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Jetlag and Kids: 10 Top Tips

Jetlagged kids… we’ve all been through it.  Whether it’s trying to settle a wide awake baby at 2am or sticking your toddler in front of the TV at 5am while you get some much needed sleep.  Either way it’s not fun.  However, don’t let it stop you from planning your trip of a lifetime.  Here are my top tips for dealing with jetlag:

  1. KNOW what you’re in for.  Flying from West to East (i.e UK to the Far East or Hong Kong to the US) is harder as your body finds it more difficult to deal with a shorter day than a longer one.  For example, it takes my kids about 3 days to adjust when I’m back in the UK.  However, on our return to Hong Kong, their jetlag can take anything up to 9 days to get over.
  2. PLAN your flights well.  Pick a flight that might make jetlag easier.  When I fly from Hong Kong back to the UK, I normally choose an overnight flight.  We arrive in the UK at 6am and I try to get my kids on to UK time as soon as possible.  Arriving in daylight is better to beat jetlag.
  3. PLAN your accommodation well.  For the first few nights of a road trip, I pick a cheaper hotel or self serviced apartment where I can get 2 bedrooms or a 1 bed suite.  Jetlag is difficult to deal with if you’re all sleeping in the same room.  Alternatively if you are travelling with a baby in the same hotel room, you might want to put the travel cot in the bathroom (providing this room is ventilated).
  4. FACTOR in jetlag to your itinerary.  If you are doing a big road trip after a long-haul flight, know that you might have a tricky first few nights. Don’t necessarily rush to hire that car.  Think about staying in an airport hotel for one night or at least basing yourself in the same location for the first few days.
  5. CHANGE the time on your watch as soon as you arrive at your destination.  However, I do keep the old time on my phone for the first few days so that I can keep track of when my baby would have needed feeds/naps at home.
  6. HELLO SUNSHINE!  Daylight has been proven to help regulate your bodyclock back to normal.  Even if you’re exhausted and want to cocoon yourself in your hotel room, take the kids out for a walk around the block.
  7. GET the kids onto local time asap.  I usually allow Day 1 to be slightly more relaxed as we’re all likely to need naps after a long haul flight.  However, Day 2 onwards, I won’t let the kids sleep during the day any more than their usual routine.  Although jetlag got the better of Daisy in Vancouver….
    Jetlagged Daisy
  8. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD.  Keep your kids topped up on healthy snacks in addition to regular mealtimes on the plane and first few days.  If you are travelling with a baby, don’t be afraid to give more milk than usual.  When my baby wakes in the night on the first few days of vacation, I always offer a warm bottle of milk to help resettle her.
  9. PUSH back the kids bedtime for the first few days.  I find if I put them to bed at 8/9pm rather than 7pm then they are more likely to go through the night.
  10. DRUGS.  I sometimes give the kids a little medication at night to make them drowsy.  Either a Calpol or antihistamine e.g. Piriton.  One one mum’s forum, a lady wrote that if her older kids woke in the night, she gave them chewable dramamine and it worked like a charm.

For more information, check out this great article:
http://www.deliciousbaby.com/travel/family-travel-tips/jet-lag-and-babies-toddlers-and-kids/

30 comments

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  1. Pretraveller

    Thanks for some great tips – it is always a challenge travelling long distance with little children. If they have regular naps and feeds it is also hard to keep track of the time frames so your idea of using your phone to record both items would really come in handy.

  2. Gammon and Chips (@maddiesinclair)

    Great post Nicola! I definitely find my jet lag SO much worse flying from the UK to Oz as opposed to the other way round. Your post links up nicely with my latest blog post at Gammon and Chips – My Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Long-Haul Flight with Children:

    http://gammonandchips.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/my-top-10-tips-for-surviving-a-long-haul-flight-with-children/

    In fact, I think I’ll go and add your link to my site now!

  3. Liz Ledden // devoured

    Some great tips and food for thought – jetlagged kids are the worst! Ours seem to get jetlag even worse than us (having flashbacks of kids up at 2am watching cartoons while we ‘try’ and sleep longer). The best thing we’ve found is your no. 9 tip – keeping them up past their bedtime. After a few days of super early wake ups on one trip, we took them out to dinner and they stayed up til around 11pm. They were back to normal the next day, as though it somehow reset their battery!

  4. Bonnie Frank

    I don’t really travel and my kiddos are “old” now (15 and 17), but you always give great information in your posts so I read them! I pinned this one to my “parenting” board on Pinterest so other traveling parents can read it.

    1. Nicola

      Thanks Bonnie. I’m just discovering the world of Pinterest….

  5. Nellie

    Awesome tips!! I haven’t taken my kids very far (yet) but it is great to know for the future!

    1. Nicola

      Thanks Nellie, if you take any trips let me know! Would love a review!

  6. Nicky Cole

    Thank you so much for these tips. I’m home in the UK at the moment with my 10 month old baby girl, we live in Australia. She was almost completely unaffected by jet lag on the way over but I know it’s always worse going back to Oz. I’ll be taking your advice when we go back!

    1. Nicola

      Good luck, that’s a long journey – hat’s off to you!

  7. marcella

    Thanks for the advice! We just travelled from Spain to Australia with a 3year old and a 6month old, took us over a week to get over the jetlag, it was very tough on all of us, also my 6month old started teething on day 2!! We are stopping in Asia for 2weeks on our way back to break up the journey and split the time change gradually, hope it works!

    1. Nicola

      Have a fantastic time in Asia – whereabouts are you stopping off?

