If you read my recent post about holidays and sleep, you may have noticed that I, ahem, skimmed a bit in the plane travel section. Plane travel can be tricky with sleep, not only because of the sheer amount of time it takes between arriving early and then flying but also because cabin pressure often causes uncomfortable physical effects that easily disrupt your little one’s ability to relax. Throw in travel between different time zones and you have a veritable obstacle course to tackle with your baby’s sleep patterns. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can deal with jet lag when traveling between time zones.
1. Be realistic
Think about how comfortable you feel on a long haul flight, crammed into an economy seat, and realize that your little one is likely not much more comfortable than you. Without the ability to move about freely, your little one may get antsy, so be realistic about your expectations of the flight. It’s highly likely that your kiddo’s regular sleep pattern will be disrupted, with excitement, cabin pressurization, and pent-up energy affecting their body.
Your goal for the flight — even if it means bending or breaking your own rules — is to try to keep your little one occupied and as comfortable as possible. Don’t be afraid to allow unlimited screen time — but consider bringing along blue-light-blocking glasses — or shower your kiddo with coloring books, crayons, and snacks (but try to avoid sugary treats). While you may just want to close your eyes and sleep the flight away, realize that this may not happen with your little one in tow, and plan accordingly by packing activities to occupy your little one.
2. Break the rules
Yes, I’m saying that you have my permission to break the rules and do whatever it takes to get your little one to grab some Zzzzs on your flight. Whether it be rocking in your arms or popping a pacifier in their mouth, don’t be afraid to break the rules if it means your child will be more comfortable and will rest easier. Once you get back home and into your routine after traveling, you can work on getting back on track, but right now, you just need to keep everyone happy (including your fellow passengers).
3. Roll with it
If your child already sleeps well, you’re in good shape to take on this trip. Without an existing sleep debt — like most adults typically have — your child will likely respond to a disrupted sleep routine with fatigue, and adapt more easily to the new time zone. Don’t try to keep you or your kiddo on your old schedule; instead, allow your bodies to naturally adapt to the new time zone and worry about adjusting back when you return.
4. Go with the rhythm
To help your little one adapt to the new time zone, make sure that they get as much sunlight exposure as possible so that their body’s natural clock adjusts. Go for plenty of walks, play in parks, take advantage of time outside during the day while you’re away. On the flip side, try to be indoors in dim lighting or the dark for at least two hours before putting your little one to bed and try to limit screen exposure; this will give your little one’s body time to naturally release melatonin and prepare them for sleep on the new schedule.
The change in time zones and travel may mean that your baby is ready for a nap at an odd time — go with it. It’s better to have a rested kiddo than an overtired one, so don’t be afraid to go off schedule. The good news is that it should only take a couple of days for your little one to adjust to the time zone, allowing you to make the most of your time away. And when you return, your baby will have an easier time falling back into their routine with familiar surroundings.
Jet lag takes its toll on everyone, but you’ll find yourself better equipped to deal with it when you plan in advance. Know that the flight over may be uncomfortable, but having activities packed and allowing yourself to break some of your rules can help ease you through. Remember that adjusting to the new time zone may take a couple of days and that throwing yourselves into the new schedule with plenty of sunlight exposure during the day and dark time before bed will speed up the process. Most of all, don’t forget to enjoy yourselves — safe travels!