Many families travel during the holidays, and whether you’re driving or flying, jet lag can put a real hiccup in your plans — especially if you have little kids. There is research to suggest that our bodies can adjust to one, or possibly two time zones in a 24-hour period, but with small children, even this adjustment can be a big one. This means that if you’re driving, and you cross one time zone, your body may very well adjust easily. If you are flying, however and go through 2 or 3 times zones — or more if you’re traveling farther — your body will likely have a very hard adjustment to make.
Make Sure Your Child is Well-Napped
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to make sure that your children are well-napped before you leave for your trip. Babies who are short on naps tend to have more nighttime sleep disruptions, so making sure that the “nap tank” is full will help everyone adjust to a slightly different bedtime.
From Good Night, Sleep Tight: “Switch naps and sleep times to local time the first full day after your arrival. If you got in late and everyone goes to bed later than usual and then sleeps in, naps will obviously be off that first day. But don’t let him nap late. Wake him from his last nap — or only nap — early enough so you can get him to bed at his regular bedtime. In other words, if you arrived in Seattle at midnight, everyone will sleep late in the morning (you hope!). Then instead of napping from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., he might not begin his nap until 4:00. Don’t let him nap too late, though, even if he’s a little cranky when you rouse him, so you can get him to bed that night at his regular bedtime, at 7:00 or 8:00 (Seattle time). Don’t fret if you can’t follow this exactly. A few car or stroller naps aren’t a big deal on a vacation. You’ll get everyone back to normal when you get home.”
Make Small Adjustments
If you have time, you can use the same techniques that I recommend for Daylight Savings. If you are traveling to a time zone where you’ll be putting your children to bed later than “normal,” take a week to slowly shift your entire routine later in 10 or 15-minute increments. That means bedtime, naptime, and mealtimes.
If you are traveling to a time zone where you children will be going to bed earlier than “normal,” then you want to take a week to slowly shift your routine 10 to 15 minutes earlier over the course of a week. Doing this ahead of your travel dates ensures that your children will already be acclimated to the new time zone when you arrive, making sleep a bit easier for everyone.
If making small adjustments isn’t feasible, you could also honor your child’s bedtime, as I discuss in my book:
From Good Night Sleep Tight: “If you are traveling across time zones, get your child up at his usual wake-up time, both when you start your vacation and when you get back home. In other words, if he wakes up at 7:00 a.m. at home in Miami, wake him up at 7:00 a.m. Pacific time in Seattle, and then when you get back home to Miami, wake him at 7:00 a.m. eastern time. Do this the day you arrive on vacation, or if you all need to recover from a long trip or a red-eye, do it the next day.”
Plan Ahead for Meals
Travel can make even the most mild-mannered children cranky, so plan ahead for your trip. If you’re taking a road trip, make sure that you pack plenty of snacks, water, juice, and other essentials to keep your children full and hydrated. Dehydration can actually make the effects of jet lag worse.
If you’re flying, the TSA allows “reasonable amounts” of necessary liquids if you are traveling with small children. Make sure that you bring enough water or juice to keep your children hydrated and happy.
Get Some Sun
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, make sure that you get outside and expose everyone to sunlight before bed. Doing so will help your body to adjust, as your circadian rhythm is dependent upon daylight. If you have small children, as little as 5 or 10 minutes of quality sunlight may be enough to help them adjust.
Even with all the preparation in the world, travel makes for potential meltdowns and cranky kids. Make sure that you have plenty of rest before your travel dates, and consider packing ahead of time to relieve some potential stress.
Even if you make all the recommended preparations, things can still go off kilter, so plan to have a day (if it’s possible) when you arrive where everyone can rest and recuperate.
Bring Home With You
Perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you is to make sure that you bring a little bit of home with you. Pack your child’s favorite lovey, their sleep sack, a blanket, or stuffed animal. This will help your child’s adjustment to sleeping in a strange place.
And finally, we all know that you really can’t “travel light” with kids, so go ahead and pack the white noise machine, a few favorite toys, and even some special surprises just for the trip.