As the summer approaches and families start getting ready for their holidays, some start to think about jet lag and how their children might sleep while away. With jet lag, some parents may feel happy to wing it and sort it out once they’ve arrived at their holiday destination and that is great. But for others, they might like to make a plan beforehand & feel more in control of things, which is also OK too – it really depends on each family. Hannah our Sleep Expert from Dusk to Dawn offers some tips.

The key to remember is that whatever approach you choose, to try and not to let the worry & anxiety of jetlag put you off taking a trip, it will be SO worth it once you get there & start making memories as a family. The mental load of planning it can be quite daunting, so if you feel anxious about it, try to work it through with a partner or whoever else you might be travelling with.

General tips for managing jet lag with children:

Day of travel

  • With smaller babies, you can stick to their awake windows/nap times if you’d like to keep some sort of routine, but with toddlers & slightly older children, it can help to lower expectations of napping or sleep while travelling – they will likely be too excited to nap!
  • If you’re travelling long haul, book a nighttime flight if you can – and again lower expectations of sleep. Take some sleep associations from home with you (a bunny, a comforter etc) to help encourage sleep on the plane.
  • When you land, adjust to local time straight away – not just with sleep, but meal times too. 

When arriving

  • In the first few days, encourage lots of daylight & outside activities to encourage little ones to stay awake and then keep their sleep environment as dark as possible during sleep times to help their body clocks adjust to the new time zone. A darker room will help to increase melatonin which helps sleep at the new bedtime and help avoid early waking.
  • Eat meal times at the local time of your destination – this also helps to send signals to our brains and helps our body clocks adjust.

Top tips for different time zones

Short time differences (2-3 hours difference)

There are a few options depending on how you want to tackle it:

  • You can just keep things on home time – When we went abroad, it was only 2 hours ahead, so we kept our 9month old on her usual UK time (7 am-7 pm) which meant she was doing 9 am-9 pm holiday time. This worked well for dinners out together and meant coming back home wasn’t a big adjustment.
  • You can shift things to adjust to the new local time, but remember to shift your whole day (meal times, nap times and bedtime!). Don’t make the mistake of just adjusting your little one’s bedtime otherwise, timings will quickly fall out of sync.
  • You can adjust your routine gradually in the lead-up to your holiday to help prepare. So you can shift your little one’s routine by 15-20 minutes a day for a week or so, a bit like a clock change.

Bigger time differences (8+ hours difference)

  • Just knowing in advance that the first few days will be pretty rough going can help to manage expectations. As much as possible, you need to just roll with it. It will get easier and children are often much more resilient than we think. They will get into their new time zone quite quickly.
  • Again, get plenty of light and outside time during the day and keep sleep environments as dark as possible.
  • When little ones wake in the night, keep some small snacks and simple toys for them but keep lights low and encourage them back to bed where possible.
  • Throughout the day, use snacks, power naps (15mins-20mins max!) and distractions where you can to help your little one get through the longer days and into the new time zone.
  • Again you can just wait and see how things are once you arrive at your destination, or you can adjust your routine at home in the lead-up to the holiday to start getting into their holiday time zone. Doing this gradually, by 15-20minutes a day is the best way but will take several days if a big time difference.

Remember – whatever happens, however much or little you prepare, your children will settle into their new time zone within a few days, sleep will slot back into a more usual routine once you’re home and the holiday will be worth it – so don’t let the worry of jet lag put your off!

Enjoy your holiday!

Hannah x

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