And so the time has come: our holiday to San Francisco is here and all the pre-trip tasks have slowly been taken care of. We have packed, we have an itinerary, we have gone through our usual series of tricks to make flying with kids as easy as possible and we are almost ready to go. Before we do so, there is one last thing to tackle: the dreaded jet lag or, rather, the quest for tips and tricks to tackle jet lag with kids.
When I was very young, I didn’t really get people complaining about jet lag. It wasn’t usual for me to take long haul flights, but even when I did, I felt ok and perceived the change in metabolic schedule peculiar, more than annoying. Everything changed when I went to Japan: I don’t know if it was tiredness, lack if preparation, anxiety, but adjusting to Japanese time took me over a week and it was all but fun. I felt slightly sick for days, exhausted and fragile, not the best frame of mind if you are alone one a business trip!
Things did not improve when we went to Canada: Montreal was fantastic, but coming back home was not. The plan of getting the kids to sleep on the plane didn’t work (it was only a 6 hour flight), I didn’t get an ounce of sleep and again it took all of us the best part of a week to regain normal operating energy.
It is, therefore, with more than a bit of anxiety that we now tackle this long trip to California, an almost 11-hour flight. This time, however, I decided to be prepared and I studied.
Strong in my resolve to survive it, I spent ages reading about tips and tricks to tackle jet lag and put together tips and advice from several sources: I have collected here the ones that seemed to work best and that are, I believe, doable.
Tips for getting over jet lag for you and your kids
Find your zen
Jet lag can hit you and your child hard and in different ways, so try to be patient with both yourself and them. A child who doesn’t sleep or who is overly tired and cranky can very quickly drive you up the wall, but losing your cool will not help: try remember that they are not doing it to you, they are unwell and possibly scared, so try be gentle and preserve your energy – putting it into anger or exasperation will only make you more tired and less able to cope.
Keep routines flexible
If you are worried about your child routine, try not to. Jet lag is temporary and your hard work to establish a routine will not be lost because of a few days.
Talking about routine, depending on how many time zones you will be crossing and how long you are going to be away, consider changing it slightly even before your trip. The trickiest thing, apart from sleep, is mealtimes: if you can, start aligning mealtimes with the new time zones in the last few days before you leave home, to minimize hunger pangs in the middle of the night on arrival.
Choose flights wisely
For long haul flights, I find travelling at night the best. My son doesn’t fall asleep easily on planes, but with a sufficient number of hours ahead he usually ended up dozing off and this means we arrive at our destination with at least some sleep behind up. This approach does not work for short flights: leaving Montreal at 5 pm and arriving in Dublin at 5 am (12 am Canada time) meant we skipped a full night sleep and that was plain hell! For short haul, what now works for us is early morning flights: the kids are likely to fall asleep either during the ride to the airport or at some stage during the flight, but the many hours of daylight ahead mean plenty of opportunities to get them moving and tired again.
Don’t be a vampire: seek daylight
Experts say that the best thing you can do to prevent and fight jet lag is to expose yourself to daylight. Reading on internet I found advice that sounded very technical and not easy to implement (I stopped reading when I realised it involved my latitude and longitude coordinates and a compass!) but it seemed to all come down to a pretty simple principle: both before and after travelling, stay outside and in daylight as much as possible.
Unless you are already on holidays, being out at specific times to minimise jet lag can prove tricky, but if you can, I fond this cool free tool that tell you when to be out in preparation for a long haul flight: Jet Lag Rooster. Luckily, is suggests staying out during ours that make sense for me and the kids, so no harm in trying
As well as being out, physical exercise can help: do not over exert yourself when tired, but do try to go for a walk and encourage your kids to move too – gentle exercise or a long stroll boost endorphins and will help you and your kids feel better. Do this both before and after travelling.
Beat jet lag on the plane
Experts say that what you do on the plane can have a big impact on how you react to jet leg and their first tip is to change your clock to your destination time as soon as you board. This is a psychological, more than a physical trick, but they swear by it and I can see it working with kids. In summer, days are very long in Ireland and my kids find it sometimes hard to reconcile that bedtime happens at a time that they perceive as day: changing time on a plane can work in a similar way: they might find odd how the time is passing but they are likely to comply
On the plane, avoid drugs that make you drowsy. Sleeping pills, cough syrups and anti histamine pills all appear in do-it- yourself-remedies against jet lag but are better avoided. Taking unnecessary medications is never a good idea (I am wearing my mama hat for this one!) and it can also backfire in practical terms: this kind of medication might not make your child sleepy but simply cranky, defeating the purpose and making the flight that little bit harder for everyone.
As tempting as a glass of wiskey can be, to tackle a 12 hour flight, alcohol should also be avoided as it is more likely to give you a headache and make you feel tired.
Talking of things to avoid, caffeine, chocolate and energy drinks should also be avoided as usually they put a strain on your circulation and metabolism making you less able to adapt to the changing of timezone. Instead, drink plenty of water both on the plane, before and after.
Important tip for breastfeeding mums: milk production is tied to our body clock so changing timezone will impact how much milk you produce when. Thing will settle again, but to help you and your baby in the first few days, drink even more water than usual and lie down as much as you can.
Beat jet lag on holidays
Once at your destination, try follow local time as soon as possible. Depending on the timezone, you might find your baby up and energetic in the middle of the night but, as much as possible, avoid indulging in it: if going back to sleep is not an option, stay anyway in bed with the curtain closed, encourage a quiet activity ( a book, a movie) and try not to get up.
If you think hunger may strike in the middle of the night, try be prepared and offer an extra snack or sleep friendly foods before bedtime (porridge, hot milk etc).
Finally, try and limit overly long naps: kids need sleep, but letting them snooze for 8 hours during the day will inevitably mean a while night so use your own judgement to mix sleep and more active time during the day.
Ok so, these are the tips against jet lag I will be following: do you have anything to add or do you want to share a story of jet lag from hell? I’d love to hear it!