So you’re traveling. Across several time zones. With a baby. This is not a task for the weak-willed. Travel like this requires courage and determination beyond that of the ordinary person. Those of you who have done it before know exactly what I'm talking about!
But hey, that’s what we do as parents, right? We’re not going to stay chained to our homes for five or six years waiting for our babies to reach an age where they’ll be more convenient to travel with. We’ve got a world to explore and our babies are coming with us!
Before you set out, I want to make sure you have all the information you need to keep up those sleep skills you’ve been working on. I’m a sleep consultant, after all, so sleep is what I tend to focus on...
Here are my tips for you:
1. Avoid the Red-Eye
Some of us like to envision this scenario where we jump on the plane during baby’s night time, and they just magically sleep through the entire flight. We arrive fresh and rested and ready for our upcoming adventure.
On a rare occasion, this might work. It’s much MORE likely that you’re both going to have an awful night and arrive frazzled and seriously overtired.
Catch a daytime flight and hope for a decent nap or two on the way. You’re all going to arrive with a bit of a sleep debt anyways, but losing out on day time sleep is much preferred to sacrificing that important consolidated sleep at night.
2. Travel Prepared
I think this is one of those rare times when it’s OK to give in to their demands. Pack your carry-on with an absolute cornucopia of toys, snacks, books, and extra batteries. Think Mary Poppins. Whatever they ask for, hand it over. The goal is to make it to your destination in one piece, not abide by your standard snack and screen time rules.
The only real exception here is not to feed baby a bunch of sugary snacks. It’s just going to result in a big crash when she comes down from that high, which will make sleep even harder. Offer her plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and make sure you keep her hydrated. Jet lag symptoms go way beyond sleep. Constipation and diarrhea are two of the most common so maintaining proper hydration is crucial.
3. Is it worth altering the schedule?
Experts say that jet lag lasts about a day for every hour of time change, so if you’re taking a four day trip and you’re looking at a four-hour time change, it’s hardly worth getting baby fully adjusted just to turn around and have to do it all over again once you get home.
If you’re traveling to a time zone difference of 1-2 hrs, try to stay on your home time. Your baby might naturally adjust and that's ok too.
If you're traveling to a time zone with a 2+ hour difference and your trip is less than 4 days, settle for a partial adjustment, it’s probably not worth fully adjusting to the new time zone.
If you’re traveling to a time zone with a 2+ hour difference for longer than 4 days, you’ll want to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible. The good news is, our bodies naturally adapt to new time zones based on light and dark. So work on it right away – it’s not always a simple adjustment, but it will be worth it.
4. Stick to the bedtime routine
A predictable bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that sleep is coming. The brain will start preparing for it with melatonin production, relaxing the muscles, and slowing down mental activity. Whatever your baby’s bedtime routine is at home, stick as closely to it as you can.
Begin to block external light an hour or two before bedtime. This will help with the melatonin build up.
Don’t forget to use black out shades or curtains. Black trash bags work will even work (from personal experience)! This will help your little one fall asleep faster and sleep better in her new surroundings.
5. Sunlight is on your side
As much as we don’t want any sunlight getting in the room while baby’s trying to sleep, soak it up while she’s awake!
Getting a significant amount of sunlight during the day charges up our melatonin production and helps get the circadian rhythm adjusted quickly to the new time zone. Do your best to get outside during the day – it will only benefit night time sleep.
6. Add an extra nap
Even if your travels went smoothly, it’s likely that your baby will still need some extra sleep when you arrive. Try adding an extra nap of 45-90 mins in somewhere. It can really help counteract the overtiredness that comes after a long flight. Just remember to leave enough space between waking up from her last nap and bedtime so that there’s time for fatigue to build up.
Let’s say you’ve got an 8 month-old and her usual bedtime is 7:00. You’ll want to get her up from her last nap of the day by no later than 4:00 so she’s sleepy enough to go down for the night once bedtime comes around.
7. Keep things familiar
Remember to pack baby’s favorite PJs, lovie, blanket, and so on. Once baby’s asleep, it will help her to stay that way if her surroundings are similar to what she is used to.
Warning: Do not bed share while you’re traveling unless you want to bed share when you get home as well. Babies get attached to this scenario in the blink of an eye, and once they’ve gotten attached, it can become a very difficult situation to get out of!
8. Remember who you’re dealing with
Nobody thrives when they’re sleep deprived, and kids are no different. We’re all going to be a little grumpy and short-tempered once that plane lands. Understand where they are coming from before you react to their behavior.
As I mentioned earlier, it takes about a day to adjust for every hour of time difference, so it’s going to require patience and consistency on your part to get them over the hump as soon as possible. Try to keep your cool. Believe it or not, your attitude will have a big impact on your baby.
The sooner you’re all accustomed to the new time zone, the sooner you can all get on with enjoying your trip.
Photo by Octav Cado on Unsplash