5 Tips for Surviving Jet Lag with Your Baby
So, you’re traveling. Across multiple time zones. With a baby.
I salute you, mama, because this is not a task for the faint of heart. But if anyone can do it, mothers can. After all, mamas are the most hard-core, am I right? We’ve got a world to explore and our babies are coming with us!
But before you venture out, I want to make sure you’re armed with all the information you need to maintain those sleep skills you’ve worked so hard to establish at home. So how do you maintain good sleep habits while on vacation? And if you’re crossing time zones (a tough feat for any traveler) how do you deal with the inevitable jet lag that comes along with it?
1. Avoid the Red Eye
It’s nice to envision a scenario where we jump on the plane when baby’s already asleep and they just magically stay sleeping through the entire flight arriving fresh and rested in a new land. While there certainly may be some babies who can adapt to this dream scenario, the odds are overwhelmingly against us. It’s much more likely that you’re both going to have an awful night and arrive at your destination frazzled and extremely overtired. Instead, opt for a daytime flight and hope for a decent nap or two along the way. Since you’re going to arrive with some accumulated sleep debt anyway, it’s better to have this motion-induced sleep disrupt daytime naps rather than travel during periods of more restorative nighttime sleep.
2. Get on Local Time (Or Not…)
If you’re traveling less than five days, it’s probably not worth making major adjustments to your child’s bedtime regardless of the time difference. Experts say that on average, jet lag lasts for one day per hour of time change, so you’ll have to weigh whether it’s worth it for your child to finally get acclimated to a new time zone only to immediately turn around and have to do it all over again upon return home.
If, however, you are going to be gone for longer than five days, then you’ll want to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible. Luckily, our bodies have an inherent ability to adapt to new time zones based on the light/dark cycle, so you’ll have that working in your favor. On that note…
3. Use Light to Your Advantage
As much as we don’t want any shred of sunlight getting into the room while your baby is trying to sleep, we do want to expose them to it fully when they are awake. Getting a significant amount of sunlight during the day fires up melatonin production and will help your child’s circadian rhythm more quickly adjust to local time. Getting outdoors and into the sunlight during the day will work wonders in helping your child (and you!) sleep well overnight.
Likewise, you’ll want to block out any external light sources and dim any internal lights at least two hours prior to your child’s bedtime. Whether this means traveling with garbage bags, portable blackout shades, or my favorite product, the SlumberPod, making that room completely dark when it is time for your baby to sleep is going to be one of the best tools to help them adjust to local time.
4. Add an Extra Nap
Even in the best-case scenario, your child is still going to be beat after a full day of travel. An extra nap (even one that’s just 25 minutes) can really help counteract the overtiredness that comes after a long flight. Just be conscious of leaving enough time between when they wake and bedtime for their sleep pressure to rise again. For example, an 8-month-old with a bedtime of 7:00 p.m should be awake from all naps by 4:00 p.m so they are sleepy enough to go down for the night once bedtime rolls around.
5. Stick to Your Bedtime Routine
Bedtime routines are about more than just getting into our pajamas, brushing our teeth, and washing our face. A predictable bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that sleep is on the horizon which allows the brain to fire up melatonin production and slow down mental activity, and the body to relax its muscles. Whatever your baby’s bedtime routine is at home, stick to is as closely as possible when you’re away.
Nobody thrives when they’re sleep deprived and kids are no different. We all get a little bit (or a lotta bit) grumpy and short-tempered after a long day of travel. Travel – especially international travel – is going to require a great deal of patience and a lot of consistency to minimize the effects on your baby.
If your goal is to travel the world and sleep well doing it, grab a copy of my Travel Guide and start planning your next adventure!
If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!