Experiencing jet lag is normal after crossing multiple time zones aboard a plane, but it can really throw a wrench into a family vacation. How to help kids (and their parents) adjust to a time zone change is an important skill to have on a family vacation.[rpi]
My two eldest children were only five and seven when she departed for Singapore. Though planning our first vacation there was thrilling, I worried about the long flight, the 16-hour time difference, and the severe jet lag we’d all face. Though jet lag made some parts of the trip challenging, it was a huge success overall.
My family and I now have a firm foundation in my travel experience, which will make future travels less fraught with the consequences of jet lag.
There may not be a certain solution to avoid jet lag, but there are things you can do to ease the transition for your loved ones. Here are seven methods that have helped myself and my family beat jet lag, stay rested during extended journeys, and make the most of our time at our favorite vacation spots.
Avoiding jet lag with a little preplanning
Bad results can be avoided with careful preparation. It’s a fact of life that you will get jet lag. So, prior to leaving the house, my family has devised this strategy to counteract this.
The first step is to become familiar with the time difference
It’s helpful to anticipate how your body will react to the time shift. Find out what time it is when you will need to wake up, have lunch, and go to bed in your destination country. Keeping track of how many time zones you’ll be crossing may help you be better prepared for early morning wakeups, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and general irritability. Instead of trying to adjust to the new time zone, it may be more helpful to think ahead to how your loved ones would act.
Create a strategy that works for your loved ones
If you are aware of the time difference, you can adjust your itinerary for the first two days of your trip to minimize the impact of jet lag. Since you, too, will be suffering from jet lag, having a game plan in place will make it easier to proceed with little to no conscious effort on your part. There are two main techniques: Do something soothing all day, like taking a trip to the beach or having a picnic in the park. In order to avoid being tied down by things like timed tickets and reservations, it’s best to keep plans open. This approach is ideal for households that have trouble maintaining consistency. And Action-Packed: Put some life into your day-to-day activities. Get some exercise to help you recover from jet lag. Don’t let up on your day-to-day activity levels. Families who function well within strict routines and guidelines would benefit immensely from adopting this strategy.
Choose the approach you believe will be most beneficial for your loved ones, and organize the first few days accordingly. No matter what strategy you use, you need to discover ways to keep even the most worn-out child engaged and occupied.
Make your kids feel more invested in the trip by having them help you arrange it. Ask the kids to pick their top three activities for the first few days, and do your best to accommodate them. Motivated people have a greater chance of overcoming jet lag.
In order to minimize the effects of jet lag, you should take the following steps before you go.
Everyone has jet lag at some point, so it’s good to know what to expect
To beat jet lag, just give in to your body’s natural impulses and head to bed as it gets dark. When it’s bedtime, remind the kids that they need to stay in bed. While it’s true that you can’t force someone to nod off, you can ensure they remain in bed when it’s time to rest. In particular, there are two main reasons why this is so important. All members of the household should adhere to the new bedtime and wake up hour because of two factors: For two reasons, staying in bed is the best option: (1) the body will adjust to the new schedule more quickly if you do, and (2) everyone will get more rest if you do. Very young children should sleep with their parents, especially if they have trouble falling back to sleep after waking up.
Provide the youngsters with a clip-on reading light to facilitate nighttime reading. Your child’s small size may necessitate your sharing a bed with them. Pass them a board book and a stuffed animal to keep them engaged and quiet. One parent can read to the child before bedtime if they have problems falling asleep on their own. Make a deal, too.
In order to combat jet lag during the middle of the day, it is recommended that you schedule some downtime activities. Have everyone in the household contribute some ideas for relieving exhaustion. Naps should be avoided unless they are a normal part of your daily routine at home; otherwise, you risk your jet lag symptoms lasting longer. Having easily transportable options for calming down is crucial because jet lag can hit at any time. Before turning in for the night, you may do anything as easy as reading, drawing, or coloring a book, playing with a small toy (hot wheels, a stuffy), or listening to an audiobook.
For long car rides, I always make sure to download several audiobooks in advance and give my kids their headphones. A vacation to Paris with my then-6 and now-8-year-old children was a memorable experience for all of us (a nine-hour difference). On the first full day of our trip, when we were at a museum, my eldest daughter started to experience the affects of jet lag. While we were out walking and listening to an audiobook, she followed us around. The rest of the family had a great time without her at the museum.
Get some sun
Spending time in the sun may help you overcome jet lag and adjust to the new time zone. During your first few days in a new place, try to spend as much time as possible outside. Exposure to natural light has a profound effect on mood. (Check your itinerary for the first two days to be sure you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors.)
6. Make sure you’re getting enough to eat and drink on a regular basis.
Eating during the local mealtimes can help your body adapt to the new time zone. Even if you’re too tired and not too hungry to eat much, you should still strive to do so while meals are available. Dehydration exacerbates the effects of jet lag, and long flights or car rides in general are known to dehydrate people. Jet lag can be mitigated by staying hydrated with sport drinks or hydration tablets, particularly at the commencement of the journey.
Kids can be encouraged to eat at the right times through play. My youngest daughter was six years old the year we took a family trip to Paris. She is not a morning person and abhors breakfast. It is already 12 AM in California, so I figured it would be much worse in Paris at 9 AM. We talked about how to adjust to the time change and early wake-ups before we left. When we were in Paris, I would wake her up every morning by saying, “It’s time for a midnight snack!” She didn’t groan when dawn came around, because she was looking forward to her “midnight snack” meal.
Try taking melatonin in addition to getting enough sleep at the right time
When it’s still light outside, it can be tough to go asleep, and that goes for both kids and grownups. Some families decide to give their children melatonin to help them sleep. Melatonin does not work as a sleep aid, but it does affect how your body manages its sleep cycles. It’s safe for kids and adults alike, and can be taken up to an hour before bedtime (often in a gummy form for kids).
Prepare your body
Make sure you get adequate rest the night before your trip by planning ahead. Adjusting your sleep routine to a new time zone requires some gentle maneuvering, as recommended by experts. Given the rigidity of school and work schedules and the rush of activity that usually preceded a large vacation, I find this highly improbable. More importantly, especially for younger children, a later bedtime does not necessarily entail a later wake up time. The best course of action, in my opinion, is to stick to one’s regular schedule and get plenty of sleep.