      1. marcella

        Vietnam, been there before few times to the same place, last time was 3 years ago on same journey back with my now 3 year old who was 3 months breastfed baby at the time, jetlag didn’t seem to affect much then. Now with 4 of us in one room (will push hubby to splash on second room) and toddler + 6 month old formula fed to get a crossed it’s smooth as we hope

  8. Nad

    Hum… I wish I had seen this before. We came back to Hong Kong a wee ago and the kids are still jetlagged… I want to sleeeeeep… Maybe I can still use point #10???
    Thanks anyway… Will definitely follow you advice next time.

  9. Eliasbeth

    I really don’t agree with going west as being easier. We have been back in London for a 1 week now from Thailand and my 20 month daughter is still waking up before 4:30 am. I have consistentley stuck to correct meal times, naps and even bedtime but to no avail. She is dead tired by lunch time and I’m utterly exhausted. Any tips? I am considering jetlagging her the other way, pretending we are in New York in an attempt to neutralize.

    1. Nicola

      Oh no, sorry to hear that! Have you been heading out in the daylight? Cutting her day nap time?

  10. Maura Sheridan

    Just home to NZ from UK, travelled both there and back solo with 2yr old & 7month old. Took us a full week on arriving in the UK to get back into normal sleep & eat routine. This is night one back home in NZ and I fear it’s going to take a lot longer! 😴

    1. Nicola

      I know! Jetlag can be soul destroying but remember it doesn’t last forever…

  11. Charlotte

    Thanks so much for your tips – they really helped when we went on holiday to Australia this month. Just came back and my 22 month old was awake for 3 nights before sleeping through the night again! YAY!
    Best tip I think is taking night flights, arriving in the morning with daylight really helped to stretch him to his lunchtime nap. We let him have a nap for 3 hrs on the first two days – waking them up is hard, but you have to if you want to get them on local time quickly.
    In terms of managing the trip, just expect it to be the worst which it never is. I did not see one unmanageable child on the plane. It is just very long and boring!
    Best tips I got from a friend are:
    – If you have lounge access take a shower on your stopover (we had a 3 hour window in Singapore) and change into new clothes – the whole family felt so refreshed after that!
    – Go to a charity shop and get some cheap toys and individually wrap them. Whenever Bruce was done with EVERYTHING he could not resist the temptation of the unknown.
    – Change is as good as a rest. If your child seems fed up, walk around the plane for a bit, hand him to your partner, change activity or even just change a nappy.
    Good luck to everyone taking this trip!

    1. Nicola

      Thanks for your tips too Charlotte and happy travels!

  12. Donna Cox

    Hello! I know this post is old but I was wondering if anybody could give me some advice. I am travelling to Oz from the UK in June this year to stay with my mum and sister. I am taking my 2 and 4 year old and its their first ever flight, is it something you think is possible or am I completely mad?? Feeling very anxious about the whole thing. Thank you

    1. Nicola

      Go for it! You’ll regret it if you don’t. Your 4yo should be fairly easy and there are some great products out there to make your 2yo more comfortable when flying e.g. the Fly Tot. think about breaking up the trip in Singapore or HK enroute

  13. natalietanner

    LOL! I love how you describe the first tip…know what you are in for. Prep is king!! Great list of tips. Thanks!

    1. Nicola

      Thanks 🙂

  14. Kina

    Thanks for the advice, we just travel from norway to Indonesia, and my daughter is having a tremendous jetlag, she slept from 10 pm and woke up at 11 am, not sure to wake her up or not. Suggestions please, it’s our 3rd day.

  15. Michael

    Great article, thanks. I would add that when jet lag hits, TV/iPads/DVDs are a two-edged sword and need to be used carefully. Avoid using them as babysitter in the night – too stimulating for the awake child, and the sound and light may wake others who were managing to sleep. Use quiet activities like reading, journal-writing, coloring, playing with building blocks, etc.
    During the day, physical activity outdoors is best, but some TV/iPad/DVD time may help occupy and stimulate the child and overcome the lagging body clock that is making them sleepy in the day.

  16. Hannah

    Hi ladies,
    We returned from a 3week trip to the uk on Saturday (3 nights ago) with our 10month old girl. The last three nights have been challenging, it’s like having a newborn again.
    Night one she woke every other hour for an hr or so, night two she was wide awake from midnight til 4am, and last night she was awake from 9pm til 3am will 2 small naps between.
    She is usually a fantastic sleeper, normally a solid 12hrs (6pm-6am) with 2x 40min naps in the day so I’m finding this difficult.
    Should I be waking her from naps to get her back into normal routine or just let her sleep it out?
    I might try pushing out her bedtime tonight to see if she sleeps longer through the night?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. abroad1

      Yes. A short nap but not longer than an hour at most. Otherwise you are just adding to the delay of normal hours /

  17. Haley

    Hi,
    Great tips. I’m traveling alone with my 2 and 3 year olds Aus to US. Wondering if anyone has comments on using Fly Tot vs 1st Class Kid Pillow??? The latter is MUCH more affordable, especially considering I will need to buy 2 (here is Aus prices are almost double compared to the US). Anyway, any help would be great. Thanks:)

  18. Debbie Maltby

    Same question as Hannah. My 11 month old granddaughter arrived in SA from DC, USA at midnight. I walked her to sleep at 2 a.m. and she is still sleeping – wondering whether I should make her up? SA is 10 hours ahead. Mom still sleeping too 🙂

  19. abroad1

    Terrible advice to recommend drugging a child … dramamine or anything else when not needed is a bad idea. Besides, it makes them cranky so you are only adding to your problems.
    Wake them up early, give them a nap, put them to bed at the usual time. lights out ..
    no drugs. It doesn’t take forever to adjust to normal times and habits.

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