Tips to avoid jet lag with children

AvoidJetlagWChildren We have been traveling between Chicago and Istanbul with children every summer for the last nine years, six of which were with two children. I listed the method that help me and my children avoid jetlag traveling +8 hrs in time zones and back. I am very confident that these tips work, because we courageously book our return tickets to the day before the school starts and the kids handle it just fine.

TRAVELING FORWARD IN TIME ZONES (TRAVELING US to EUROPE)

Preparing before your trip:

  • Start adjusting your sleep pattern to the time zone at your destination: Traveling forward in time zones, you can wake your children up earlier for few days before your flight. This will also help them fall a sleep easier on the flight.
  • Pack small earplugs, sleep masks and a light filtering dark blanket for your flight.
  • Feed them light but filling meals before the flight. Use the bathroom to avoid any bio breaks that might interrupt sleep during the flight.
  • Prepare your children by explaining the steps of your flight, including a good nights sleep on the plane. Setting expectations is very very important.

During the trip:

  • If you are flying on a plane with personal entertainment system behind the seats, ask the flight attendant to deactivate the screens at your seats. You don’t need to argue or negotiate with your child when the screens are completely deactivated.
  • Have children get at least five hours of sleep during the flight. Use earplugs, sleep masks and blankets to block any light.
    IMG_2228 We usually get middle four seats on Airbus 330. Two children lie down head to head or toe to toe and we cover the headrests with blankets like a tent to block any light.
    IMG_2226
  • Be ready to turn into McGyver to resolve any technical issues that might disrupt sleep. E.g. when our seat light wouldn’t turn off, we covered it with a paper cup filled with napkins. We made sure it wasn’t heating up to burn the paper cup.

After you land:

  • Adjust the time on your watch.
  • Make sure to keep everyone awake until the bedtime at local time zone. This includes preventing to fall asleep during ground transportation to final destination.
  • Stay outdoors in natural daylight and/or keep active as much as possible.
  • Eat appropriate meals at local time zone. Do not drink to much water at dinner.

Bedtime:

  • Get ready to prepare to go to bed around your regular bedtime. Carry out your usual bedtime routine if possible.
  • Use the bathroom before you go to bed.
  • Make sure the bedroom windows are covered with light filtering shades to prevent sunrise brightening the room.
  • If children wake up only 1-2 hours before their usual wake up time, it’s fine. If they wake up in the middle of the night, do not turn on the light. Keep the room dark (or dimmed if you need to change, use the bathroom etc), keep quiet to convince the biorhythm that it’s still night time.

You can use some of these tips, traveling from West Coast to East Coast.

TRAVELING BACKWARD IN TIME ZONES (TRAVELING EUROPE to US)

Preparing before your trip:

  • Start adjusting your sleep pattern to the time zone at your destination: Traveling backwards in time zones, you can put your children in bed late only few days before your flight. This will also help them fall a sleep easier on the flight.
  • Your flight will most probably be mostly during the day, which makes it more challenging to make them sleep on the flight. You might want to wake them up early on the day of the flight to help them fall a sleep during the daytime flight.
  • Get earplugs, sleep masks and light filtering dark blanket.
  • Prepare and pack to keep your children busy and entertained during the long hours they will stay awake. Read “Fun activity ideas for long rides and flights” and “Preparing for long flights and trips with babies and young children” posts for ideas.

FlightwithChildren (This photo is from two years ago, where kids are sleeping toe to toe on the seats and I’m sleeping on the floor. Whatever works. My son had his sleep mask on. We covered the seats’ headrests with airlines’ blanket. The brightness in these photos are increased with photo editing software.)

During trip:

  • Have children get at least 2-3 hrs of sleep towards the end of the flight, if you can. Use earplugs, sleep masks and blankets to prevent light.
  • If you are flying on a plane with personal entertainment system on seats, you can ask the flight attendant to deactivate the screens at your seats when you think it’s the time to sleep.
  • Do not feed your child anything that might make them alert and hyperactive during the flight.
  • Make sure you use the bathroom before sleep.

After you land:

  • Adjust the time on your watch.
  • Make sure to keep everyone awake until the bedtime at local time zone. This includes preventing to fall asleep during ground transportation to final destination.
  • Stay outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible.
  • Eat appropriate meals at local time zones. Do not drink to much water at dinner.

Bedtime:

  • Get ready to prepare to go to bed around your regular bedtime.Carry out your usual bedtime routine if possible.
  • Use the bathroom before you go to bed.
  • Make sure the bedroom windows are covered with light filtering shades to prevent sunrise brightening the room.
  • If children wake up only 1-2 hours before their usual wake up time, it’s fine. If they wake up in the middle of the night, do not turn on the light. Keep the room dark (or dimmed if you need to change, use the bathroom etc), keep quiet to convince the biorhythm that it’s still night time.

I personally do not worry about time change when we travel from Midwest to West Coast only for few days. I can live with getting up at 5 am and going to bed at 7-8 pm for 3-4 days. But if you are traveling for longer period, you might want to use some of the tips above.

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