For many people, the thought of recovering from jet lag when travelling with small kids can be as much of a deterrent to travelling as the long haul flight itself.
I have been travelling since I was a baby so you would think I would be a total expert on jet lag recovery 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 getting over 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 beat jet lag and to lessen the jet lag symptoms.
In this article I am going to share with you many tried and tested ways to cure jet lag, according to many travel experts.
What is Jet Lag?
The actual definition of jet lag is “extreme tiredness and other physical effects felt by a person after a long flight across different time zones.”
What causes jet lag is the combined effect of changing your body clock and sleep patterns as you switch time zones, with the effects of flying. Cabin pressure, altitude changes etc can wreak havoc on the body and mind.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
Common signs of jet lag include extreme tiredness, jet lag nausea and a general feeling of confusion and foggy-mindedness.
As your body fights to adjust to the new time zone, you will often find yourself fighting sleep during the day and wide awake at night with the dreaded jet lag insomnia.
Another symptom of jet lag can be an upset digestive system as your body works out its new daily routine in the new time zone. Some people also complain of a jet lag headache, which is probably caused by tiredness and dehydration.
How long does Jet Lag last?
A commonly quoted opinion is that it will take you a day per hour of time zone change to overcome jet lag. I’m not convinced this is true as I have rarely had it take more than a week even with a 10+ time zone change.
But it is true that the greater the time zone change, usually the harder it is to beat the jet lag. Other factors are at play when it comes to jet lag recovery time, such as the time of day you travel and which time zones you are traveling to and from.
The general consensus is that flying west to east is the jet lag worse than flying east to west. I have to say that I personally find traveling from the UK to Asia or Australia much harder than flying the other way around. But this can really depend on what time I arrive too.
The annoying truth is it will take as long as it takes. However, following some of our jetlag tips below will help you get over it quicker.
How to get over Jet Lag
I recently consulted some of my fellow travel bloggers to get their top tips on how to beat jet lag. From talking to them all it seems to all come down to four main factors: Sleep, Sunshine, Exercise and Food.
Personally the biggest game changer for me to getting over jetlag was taking melatonin. But more on that later.
Here are the best remedies for jet lag, according to my travel bloggers:
Adjust your sleep pattern to beat jet lag
Sleep is the number one concern for most people with jet lag, as it is where most people suffer the most – 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.
Re-set your body clock
The trick of how to cure jet lag is to try and get your body clock on to your destination time zone as quickly as possible.
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, the best way to get over jet lag is to try and stay awake for at least the next 12 hours until evening.
Choose your flight wisely
When we flew long-haul Hong Kong – London with very young kids, we usually preferred to fly overnight, let the kids sleep and then just struggle through the first day after landing at 7am.
However, now the kids are a bit older and easier to entertain on the plane, we prefer the day flight, 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.”
Looking for ways to get the kids comfy on the plane to ensure a better night sleep? Check out our travel pillow reviews here.
Some people also like to take their car seat on the plane for the baby to sleep in. If you want to do this, you must ensure it is FAA Approved – read our full article about FAA Approved car seats here.
Adjust baby’s feeding & sleeping pattern immediately
Flying with small babies can throw up additional challenges Keri from Our Globetrotters 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 dealing with 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 remedy 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 (read more about melatonin pills for jet lag below).
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! We did this in New York – took the kids for a walk around Central Park in the freezing cold for a couple of hours. It definitely helped!
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”.
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 when fighting jet lag. We also find just playing out in the garden or taking a walk helps.
The worst thing I have found to do with jet lagged kids 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 at the hotel (oh well…)
I am always an advocate for relaxing routines on holiday – and this is particularly true if you are dealing with infant jet lag. A snack before bedtime is a great way to help combat 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.”
Melatonin for Jetlag
The debate about whether to use medicines for 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 would like to say I have never used any kind of jet lag medicine for my kids, but I do swear by a dose of melatonin for jet lag for myself.
A couple of years ago I spent the first four months of the 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 effects of jet lag any longer and so I decided to check out melatonin as a jet lag supplement.
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 insomnia.
I have to say it was a revelation to me after forty years of fighting jet lag, and I was an immediate convert.
You can buy melatonin on Amazon here.
Disclaimer: 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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