Florida Challenge #3: The jet lag challenge

Our Florida Challenge #3

“Jet lag our old nemeses, how have you been?”

“Yeah it’s been a while, we’re ok thanks”

“Yeah baby’s just about sleeping through until 5am now”

“Yeah the little man is good, taken about 7 months since the last big trip but finally got him sleeping through until 6am most nights now”

“Come for another visit? Now? But we’re so close to having three of them sleeping all night…”

If there is one mammoth blocker for parents in taking their kids on long-distance family vacations, it’s the impact of jet lag. It really can be THAT BAD and a destroyer of family travel dreams.

The difficult part is being able to predict the impact it will have on any one of your family on any given trip – never assume that past performance is an indication of future outcomes (sorry I dabble a lot in the stock market too).

The good news though is that with forethought and preparation you can work to minimise its impact as quickly as possible so it does not severely affect your holiday plans.Dealing with Jet Lag after an ultra long-haul flight

We have made the trip to and from Australia now many, many times so we know that by timing our arrival the best we can for an afternoon, exhausting the kids before bedtime, trying to get a normal night’s sleep then not lying in too late the following day we can almost conquer the beast within 48 hours of landing – it does take a few days more to feel completely ‘normal’ I’ll admit – and the good old four hour road trip to my parents house does help too.

We also like to do short trips to South East Asia too, these are normally 3 to 4-hour changes which can be subtly built into your holiday, i.e. stay up later in the evenings and try to sleep in a little in the mornings.   From the Middle East, travelling the opposite direction to Europe for small journeys is much harder as the kids still want to wake up early then you can’t get them back to bed once you’re home.

So why am I, the ardent traveller having a little moan about this one and calling it a ‘challenge’? Here’re the facts;

What to do with Kids in San Ramon Costa Rica

7,828 miles

12,588 kilometres

9 time zones

21 hours of transit

Arrive 5pm EST – Time in Abu Dhabi 2am

This is almost a complete reversal in the signals you need to send to your body on when you need to eat, shit and sleep – no wonder little one’s bodies (not to mention grown up ones!) are utterly thrown out of whack by international travel!

Now come on Mrs Globetrotter stop telling us how hard it’s going to be, how do we fix it?

The Jet Lag Plan of Attack

Did you ever read the top selling parents’ author “The Baby Whisperer” by Tracy Hogg? She coined the expression EASY – Eat * Activity * Sleep * You. She explains how to get a baby into a routine where they could recognize the cues, throughout the day you move between a meal, physical activity and sleep, then mum time (well reality is probably doing the washing, tidying toys, preparing lunch – some suggest it’s when mum puts her feet up with a cuppa, ha ha!)

What’s this got to do with jet lag?  Regardless of hunger or what your internal body clock is saying you need to put some new routine cues into place.  Plan meals for when you would normally have them in your new time zone.  Between meals when it’s daylight, get outside, get sunlight and get exercise. 

How to conquer jet lag in 15 practical steps |Travel Advice | OurGlobetrotters.NetTry to hold off any day naps unless absolutely necessary (obviously they will still be needed for infants and small toddlers who are day sleepers still). If naps are essential due to early rising, wake older children and adults after 20 minutes before they enter a deep sleep cycle, leave infants up to an hour.  Try to keep within a couple of hours of your regular bedtime in your new time zone.

The YOU bit comes in as you need to be in charge. Their  little bodies – as well as your own – will naturally be reluctant to make the change so try not to sleep in too much, get up, get breakfast and out and about that first morning and get your jet lag action plan into play immediately.  Yep, you’ve got to be the sleeping killjoy.

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This is, of course easier said than done, I KNOW that pain of utter exhaustion and willingness to throw in the towel for a little extra kip after the baby has screamed for three hours the evening before (so does my brother and sister-in-law,  sorry about that one!). I feel your pain, entirely.  I recently wrote an article “15 practical ways to conquer jet lag” which covers many more techniques you can try to adjust body clocks quickly and get your holiday underway.

Another great resource you can try which I found back in my UK flying days is  BA Dr Sleep Advisor . Plug in your normal waking times and time zones and let Dr Sleep (ok a very clever computer simulation) tell you what you should be doing.

So what does Dr Sleep say we should be doing for Abu Dhabi to Miami?  He suggests I need to seek light between 4.30pm and 7pm on day 1, followed by avoiding light 7pm to 10pm.  Fair enough.  Interestingly though he recommends seeking light from 10.30pm to 1am on Day 2.  Night life ideas in Miami anyone?

I have barely slept a 6 hour stretch in 5 years.  If sleep was an absolute priority at this point I can honestly say that throwing in a 9 hour body clock time bomb would simply not be on the cards.  I do advocate that everyone can travel with kids, but there’s a realist side to me too – taking children on long distance travel can throw them out of their normal sleep pattern for months after you return and you must be prepared for this.

I cannot give you scientific backing on the why’s and how of children’s sleep behaviour (I wish I could), but I can tell you if you want to conquer it, you must be disciplined. You can adjust schedules while you are away but remember your holiday is only temporary; it’s the return that’s the forgotten downfall for most. Don’t wait to succumb  to weeks of ‘bad sleep behaviour’, you are the ones who have thrown their body clocks out of whack so don’t blame the children, but you do need to help them by training them back to their normal sleeping patterns as quickly as possible  if you ever want to sleep a full night again.

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I don’t enjoy the lack of sleep whatsoever but I enjoy an active and engaged life with my family.  There is a perfect balance to be had somewhere and I’m sure I will catch up on sleep somewhere later in life. Right now we have chosen the life of travelling expats, it’s what we know and love best and the lack of sleep is a small price to pay.

Do you have a “magic remedy” for dealing with jet lag after ultra-long haul flying? Or an ultimate horror story to share… consider this your time for group therapy and share your story (or link to your blog) below.

More reading:

“15 practical ways to conquer jet lag”

“5 Savvy Strategies for Flying Success”

Dealing with Jet Lag

© Our Globetrotters 


  • So Uncle Joel and Aunty Kristy’s conquer jetlag probably isn’t a good one with children, but for adults alcohol, coffee and painkillers do wonders!

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