Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tips for dealing with jet lag and kids

Or, to be more precise, tips for dealing with your kids' jet lag. Or your jet lag and you also have kids, who also have jet lag.

Jet-lagged in Jordan, 2006
It occurs to me that I have a bit of experience dealing with major jet lag and small children. Considering long-term (not airport transfers) time-zone changes of more than, say, eight hours, Jeremy and I have done the jet-lag thing with children ten times. By the time we go back home in August, it will be eleven times. Here are some tips for coping with jet lag. Note that not all of these tips are meant to improve your experience; sometimes, you just have to deal.

1. Accept that jet lag is going to happen. I know this sounds elementary, but you'd be surprised how often I think, "maybe it won't be that bad this time!" This, despite the fact that every single time we have gone through a major time zone change, it has been BAD. It will never not be bad. The sooner you brace yourself for an awful jet lag experience, the better.

2. That being said, infants can sometimes surprise you with how well they do adjusting to a new time zone. I bring this up because the two times we spent the summer in Jordan, Miriam (age 8 -12 months one year; age 20-24 months the next) was a pretty atrocious sleeper. She kind of treated nighttime like daytime in the US anyway, so it only took a little nudging and adjustment of nursing schedules to get her on the Jordan time zone.

3. To some extent, it will only hurt you to adjust to the time zone faster than your children. If you are efficient about getting yourself to the point where 2am in the new time zone actually feels like 2am instead of 12 noon...well, that's going to suck when your kids still feel like it's the middle of the day instead of the middle of the night and wake you up to tell you so.

4. Your kids' jet lag may affect them in unexpected ways. You may find that your kids don't have an appetite, or that they're getting dehydrated from not drinking during the day, because it feels like night to them and their stomachs aren't up for eating and drinking. They might also have to get up a lot in the night to go to the bathroom, until their digestive systems figure out the new time zone. They will cry more and disobey more and horrify the grandparents with their behavior more, too, because they're grouchy and in an unfamiliar place and it feels like everyone is bothering them and asking them to be alert and play and eat IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FREAKING NIGHT. Consider relaxing your discipline expectations just a little at first...and maybe give the grandparents and cousins a heads up, too.

5. In all of my experience, and in published articles that I've read, jet lag is worse when you are going forward (east) in time. I don't really know why this is. I only know that it is true. When we are coming to the US from the Middle East, I can expect a gentler transition than when we go back home. Going back to the Middle East from the US brings two weeks of jet lag torture.

6. When traveling on long-haul flights with very small children (i.e., those too small to be entertained by in-flight movies), you might be tempted to think that the flight is the hard part and once you get off the plane, everything will be ok. This is true to some extent, but I tend to dread the jet lag more than the, well, jet. You spend half or 2/3 of a day on an airplane with a bunch of strangers who will never see you again. Then you get off the plane in a new time zone and it's just you and the kids. And most of your quality time together will start at about 4 o'clock in the morning.

7. Melatonin. Look it up and ask your kids' doctor. It won't make your kids stay asleep, but it can help them get back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.

8. Audiobooks/podcasts. I always, always load up my iPod shuffle with an audiobook and back episodes of favorite podcasts. Then I keep it under my pillow. If I'm forced to be awake with jet-lagged kids in the middle of the night, or if I'm having trouble sleeping myself, I don't wait for frustration and stress to creep in. I just turn on something to listen to so I'm able to keep calm and quiet in the night even if I technically have to be awake.

In conclusion, jet lag is no fun for anyone, but it does eventually come to an end. If you go into it with realistic expectations, that will help you adjust, and help your kids adjust. For those about to travel long distances over many time zones, I salute you.

5 comments:

Eevi said...

You are so right on. My kids barely ate anything for good four days and I was starting to get worried. Also Eerika would be dry during her night time sleep but have accidents with naps, which was weird. We are finally adjusted, well at least last night, and everyone slept 8 consecutive hours. It was so heavenly! I dont mind going back to U.S from Finland at all. I feel like it is a very easy transition but coming to Finland is horrible. Also after 6 days of being here, I feel like they are back to being their normal selves with their behavior. It is nice to not have to keep saying "oh they are just so tired" because even when people know that, your kids' crazy behavior is still, well, crazy:)

Alanna said...

This brought back flashbacks of taking a red-eye from Hawaii to Seattle with my three kids. (Not a huge time change, but still tough!) My Dad commented that he didn't remember my daughter being so whiny before, at which point I yelled him, "SHE WAS ON A PLANE ALL NIGHT!!!" He got defensive and said, "But you said she slept pretty well!" Yeah, she slept "pretty well" for "BEING ON A PLANE ALL NIGHT, DAD!!!" I was so annoyed...

I can't even imagine how you guys do this so much!

Jeremy Palmer said...

Nice post. Amen to Melatonin!

Crys said...

Great post! Loved the podcast idea! Wish I would have had an iPhone back in my nursing infant days! That is genius!

Liz Johnson said...

Oh wow. This is making me grateful that I've really only had to deal with Daylight Saving Time (which is so minor in comparison). Awesome suggestions.

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