycle and the behavior process of our bodies, AKA our body clock. This is driven by an internal time keeping system that regulates our daily activities such as sleep, waking, eating, and body temperature regulation.
Symptoms of jet lag
Everyone assumes that jet lag just affects sleep because your body clock is still on the previous time zone and wants to wake up early in the morning or you struggle to fall asleep before midnight. Other symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Slight confusion
- Some gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea or constipation
Now throw into the mix a child. Whether they are an infant or a 4 year old, most have night and days the right way round from 8 weeks old. They have their nap time and bed time schedules and once they are sleeping through the night, anything from 10+ hours over night. So jet lag will be confusing for them, especially if they have only had 4 hours sleep (if you are lucky) on a night flight and arrive at 8am.
How long can jet lag last?
Experts suggest that jet lag can last one day per hour that you change time zones. So a six hours time difference will take six days to correct itself. Six days in a seven day trip may make you wonder if it is really worth it. Here are some steps to help reduce the symptoms of jet lag so you can get on with enjoying your trip or return to you daily routine when you are home from your vacations.
7 tips when dealing with jet lag in children
1) Dehydration – On the flight get your children to drink lots of liquid, ideally water or milk to help keep them hydrated. It may require lots of trips to the bathroom but then that’s a great way to occupy them for 10 minutes on your flight!
2) Snacks – for the first two days the loss of appetite will affect meal times. Pack all their favorite foods and get them to eat small amount frequently. Fruits are great as most kids will eat a banana or strawberries. Try to balance the foods so they are getting full, but not affecting their digestion and causing diarrhea or constipation. Try to get them to eat as much as they can before bed time; this will reduce the body’s need to wake up early for breakfast if it is still digesting the previous night’s meal. My daughter once woke up at 3am on a night back from a trip asking for a yoghurt, she ate her yogurt took a sip of water and went straight back to sleep. Don’t assume if they are hungry that they won’t go back to sleep afterwards.
3) Early mornings – the dreaded call out at 3am and you wonder if that is you starting your day. Try to avoid getting them up and out their room. Turn on a dim light and do some quiet time activities such as a puzzle or reading a book. Nothing too stimulating as the goal is for them to go back to bed within an hour of this wake up. If they have only had 6-8 hours sleep they will likely be sleepy within an hour of this early morning wake up. Once you have had your quiet time prepare them for bed again and put them back down. Ideally they will fall asleep, however just resting in their bed is sometimes enough. You may need to stay in the room with them to keep them settled – if you don’t normally co sleep – avoid bringing them into your bed as this will open a whole can of worms!
4) Schedules – BE FLEXIBLE! It is so tempting to try and get them on schedule as soon as you can. If your trip allows, try to reduce the time zone change, for example if the difference is plus 6 hours, put them to bed 2-3 hours later in the evenings whilst you are away. This way they will sleep in later and you will only have 3-4 hour difference to contend with when you return. As I mentioned earlier, think of time in a 24 hour clock and focus on awake times from when they got up and when they need to go back to sleep.
5) Environment – make sure the temperature is the same as they normally sleep in. Pack what you can to make them feel at home. You can substitute a white noise app for their white noise machine, tin foil for black out blinds and pool noodles or cushions instead of bed frames. Be creative – it makes the trip an adventure!
6) Don’t forget teddy! They will have their favorite blanket, lovey, pjs, teddy etc. Whatever their thing is make sure you remember to pack it (or two if they will fit!). Comfort away from home will allow them to get a better night’s sleep.
One last thing!
My final tip is regarding middle of the night wake ups. I get some clients calling me from their trips because their amazing sleeper is waking up all night screaming or not wanting to nap during the day. If you have followed the above tips and medical conditions such as ear infections have been ruled out, then it’s likely you are doing too much during the day and your child is exhausted and over stimulated so SLOW DOWN! It’s so tempting to book something in every day and visit as many places and people as possible on this trip, but remember to take a breather. Whether it’s a whole day of relaxing or an afternoon every few days then let them catch up.
Enjoy your trip!
Aimi, a British Mum living in Chicago with her husband and two fun loving girls – 3 year old Jessica and 20-month-old Lexi. After many sleepless nights she became involved in sleep training and has set up her own sleep consultancy My Little Sleeper. Aimi works with children of all ages and sleep troubles and offers a 15% discount to Club Bebe Voyage members.