Little Observations on Jet Lag and Toddlers

Quite often, when people visit my blog, they’re looking for tips on jet lag. In fact, this post is about jet lag and young kids and is one of the most frequently viewed posts on Baby Loves to Travel. We’ve done a couple of recent trips where the impact of jet lag on my toddlers has been unavoidable. We spent time in Thailand where we moved 3 hours forward and we’ve just arrived home from East Coast North America which is 8 hours behind. I still go by my rough rules on coping with jet lag: keep hydrated, get lots of sunlight, treat the day as normally as possible and anticipate upheaval but plan appropriately. To add colour to these tips though, I thought I would share some observations I’ve made about how jet lag effected our kids on our recent travels.

  • We find flying eastward is easier than flying westward i.e. going forward in time is easier than back in time. When we went to Thailand we flew eastward and moved 3 hours forward and in the first few days it was quite handy as we could keep the kids up later and they were in high spirits. They were also happy to sleep in until 10am – that doesn’t happen every day! And they quickly adjusted to the new timezone without a hiccup. My friend from Australia, who was holidaying with us, had the reverse experience, they flew westward and moved 3 hours backward in time and by 4pm her baby and toddler had had enough of the day, but they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by 4am. It was definitely interesting trying to co-ordinate 2 sets of kids who had 6 hours difference between them.
  • Lots of sunlight definitely helps my kids adapt to a new time zone. On our recent trip to NY, we spent our first day outdoors in and around Central Park, so lots of lovely sunlight from 8am until 5pm. Although our kids did have a mini meltdown toward the end of the afternoon (well who can blame them, it was past midnight in the UAE), spending the day as normally as possible and outdoors did set us up well for getting over the jet lag quickly.
  • Generally we seem to cope better with jet lag on arrival than we do on return. I think it’s because when we arrive at a destination we’re excited to be there and want to hit the ground running so we tend to put more effort into adapting ourselves and helping the kids adapt. Not so when we return home. Rule of thumb, 3 – 4 days on arrival at destination, 7+ days on our return home.
  • My 3 year old (who no longer has day naps) seems to take a shorter timeframe to recover from jet lag, more so than my 17 month old who is still having 2 naps during the day. The 3 year old certainly feels it in the first few days, but by day 4 she is generally back to sleeping through the night and her internal clock has adjusted. Master F on the other hand seems to cope quite well during the days. At least, I don’t notice the effects of jet lag on him as he likes his day naps and these coincide with his night nap in the other time zone. However, when the moon rises so does he and you realise that things are amiss. It took him some time to adjust on our recent return from North America – well beyond the ‘one hour for everyday’ rule.
  • No matter what strategies we use to try and overcome jet lag, our kids will always wake up in the middle of the night for the first couple of nights, especially when we’ve moved 5+ hours. There could also be numerous additional factors at play such as a new environment. I think we’ve just come to accept that this is part and parcel of travel and embracing it is easier than fighting it.  So getting up at 3am for a snack (because back home it’s actually lunch time) and a bit of play for an hour is perfectly ok for us, so long as it doesn’t continue for more than a week…