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On my recent recent trip to Paris with my daughter, I did everything within my power to make sure she arrived as rested as possible. This included prepping her to sleep on the plane, booking an evening departure, and securing a lie flat seat for her. That may seem like over-kill, but I wanted to do everything I could to reduce the impact of jet-lag and maximize the time we had on the ground in Paris. Our trip wasn’t very long to begin with, so I didn’t want to waste a good chunk of it dealing with sleep issues.
We did as much as we could in advance to minimize the impact of the time change as much as possible, but none of it was going to eliminate the reality that we were operating in a land that had a seven hour time difference than our beds and clocks at home. This meant that when it was bedtime in Paris, it was the middle of the afternoon at home. When it was time to wake-up in Paris, it was the middle of the night back home. Here was how jet lag played out for us, and some things that helped minimize the impact.
Arrive as Rested as Possible:
Regardless of whatever time the clock says, having your kids arrive to their destination as rested as possible can only be a good thing. This means encouraging your kiddos to get as much sleep as possible on the flights. We did this by talking to our daughter ahead of time about sleeping on the plane, dressing her in something comfortable, and making sure she was as comfortable in her seat as possible. This was pretty easy since we had a lie-flat seat for her, but we would have let her stretch out on us if we were in economy. We also made sure she got a full night’s sleep at home the night before our trip began.
Go to Bed at a Normal Time in Your Destination:
Often adrenaline will help your kiddos stay up until a normal bedtime at your destination, and encourage that to happen. The quicker you can start operating according to the clocks at your destination, the better. For us in Europe that meant that bedtime there was roughly the time she took a nap at home in the afternoon. She went to bed quite easily that first night, but then about 3 hours later she was WIDE AWAKE. Her body had treated the bedtime as naptime back home, and after a few hours she was more than ready to be up and ready for action. Of course, since it was around midnight or 1AM in Paris this was a very bad idea.
Expect Sleep Disturbances:
When my daughter was wide awake at 1AM it didn’t take much time zone math to figure out why. While she was having a great deal of difficulty going back to sleep, I kept the lights in the hotel room off, stayed calm, and just kept telling her to try and go back to sleep since it was the middle of the night. After about an hour I was on the verge of trying something else as I desperately wanted to go back to sleep myself, and ‘waiting it out’ wasn’t working. Just when I was about to give in and let her use the iPad while I passed back out, she started snoring. Thank goodness. The best advice is to keep things dark, calm, and encourage the little ones to go back to sleep, but after an hour I truthfully almost caved. Thankfully, this only happened on the first night as we got on a relatively normal routine the next day.
Don’t Over-Schedule Mornings:
At least in Europe, I don’t recommend scheduling time sensitive activities in the mornings as you and the little ones may be prone to sleeping in a bit. The first morning we were asleep until at least 9:30 – maybe 10AM. My kid would have probably been quite unpleasant if we had an early morning activity to get to, so I just let her sleep in as long as she wanted. I have to admit that room service breakfast came in real handy for these long and lazy mornings since I couldn’t leave her alone to go and grab something for us to eat.
Don’t Ever Fully Adjust If You Don’t Have To:
If you are going overseas for weeks or longer of course it makes sense to eventually get 100% on the local time zone, but if your trip is a week or less then I personally don’t think you need to get your kids totally converted to the new time zone. We got on ‘Paris time’ enough to make it work, but we slept in and stayed up later every day than we would have according to the clock at home. I would guess we adjusted to about 4.5 to 5 hours of the time difference, but never converted over to the full 7 hour difference. This meshed will with our pretty loose plans, and made it easier when it was time to go home.
Go To Bed at the Right Time at Home:
On the way home my kid slept very little on the planes, which made for a long day, but also made for an easy transition back to our time zone at home. When we finally finished our long travel day and got home, she was (more than) ready to get to bed at her normal local time. She slept soundly that night and then went back to school as normal the next day. I was totally prepared to let her sleep in as late as she needed the next day and skip school, but when she was up at her usual 7AM, we just started a normal day and never looked back.
Expect Crankiness at Home:
Even though she was back to her normal schedule as soon as we landed, she wasn’t her normal self for several days. It took several days for her to truly catch on sleep once we got home – or at least that is my guess based on crankier than normal behavior (especially in the evenings). We couldn’t get her to fall asleep early or sleep in late, but it was evident that the jet lag did wear on her a bit. We just used a bit more patience than normal, and fortunately everything returned to normal within a few days. It was a small price to pay for our big adventure.
That was our plan and experience to minimize the impact of jet lag, and overall it worked pretty well. There were some minor hiccups, but nothing terrible and that a little extra patience and flexibility couldn’t fix. Jet lag and time zone changes will impact most kids at some point on your big trips to different parts of the world, but they are generally incredibly resilient so I wouldn’t overly stress about potential issues.
What has your experience been with jet lag and your traveling kids?