Getting the balance right and helping kids recover from long-haul travel
Jet lag is an unfortunate consequence of long-haul trans-meridian travel; as if dealing with children when you’ve all been cooped up for 14 hours isn’t enough your sleeping and eating, even your toilet patterns are completely thrown out of whack by crossing multiple time zones.
This post is part of our flying with kids series for EVERYTHING you need to know about flying with kids – after over 1 million+ airmiles we have you covered!
The four main factors to consider dealing with jet lag are light, sleep, physical activity, and food and getting the balance between these right.
To read more about dealing with jet lag including advice for nursing mothers and the impact of using medications, come and visit the jet lag advice section of the Globetrotters website.
15 Top tips for dealing with jet lag in children
Here’s the Globetrotters guide on how to put things back into balance for your family as quickly as possible:
- Start your journey with a good night sleep the night before.
- If possible, make sure children have been involved in physical activity before the flight.
- Move your watch immediate to the destination time zone on boarding the plane.
- Use light and dark for sleep cues, i.e. if it’s nighttime at your destination when taking off, try darkening the area immediately, or vice versa if you’re leaving at night and it’s still daylight at your destination, try keeping the lights on and activities going for a while into the flight. A great calculator is available from the BA website that helps you determine when you should be awake and asleep.
- On arrival at your destination, if it’s still daylight, don’t be tempted to take that immediate power nap at the hotel if it can be avoided.
- Avoid the long afternoon nap, if a little something is needed to get everyone through, set an alarm for 20 minutes (before you/they go into a deep sleep) then get everyone going again even if it’s just a quick walk around the block to get re-energized ready for the evening it will help.
- Equally if you arrive at night and it’s already bedtime, get everyone settled as quickly as possible (I always pack PJ’s at the top of our luggage, or even better get them changed before the plane lands so the bedtime cues are there – it may also pay at this point to feed them before leaving the plane/airport or having a pre-packed dinner with you).
- If possible, try not to share a room, so that one person’s early waking doesn’t impact on everyone.
- I take a Gro Clock everywhere with me; years of sleep training with my eldest this works a charm now and she understands that her “sun” doesn’t always wake up at the same time as the outside sun (not fool-proof but the concept is there!). Slightly older children you should be able to talk to about the ground rules – e.g. they can read in bed if they wake early or not to come into mummy’s bed etc (good in theory I know, I live in hope!)
- Try to eat at local meal times as quickly as possible, even if not hungry, and a good meal right before going to bed so you don’t wake early with hunger pangs.
- If everyone’s still sound asleep at your usual breakfast time, it’s well worth waking them early and getting the day started. (I also bring little cereal containers with me now in case nothing is immediately available or they don’t like breakfast selection they’ll eat something straight away and get the body kickstarted).
- Don’t spend your recovery day cooped up inside, try to get out and about and some natural daylight and physical activity. Most important to do this around the point in the day that is normally bedtime so the body sees it’s not getting dark, I need to be awake. This might be the time when a little sugary snack to get them through the last couple of hours until bedtime may pay off.
- If little ones are waking exceptionally early and you’ve given in (do tell them it’s still sleepy time and try to resettle first), keep activity in a quiet, dimly lit room if you can to carry on the perception of night-time.
- If a feed is needed at this time, milk or solids, add another breakfast at normal breakfast time to try to get them back on track as quickly as possible and hold out for the next nap as long as possible after that (but before the overtired shrieking commences!)
- Flying at night should increase the chances that your child will sleep on the plane, therefore be somewhat rested on arrival, meaning there is only one day to get through at your destination before trying to get to bed at the right time
Do you have any remedies or rituals that help your family conquer jet lag?
You can check out all our toddler travel advice posts here, as well as plenty more ideas on coping with flying with young children and advice that will see you from house to destination without (as much) stress in our flying with kids section.
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