Getting through jet lag with babies and toddlers

 In Travel Tips

There are a few things in travel that you just can’t avoid. Airline fees, delays and lost luggage are always going to be there, and the biggest of the bunch is jet lag, especially jet lag with babies. Everyone wants a quick fix for it; I have yet to meet someone who has a fast and easy solution for jet lag with babies.

When you travel alone across time zones you can trick your body into staying awake and force yourself onto local time. Babies don’t really go for this. If it is 4am locally and 10am back home, well you better believe your baby’s jet lag will have him up even if you put him to bed at 11pm last night (local time of course).

Time to accept the reality of jet lag with babies and move on.

If you are mentally prepared to not sleep very well for a night or two, your trip will be a hundred times better. I promise. If you try to force it those first few days you will only get frustrated and will pay for it in the long run. I’ve been traveling with my boys for over four years. I’ve made so many mistakes, but I have learned a lot about jet lag along the way. I think I almost have a jet lag with babies system figured out.

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Get up

Your kids are going to wake up when you want to sleep. This is inevitable even at home when you have a baby and/or toddler. Try to go to bed when your kids do so you can both get a few hour of sleep before your baby’s jet lag tells them it is time to wake up. Once that happens, get up. Don’t play pacifier ping pong, try to force them back to sleep or ignore it. Just get up and deal with your jet lagged baby. Play for a bit, have some food, and pretend to be awake. You may not like it, but this is the reality of the situation.

Get some food

As soon as you land at your destination find the local market and grab milk, yogurt and cereal, or whatever your family likes to eat first thing in the morning. When the kids wake up at 4am give them breakfast. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to give them a glass of water and put them back to bed. Their jet lag baby bodies just told them it is time to eat. They will make you listen to their needs even if it means crying for the next four hours. Feed your baby so he doesn’t cry for the next four hours. No one, especially you, wants to hear that.

Get entertained

After breakfast read a few favorite books, play with the toys you brought or take a bath. Do something quiet that can keep your kids entertained, but will not over stimulate them. If you are way too tired to play a rousing game of peek-a-boo with your jet lag baby, pop some Curious George on or another favorite show. Get yourself through the wee-hours of baby jet lag anyway you can.

Get back in bed

After about 1-3 hours, do your normal bedtime routine again. Your kids are probably still in their pajamas, but you can brush their teeth, have them sit on the toilet, change diapers, read stories and have a cup of milk. Lay the baby down, tuck your toddler in and crawl back into bed. Stay very still as you pray that your kids will go back to sleep. Chances are they will. If not, well, you may be watching the sun come up wherever you are. It’s not that bad. Sunrises are pretty awesome.

Now that I have figured out the system that works for us and gets us through jet lag with babies, I’m sure my boys will change on me. However, after our disastrous first night in Switzerland last year, I have learned to just go with the flow. Even in Hawaii this month we were all up at 4:30am, but back in bed by 7am for a nice three-hour nap.

It’s not perfect, but anything you try is better than nothing with it comes to jet lag with babies.

What are your baby jet lag tips?  

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Keryn Means
Keryn is the founder and editor-in-chief of Walking on Travels, an award-winning site that gives hope to today’s active parents who don’t want to stop their lives; they simply bring their kids along for the ride. Keryn utilizes her project management background, along with a masters degree in journalism and an undergrad degree in photography to the team to create dynamic content and a vision that keeps up with the latest technology and trends. You can find Keryn dragging her 2 boys around the DC area most days and across the globe several times a year. Follow along on their adventures on Instagram and Pinterest.
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Showing 11 comments
  • Rebecca

    Still trying to figure out a system. Getting back into our daily routine when coming home helps. But otherwise, trying to figure out the 3am wake ups after travelling 7 hours time difference in either direction.

  • Nicole

    Yes, Europe was pretty bad for us. It took 4 days to get into the swing of things…but we managed. The Hawaiian time zone change is not very fun either…hate early mornings.

    • Keryn Means

      Nicole- Hawaii is just that annoying time change that throws everyone off a little bit, but still has quite the impact. I won’t stop going though 😉 Europe too. We actually did a lot better in Europe this past year. I think it helped that I had Mike with me and we could tag team.

  • Sally@Toddlers on Tour

    We’ve been fortunate with our travels and the only time we have changed time zones more than an hour was when we travelled from Perth (home) to Sydney a 3 hour time difference. However as we travelled west to east we just stayed on WST who cares if our toddler was still running about the boardwalk at midnight. We just all slept in until 10am.

    However travelling east to west is not so easy, nor is travelling for greater time changes. My advice: unless it’s absolutely necessary (like visiting family) try not to change time zones look for destinations North or South of your home, particularly while they are very young and don’t understand what has happened. There are so many more years of travel when they are a bit older and can understand that the time zone is different and it is just time to go to bed.

    • Keryn Means

      Unfortunately changing timezones has never been an option for us. All of our family lives on the east coast of the U.S., while we live on the west. From the beginning we knew jet lag would be a part of our lives. Once we accepted that we moved onto all of the fabulous places we could go. Going north or south from the west coast without changing timezones is a bit limiting. Even central and south america are 1-5 hours off from us. Boo!

  • Jenna

    Useful tips! Dealing with a time change in addition to a change in setting, bed, sleeping arrangements, climate, etc. is so much for a little one. The 6-hour time difference to Brazil has never been much of an issue, but the 15-hour time change in Bali was a struggle. After a couple of days, though, it was fine.

  • wanderingeducators

    I hear you. It’s a struggle! Some parents say their kids don’t have jet lag, but mine definitely does. Great tips!

  • Colleen Lanin

    Make sure to get lots of sunshine during the day to adjust young bodies to the new time zone. Adjust your sleep/wake time by a few hours as necessary. SLEEP WHEN YOUR CHILD SLEEPS!

  • Jadie

    Thanks for the tips! Dealing with some jet lag iffues right now…5 days in on a trip from Western Canada to Sweden. Not going very well, the little one seems to only want to be awake at night and sleep all day no matter what we do. And…of course as it often is in Sweden…no sunshine to take her out to! Lol….keeping fingers crossed that she adjusts soon.

  • Heather

    I live in Europe, and arrived a week ago after a three week visit Stateside, traveling without my husband. We didn’t have trouble in the US…it was normal jet lag. But coming back, my one year old and I have struggled and are still fighting it. I am getting desperate now. I am so thankful for my husband for letting me sleep when I need it, but I think we’re having such trouble still because my baby and I aren’t staying together. I also made the mistake of using these brilliant European blackout shutters too many naps, I am afraid. Iam finding lavender helpful to help soothe my daughter into bedtime. Thanks for the advice and support!