You’ve survived the air plane flight. You made it through the airport and got to your house, hotel, or final destination. Success! It’s all over now, right?
Getting over jet lag is the final step of any long haul trip. Unless your trip is solely north/south, odds are high you’ve crossed several time zones and will have jet lag to contend with at the final destination. Ten hours time difference is the most we’ve had to deal with, while 6 hours is our current difference between our current country and our home state.
I’ve dealt with kids jet lagged for 6 hrs+ time differences 8 times now and many more instances of jet lag of 1-3 hours. In some ways, time is the only way to get over jet lag. But I’ve found some tips and techniques that work well for speeding up jet lag.
Pick Landing Timing-if you have any options for flights, landing mid afternoon to early evening is most ideal when dealing with large time differences. Chances are your kids (and you!) will be pretty tired from the trip and going to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour helps kick start getting over jet lag. If you land in the morning, you’re likely to nap which will throw off bedtime that evening.
Melatonin-I have used melatonin for kids very successfully for helping them with jet lag. I buy the kid gummy version and give it 30-60 minutes before bedtime. I brought it with me on our last flight and gave it to the kids as we boarded the plane for an overnight flight. Then the next day when we arrived in Cairo, I gave it to them shortly before wanting them to go to bed (we got home about 10 pm and unpacked key things, ate dinner, and went to bed). They got it before bed each night for about 4 nights and then didn’t need it any more. I also ended up taking it on night 3 when my sheer exhaustion had worn off enough that my body was struggling to go bed on time. This won’t work for babies, and for toddlers you’ll need to talk to your doctor about dosage.
Force Wake Ups-If you flew east, chances are your kids (and you!) will be staying up later and sleeping in later. Set your alarm clock! Letting your kids sleep til noon may sound amazing (especially for those of you with little kids normally up at the crack of dawn) but it makes adjusting take longer. Day 1 we were in bed by 11 pm and I woke them at 10. Day 2 I woke them at 9:00 and day 3 at 8:30. Day 4 was 8 am and after that they started waking up on their own. As I shifted wake ups earlier, I also shifted bedtime earlier. Same goes for nap time. If you have a kid who normally naps, don’t let them nap longer than they normally would. DS2 naps about 2 hours on a normal day. So I woke him after 2.5 hours the first day (he was still short on sleep) and then after 2 hours the next few days until he adjusted.
No Naps-If your kids don’t normally nap, don’t let them nap getting over jet lag. Don’t you nap either! Power through it. You want them TIRED at bedtime. If you landed in the morning and just can’t make it to bedtime, nap early on and keep it to a true cat nap.
Just Keep Swimming-to quote Dory from Finding Nemo, just keep swimming. Don’t stop moving. Make your days active to keep them awake. If you flew east, try and get outside and be extra active in the morning. If you flew west, make sure you’re outside and active in the afternoons. That helps reset your clock. Go outside and play and walk and move!
Go Barefoot-My mom read an article somewhere that going barefoot in the grass helps you get over jet lag. We’ve done that for the last several long haul flights and I do think it helps.
Limit Screen time-Most of us know that screen time near bedtime is considered a no-no. It’s especially a no-no if you’re trying to reset your body clock. If you flew east, and need to shift bedtime earlier, make sure your kids aren’t using electronics several hours before bedtime. If you flew west and have early wakers, don’t resort to screen time when possible.
Keep it Dark and Quiet-I find flying west much harder than flying east for adjusting kids to a new time. Flying east, they stay up later and sleep in later which at least is more similar to adults’ schedule. Especially if you’re visiting someone. But if you’re flying west, they wake up with or before the sun. Then you have to keep them quiet and happy while the household sleeps. In the morning, keep it as dark and quiet as possible. Read books, play with some quiet toys, or see if he/she’ll be happy in your bed a bit. My 2 year old was happy coming into our bed and it bought us a little more time before I had to get up myself.
Try a Wake Up Clock-We are in love with our Ok To Wake clocks. If your kid is older than 2 (my two understood the concept at 26 and 28 months), try a clock that lights up when it’s the right time to wake up. Each morning of jet lag, I moved it just a little bit later to encourage him to sleep later. When it turns green, he knew he could call out for me.
The Silver Lining to a No Sleep Flight-Kid didn’t sleep the entire 18 hour trip across the world? One advantage is they’ll probably get over jet lag faster! Especially if you reach your destination at night. Get home and pop them into bed and hopefully they’ll sleep straight through the night! It gets you off to a great start.
Tag Team-If there are two adults, tag team sleep. DH is a night owl and happy to stay up late. When we landed in Cairo on our last long haul flight, he had already been home a month. We got to our apartment about 10, and I ate a late dinner and went right to bed (no sleep for me on the flights=a very tired mommy). He played with the kids (who had slept and were rather excited to be home) and then got them ready for bed and did tuck-ins. I got some extra sleep.
Take it Easy-don’t schedule anything time sensitive the first few days. Sure, you want them to be outside and moving. But knowing you have an appointment at X time 2 days after arriving just adds stress.
And finally, remember, this too shall pass. Everyone gets over jet lag eventually!