Five Tips to Combat Jet Lag in Kids

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My husband and I love taking our kids on big adventures. In the past five years, we have done five major trips with our kids. And we love taking mini trips and road trips throughout the years. We’ve taken our kids to places like Southeast Asia, South America, the East Coast, and South Asia. With all the travel that we do as a family, you would think that we’ve got every aspect of family travel down pat. However, despite the many trips we’ve taken with our kids, jet lag in kids is still something we struggle with.

A young child sleeping due to jet lag in kids
My daughter, passed out after our trip to Paraguay (April 2013)

Handling jet lag in kids

For many families who travel to different time zones, you know all too well that it can often be difficult to get your kids adjusted to the local time zone when you, yourself, are still trying to adjust. Run a Google search for “how to get rid of jet lag in kids” and you’ll get more than a hundred thousand hits.

The myriad of advice for families runs the gamut of depriving your kids of sleep to giving them sleep enhancing drugs (read here about the debate on the safety of melatonin for kids). For me, personally, I prefer to use more natural methods to get my kids to adjust to the time difference. However, I would be lying if I said I had never considered giving my kids “a little something” to help them sleep.

In our family, jet lag hits us the most when we get home. Sometimes it takes weeks (or months!) for our kids to get used to being in our regular time zone. After our very first overseas trip as a family, it took our daughter several months of waking up in the middle of the night before she finally got used to being on Seattle time. It was pretty brutal, to say the least, especially since both my husband and I had to be back at work during that months-long adjustment period.

Jet lag in kids on the plane
Sleeping on the plane (July 2012)

Our family’s tips for combating jet lag

This time around, when we returned from our most recent trip to India, I wanted to avoid struggling with jet lag in kids. I tried really hard to get our kids adjusted back to Seattle time. Although the adjustment period was still just as brutal, it only lasted a few days, rather than several months. I can honestly say that I think I may have hit upon the perfect anti-jet lag strategy.

Of course, every kid is different. What works for my kids may not necessarily work on yours. And who’s to say that my strategy will work on my own kids every single time. But as a traveling parent, I feel it’s my duty to share my insights with other traveling parents. At the very least, I hope that it may relieve some of the torture you’ll have to undoubtedly face when combating jet lag in kids. If you’re planning for (or coming back from) a long trip, here are my tips to help your kids get over jet lag.

Plan for at least one adjustment day

This applies to when you’re going to your vacation destination and when you get back. Kids don’t have the same stamina as adults do to power through their tiredness. Similarly, they haven’t yet mastered the skill of forcing themselves to sleep.

In other words, when your kids are tired, they’ll go to sleep, even if it’s two in the afternoon. And when your kids are not tired, they’ll be awake, even if it’s one in the morning. For my family, when we travel, we like to plan for at least one adjustment day. This allows our kids to start getting used to being in a new time zone. That way, we don’t feel so stressed about missing out on sight-seeing or activities.

Spending the day in Tacoma (June 2016)

Try and arrive in the morning

Arriving in the morning helps in two ways. First, it gives you a whole day to do activities to keep your kids awake until it’s relatively close to bed time. Second, it ensures that you’ll have a chance to spend some time out in the sun (more on that later).

When we came back from India last month, we arrived back in Seattle around 8 in the morning. We spent a good chunk of our day eating at our favorite local restaurant, walking around the neighborhood, visiting a local farmer’s market, and hanging out in our backyard. For the most part, the activities helped to distract our kids from feeling too tired.

Playing at a local park (June 2016)

Keep your kids from sleeping

One of the most painful sounds to hear is the cry of a kid who’s been woken from a nap. But if you’re trying to combat jet lag in kids, this is one of the things you’re just going to have to endure. If your kids fall asleep in the middle of the day, try and limit their nap time to an hour at the most. They’ll want to sleep longer, since their bodies still think it’s night-time. However, this will mean that they’ll be wide awake in the wee hours of the morning, right when you’re trying to get your own sleep time.

During our adjustment period after India, I was spending the afternoons with both my kids on my lap, crying their lungs out because they were so tired. I felt so bad for them. However, I knew that if I gave in, they would be wide awake at bedtime. It may be hard to listen to your kids crying from tiredness, but you shouldn’t feel bad for keeping your kids from sleeping. In the long run, it will make it easier for them to adjust to their new time zone.

Walking through Chattuchak Market on our first day in Bangkok (July 2012)

Stay outside as much as possible

Sunlight helps to release serotonin in your body, which positively affects your body’s moods. Sunlight also has an effect on your body’s circadian rhythms. It signals to your body when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. Traveling between time zones throws your circadian rhythm out of whack. Getting as much sunlight as possible is important to getting that circadian rhythm back on track.

For kids, the best way to do this is to spend time outside, playing at local parks or taking walks. When we come back from overseas trips, as part of our adjustment day, we like to spend it outside. Last year, when we came back from our Indonesia trip, we spent the day at a local state fair. This year, upon returning from India, the kids and I took a day trip down to Tacoma to hang out at the zoo. As I mentioned before, keeping your kids active and outside also helps distract them from feeling tired.

File Jun 03, 8 54 03 PM
Playing at Deer Park in Delhi (June 2016)

Be patient

The most important advice I would give to parents is to be patient. All kids are different, so a method that works on one kid may not necessarily work on another. Also, every trip comes with its own special circumstances, so understand that sometimes you may not have time for that adjustment day, or perhaps it’s too cold to be spending all your days outside. Be patient, and know that this will not last forever. Eventually your kids WILL adjust to the proper time zone.

Giving my daughter nap time in Paraguay (April 2013)

Helping your kids get over jet lag can be stressful and painful. But don’t let it deter you from traveling! In my opinion, traveling with your children is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. So go ahead and take that long haul trip. With these tips, you’ll be able to help your kids get over jet lag with ease!

Do you have any of your own tried and true methods for helping your kids get over jet lag? Share them below in the comments!

Five Tips to Combat Jet Lag in Kids | The Wandering Daughter

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Hi, I'm Astrid

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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