For many people, the thought of dealing with jet lag when travelling with kids can be as much of a deterrent to travelling as the long haul flight itself.
I have been travelling frequently since I was a baby so you would think I would be a total expert on overcoming jet lag by now. But instead what I have learned, is that there is no one-size fits all solution for everybody and that some people are lucky not to suffer from it, while others will take days to overcome jet lag.
What I also know though, is that while there may not be an actual jet lag cure available, there are certainly steps you can take to help avoid jet lag and to lessen the jet lag symptoms.
I recently consulted some of my fellow travel bloggers to get their top jet lag tips, and from talking to them all it seems to all come down to four main factors: Sleep, Sunshine, Exercise and Food.
Adjust your sleep pattern to beat jet lag
Sleep is the number one concern for most people with jet lag, as it is where the dreaded jet lag manifests itself most obviously – particularly if you are travelling with kids. Here’s the scenario: you lie awake in bed willing yourself to go to sleep all night. You finally fall asleep at 3am, when – you guessed it – one of the kids decides it’s time to get up and play. You struggle through with them for the next two hours until they fall asleep again… and then the other kid decides to wake up. Yep. It’s a killer.
The trick is to try and get your body clock on to your destination time zone as quickly as possible. I think the first 24-hours are crucial for beating jet lag.
Think about the local time zone as soon as you board the plane, and adapt your sleep on the plane accordingly. For example – if your plane lands at 7am local time you will need to ensure you have been sleeping right up to the time you land, which often means staying awake for the first few hours of the flight. Remember that if you land early in the morning, you are going to need to try and stay awake for at least the next 12 hours until evening.
Choose your flight wisely If we fly long-haul Hong Kong – London, we usually prefer to fly overnight, let the kids sleep and then just struggle through the first day after landing at 7am. However, I have other friends who prefer to struggle through the day flight with kids then arrive exhausted at night and all fall into bed. Whatever works for you. One flight to avoid, however, is the shorter nighttime flights that take you forward in time (eg. Singapore to Sydney), when you end up missing out on most of your night’s sleep altogether.
If you can afford to throw money at the problem then even better. Dana from Moms Good Eats tells me “ We always fly business or first so we have a comfy flight. We find the extra money is well worth it as we land refreshed and ready and never waste a day or two catching up.”
Can’t afford to fly Business? Check out our review of the 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow for helping kids get a better sleep on the plane by turning their Economy seat into a flatbed.
Flying with small babies can throw up additional challenges Keri from Babyglobetrotters passes on these words of wisdom: “When we travel with babies on long-haul flights, I always try and get them into the new awake/sleep pattern that I want for my destination as soon as I board the flight – even if that means cluster feeding at some point. If you’re a breastfeeding mum, of course your boobs don’t always cooperate with this new pattern so I always take expressed milk as well for any top up feeds during the flight, and lots of breast pads for the long overnight stretches.”
Looking for more tips on flying with a baby? Read our Ten Tips for Surviving Your First Flight with a Baby.
Don’t be tempted for that afternoon nap! Honestly, you need to try your hardest to keep everyone awake. A long afternoon nap is going to stop you sleeping at night, and then you will end up in an ongoing vicious circle. I know this is tricky – especially with young children who are being pushed around in a buggy. If they do fall asleep – try to only let them take a maximum of one-hour naps at a time. Trying to stay awake at the right time is one of the hardest challenges of jet lag. Read on for tips on keeping everyone awake.
Get out in the sunshine to beat jet lag
All the ‘experts’ claim that sunshine is the best cure for jet lag, with the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky being the optimum time for overcoming jet lag. This is because daylight helps your body to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates your awake/sleep cycles.
Obviously if are flying into a sunny beach resort, this can be easy – you just grab the beach bag and all hang out on the sand or by the pool for the day. The real challenge comes when you arrive in London on a rainy drizzly cold February morning and you have to get everyone outside!
Get active to beat jet lag
This goes hand in hand with the sunshine tip above. Get out and about during the daytime to keep everybody busy and they are a) less likely to fall asleep and b) hopefully be so tired by the evening that they drop into bed and sleep til morning (a mum can dream!)
Arnie from Arnie and Jo are on the Go advises “Just keep moving. We usually drop our bags and go right back out again. That strategy hasn’t failed us yet” and Noel Morata from Travel Photo Discovery tells me “Typically when I am in a new location I keep my schedule full and try to also build in some workout, hike or recreation so when it’s close to evening, I’m really ready to crash for the night.”
The best way to keep kids going is to hang out by the pool if you are lucky enough to have that facility – being in the water is the best way to stay awake. We also find just playing out in the garden or taking a walk helps.
The worst thing I have found is either putting them in the buggy or being in a car, train or bus. My kids both fell asleep on an open-top bus tour of London last year and I ended up sitting on board for an hour past our intended stop waiting for them to wake up!
Adjust your eating pattern to beat jet lag
As with your sleep pattern, you need to adjust your eating schedule to your local time zone as soon as you arrive. This can be strange sometimes – we always used to be served breakfast on the plane on arrival in Singapore, to then find it was actually happy hour when we arrived in the city (oh well…)
I am always an advocate for being relaxed about routines on holiday – and this is particularly true if your kids are jet lagged. A snack before bedtime is a great way to help avoid jet lag according to my fellow travel bloggers.
Marta Correale from Learning Escapes tells me “For the first few days after arrival, I always give the kids an extra snack before going to bed so they are less likely to wake up in the middle of the night for what their body knows as ‘mealtime’. Porridge or hot milk and biscuits work best and create a nice reassuring bedtime routine too.”
Tikva from Gezin Op Reis reiterates this advice. “I make sure to have enough (powdered) milk with me. A warm bottle or glass of milk will often help them to fall asleep again quickly. And as jet lag will usually also affect the appetite of the child it will also help them not to wake up when hungry.”
The great medication debate for beating jet lag
The debate about whether to use medication to help combat jet lag is an ongoing one that I don’t intend to enter into here. If you want to see what I’m talking about then I suggest you Google “phernagan for kids sleeping”. For the record I have never used any kind of medication to help my kids with jet lag, but I did recently succumb to taking a melatonin supplement myself.
I spent the first four months of this year flying backwards and forwards between Hong Kong and London due to my parents’ ill health. After the third long-haul trip in as many months, together with the stress of the situation, I couldn’t handle the jet lag any longer and so I decided to check out melatonin.
As I described above, melatonin is the hormone that regulates the body clock; so the supplement supposedly helps you to fall back to sleep quicker when you awaken with jet lag. I have to say it was a revelation to me after forty years of fighting jet lag, and I am an immediate convert.
Obviously I am in no way endorsing the use of melatonin for anyone else, and if you are ever thinking of taking any kind of supplement, please consult your doctor first!
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