Helping Your Kids With Jet Lag: The 13 Best Strategies to Try Today

By Chad Montgomery
helping kids with jet lag

Jet lag, a temporary sleep disorder, often comes unwelcome with long-haul flights across multiple time zones. It’s a disruption of the body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, resulting in symptoms such as daytime fatigue, an unwell feeling, difficulty staying alert, and gastrointestinal problems. Jet lag can take a significant toll on adults, but when it comes to children, the effects can be even more challenging. Children’s sleep and wake patterns may be thrown off balance, and the repercussions of these disturbances can significantly impact a family’s travel experience.

This article aims to provide parents and guardians with comprehensive information and practical advice on managing jet lag in children. Understanding the factors that influence jet lag, coupled with effective planning and management, can go a long way in ensuring a more enjoyable journey and smooth adjustment to a new time zone for the entire family. Whether you’re planning a holiday trip or moving across continents, knowing how to help your children cope with jet lag is a skill worth acquiring. Stay tuned to learn more about how to navigate the ups and downs of this common travel challenge.

Understanding Kids and Jet Lag

When we talk about children and jet lag, it’s essential first to understand the nature of children’s sleep patterns. Unlike adults, kids often have a more rigid sleep schedule that their bodies adhere to. This schedule is influenced by their internal biological clocks or circadian rhythms, which regulate periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. When children cross time zones, their internal clocks remain set to their original schedule – leading to confusion and discomfort as their body struggles to adjust.

Jet lag can manifest differently in children than in adults. While adults might experience symptoms such as insomnia, daytime fatigue, and difficulty concentrating, children’s symptoms may present more as irritability, changes in mood, loss of appetite, and even temporary changes in behaviour. They might be unusually sleepy during the day, have trouble falling asleep at night, or wake up earlier or later than usual. These disruptions can be challenging for parents to manage, especially when in an unfamiliar environment or on a tight travel schedule.

Recognizing that these symptoms are normal responses to a sudden change in time zones can help parents be more prepared. Moreover, understanding that every child is unique and may not react or adapt in the same way is crucial. Some children may adjust to the new schedule quickly, while others may take several days. The rule of thumb often quoted is that it takes about one day to adjust for each time zone crossed, but this may vary depending on the child’s age, regular sleep patterns, and overall health.

preparing for time zone change

Tips for Preparing Your Child for a Time Zone Change

Proper preparation can play a significant role in managing jet lag in children. There are several strategies that parents can adopt in the days leading up to a long-haul journey. Here are some tips:

1. Gradual adjustment of sleep schedule before travel

Start shifting your child’s bedtime closer to the sleep time at your destination. This can be done incrementally over several days before your departure. For example, if you’re travelling east, try moving the bedtime earlier; if you’re heading west, push bedtime a bit later. A gradual shift can help ease the transition and lessen the impact of the time change on arrival.

2. Maintaining healthy habits

Ensure your child continues to eat well and exercise regularly in the lead-up to your trip. A balanced diet can support a healthy sleep schedule, and regular physical activity can help regulate sleep patterns. Avoiding caffeine and sugar, especially closer to bedtime, can also be beneficial.

3. Exposure to natural light

Exposing your child to natural light in the morning can help reset their internal body clock and adjust it closer to the new time zone. Outdoor play or a walk in the morning sun can be effective.

4. Hydration

Encourage your child to drink plenty of water before and during your travel. Dehydration can exacerbate jet lag symptoms, so it’s important to keep fluid levels topped up.

By starting your jet lag management before you even leave home, you can help reduce the severity of symptoms upon arrival at your destination.

On-Board Strategies

Once you’re up in the air, your actions can have a significant impact on how your child will adjust to the new time zone. Here are some practical tips to use during the flight:

5. Ensuring Comfort During the Flight

Comfort is crucial for kids during long flights. Bring along items that promote relaxation and rest, such as a favourite blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal. Dress your children in comfortable clothes, ideally in layers, so you can adjust to cabin temperature changes.

