Traveling across time zones with small children is challenging. They don’t understand the fact that when they are traveling they are going to a different time zone. So, when they arrive they are grumpy and hungry and don’t really understand why they just can’t sleep or don’t want to sleep because they are so excited to be where ever you took them.
Jet lag without children is only a minor problem. You wake up in the middle of the night or way to early depending on which direction you flew. You are not sure when to eat. You may also not sure when to take your daily medicine. I just switch immediately to the new time zone so if I arrive at home at 10am I take my morning medicine then. And then the is the question to nap or not to nap …. answer is always don’t nap! A short one with an alarm will not hurt too much. You will adjust a lot faster if you just shower and then go out exploring for the day.
Jet lag with kids is a whole other ball game and you just shouldn’t fight it. I remember being so frustrated when I was carrying babies around the apartment all hours of the night trying to get them to go back to sleep. But they didn’t understand and I promise the older the kids get the easier it is to adjust to different time zones.
What can you do about jet lag with kids?
Going East – This is generally considered the harder direction to travel. When we fly east we are flying home to Munich, Germany.
– Get up early in the morning and get the morning sun (hopefully there is sun) on you and the kids’ faces. Unfortunately, traveling home to Munich in the winter sun can be hard to come by!
– Stick to your routine. Don’t take an extra day off work to adjust. Just go back as soon as you can. You might as well be jetlagged at work instead of using a vacation day. Also, the practice of getting you up and out of the house in the morning sun will make your adjustment faster. Same with the kids in daycare or school.
– Avoid taking naps in a dark room in the middle of the day your body will think dark = sleep = no need to change to this time zone. When we nap coming home, I set the alarm for no more than 2 hours. We sleep with the shades wide open. I wake everyone up after 2 hours. This might not be physically possible sometimes. I have very deep sleeping children and I have had to let them sleep longer because I just can’t wake them.
You basically need to reset your circadian clock and the best way to do that is to make sure you are getting exposed to the correct light and dark cycles.
Going West- this is the easier way. Your kids will probably just wake up extremely early the first few days but when we are flying back to the states that isn’t a problem we are just out exploring early in the morning.
I give them an earlier nap and then try and keep them awake until a normal bed time. We are functioning more on a normal schedule basically from day 1. We are just a little tired and probably grumpy. It takes a few days to get them sleeping into a decent hour and in our house well rested children are much better behaved. Because of this I usually make sure we don’t have any big trips on events happening the first 2 days we are home so we have time to adjust before our adventures begin. I know that is a bit of a luxury if you are no traveling to family. But we are always visiting my parents in Delaware.
Sleeping on the plane is always going to help with the transition in either direction! It is less sleep you will have lost and it will help you adjust faster. Before kids I always did a Tylenol pm and 2 glasses of wine. I slept almost the entire plane ride and would arrive at my destination ready to go. With kids I usually don’t get to sleep but if they are both sleeping I do at least try and relax and close my eyes and don’t use that time to watch one of the new movies…which is very tempting.
In the end they say try and adjust 1 hour each day. If you do bad things like nap and don’t get your butt out of the house in the morning it will take you 10 days with kids…. believe me we have done this a lot of times. We significantly cut done our transition time to 6 days when I had to start getting my oldest out the door to preschool by 9am at the latest. This got all of us up and out the door and on our way to resting our circadian clock!
If you are traveling to Munich, Germany check out my post on things to do with kids while in Munich. And why not get your yearly family photos done while you are here also! Check out my Remembering Munich session page.
Safe and happy travels!