Coping with time changes & jet lag in babies and young children…
Baby jet lag is a big concern many parents have about traveling with kids. How will time changes and jet lag will affect their child’s routine and sleeping patterns? It’s a valid concern. We all know how jet lag makes us feel (zonked and cranky), and who wants to cope with a toddler in that same state?
According to pretty much any book or article you read, children cope with time changes and jet lag much better than adults do, acclimatizing much faster. The reason for this is that babies and children are less capable of fighting their bodies’ natural inclination to sleep when they need it (as difficult as that may be to believe at times!)
Baby Jet Lag & Ferber
It was Dr. Richard Ferber’s oft-controversial book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems where I found the most useful and comprehensive advice on how to manage. Whatever your opinion of “Ferberizing,” Dr. Ferber’s “progressive-waiting approach” (ie. sleep training, not the cry it out method) to independent sleep, his suggestions for coping with disruptions due to travel are very simple, and seem to support a parent’s natural instinct.
Should you stay on home time?
Firstly, if the time change is minimal and/or the trip is short, consider living in your own time zone for the duration of your visit. For example, if you’re going East to Eastern Time from Mountain Time, bedtime would be 10pm instead of 8pm, and wake up would be 9am instead of 7am. If this isn’t an option, Dr. Ferber does suggest ways to manage, depending on if you’re headed East or West.
If you’re heading West…
Heading back in time, or West, is (in my experience) the easiest to cope with. Dr. Ferber seems to concur. Depending on how great the time difference, your best bet is to keep your child up until their bedtime local time – which would be later than at home – and get them up at the usual time but local time. They may have a pretty sleepy (hopefully not too cranky) day, but you should have no trouble in getting them down for their usual nap(s). By the next day, if you’ve again managed to keep them up until their bedtime (local time), you should be right on track.
If you’re going East…
Going East, or ahead in time, can be a little trickier at first but the formula is pretty much the same. Trying to force your child to bed when they’re not sleepy will do no one any good, so your best bet is to put them down when they’re ready (a later than usual night – local time) but keep wakeup time the same as home but in your new time zone. Again, you’re in for a sleepy next day, but try not to nap any more than usual and by day two, they should be adjusted to your new clock.
Baby jet lag in the long run…
Time differences that are very great in either direction may take an extra day or so of adjustment, but if you keep to the same basic routine of eating and sleeping that you do at home, you should find that your baby jet lag issues subside and your child should settle in quite well – probably better than you!
We occasionally experienced what we called a “travel hangover,” where our sleep routine took a bit of time to go back to normal after we returned home. Check out Fixing Baby Sleep Problems After Travel to see how we managed.
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What I’ve found helpful when my son was young was not having an especially fixed routine in the first place — and travelling straight through to get to where we were going, rather than breaking journeys in different time zones.