6. Managing Sleep on the Plane

Depending on the length of your flight and your arrival time, you might encourage your child to sleep on the plane. If it’s night at your destination, try to get your child to sleep; if it’s daytime, keep them awake with engaging activities. Earplugs, eye masks, or noise-cancelling headphones can

amidst the cabin noise and light.

7. In-Flight Meals and Snacks

Airplane food might not always align with your child’s eating schedule or dietary needs. Packing familiar, healthy snacks can help keep their energy levels stable and prevent them from becoming overly hungry or grumpy. Try to adjust meals and snacks to the new time zone if possible.

While it’s important to follow these tips, remember that each child is different. Some may sleep comfortably on a plane, while others may find it challenging. The goal is to make the journey as comfortable as possible to minimize the stress that can intensify jet lag symptoms.

Adjusting to a new time zone

Adjusting to the New Time Zone

Arriving at your destination doesn’t mean the battle with jet lag is over. It’s now time to help your child adjust to the new schedule. Here’s what you can do:

8. Encouraging Outdoor Activities

Natural light is a powerful tool for resetting our internal body clock. Encourage your child to spend time outside, especially in the morning. Outdoor activities will not only help with jet lag but also allow your child to burn off energy and engage with the new environment.

9. Keeping Kids Active During Daylight Hours

Try to keep your kids active and engaged during the daylight hours of your new time zone. This might be challenging if they’re feeling tired, but it can speed up the adjustment process. Use engaging activities that they enjoy to keep them awake.

10. Understanding the Importance of Short Naps and Maintaining a Regular Sleep Schedule

While it’s important to keep your child awake during the day, short naps can help if they’re really struggling. Try to limit naps to less than an hour so as not to interfere with nighttime sleep. From the first night, establish and stick to a regular bedtime routine that aligns with the new time zone.

Adjusting to a new time zone can be a challenging process for children, but with patience and careful management, you can ease their discomfort and help them enjoy the journey more fully. Remember, the goal is not to eliminate jet lag completely (which may not be feasible) but to lessen its impact on your child’s mood, energy levels, and overall travel experience.

managing jet lag symptoms

Dealing With Jet Lag Symptoms

Despite all your efforts to prevent jet lag, it’s important to acknowledge that your child may still experience some symptoms. Here’s how you can manage these symptoms effectively:

11. Recognizing and managing common symptoms

Common symptoms of jet lag in children include irritability, difficulty sleeping, changes in mood, and loss of appetite. Being aware of these signs can help you provide the appropriate comfort and care your child needs. For instance, if they’re showing signs of irritability, they might need extra comfort and patience from you.

12. Offering reassurance and maintaining patience

Reassurance can go a long way in calming a child who is struggling with jet lag. Let them know that what they’re experiencing is normal and temporary. Show extra patience, understanding that jet lag can make kids feel out of sorts.

13. When to seek medical advice

Most children will adjust to a new time zone within a few days to a week. However, if your child’s symptoms persist beyond this time or if they become severe, it might be a good idea to seek medical advice. Persistent sleep problems, ongoing mood changes, or loss of appetite might indicate a need for professional assistance.

Jet lag can be a tough part of travelling with children, but knowing how to recognize and manage its symptoms can make the adjustment process smoother and less stressful for the entire family.

Final Thoughts On Managing Jet Lag In Kids

Travelling across time zones can be an exciting adventure for the entire family. However, the resulting jet lag, particularly in children, can pose challenges. Understanding your child’s sleep patterns, preparing for the change in time zone, implementing strategies during the flight, and carefully managing their adjustment after landing can help reduce the impact of jet lag. Remember, some symptoms are likely to persist despite these measures, but understanding how to manage them can ensure a smoother transition.

While jet lag can indeed be a hurdle, don’t let it overshadow the joy of your journey. Travelling is a wonderful way for children to learn and grow. It provides invaluable experiences and creates cherished memories. Embrace the adventure, jet lag, and all!

In the end, patience, flexibility, and understanding go a long way. Each child will adjust in their own time, and there’s a wide range of ‘normal’ when it comes to children’s sleep patterns. Whether it’s your child’s first trip or they’re a seasoned traveller, knowing how to manage jet lag can certainly contribute to a more enjoyable travel experience. Safe and happy travels to you and your family!

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