Family Travel Question:
Q | What are tips for dealing with jet lag in toddlers?
What's the best way to adjust for a 12-hour time difference for a toddler (under two years old)? We are going to Japan in November. -Tomomi, Connecticut
A | How to manage jetlag with a toddler
I’m going to be blunt here: jet-lag is difficult with very young children. Your child is too young to understand the mechanics of time zones and why he is awake in the middle of the night or falling asleep in the middle of the day. When a toddler is over-tired, as you probably know, he’ll fall asleep even while eating. Since you’re already thinking ahead, the first and best thing for you to do is to set your expectations that the first day or three of your trip will be difficult and think about what you can do to help you and your child get through it and still have a great vacation.
Plan ahead to manage your toddler’s jet-lag. If you haven’t already booked your flights, try to choose an overnight flight where your child will easily sleep for part or all of the flight. This will help him get a jump on jet-lag. If you have an overnight flight, follow your normal bedtime routine as much as possible once on board. My children frequently wore their P.J.s onto the plane for this reason. If you’re traveling with a spouse or partner, discuss how you’ll manage your child’s disrupted sleep schedule ahead of time. My husband is a night owl and I’m a morning person so when we traveled with our children at this age, I got up with the first child up in the morning while he slept late and he would take over when I crashed out in the late afternoon.
If your flight arrives at your destination in the morning, do your very best to keep your child awake until dusk that evening. This is really hard to do, especially since you’ll all be tired, but skipping naps during that first day is one way that I’ve helped my children get a jump on jet-lag on many international trips.
There is no magic solution to help your child get over jet-lag except plenty of fresh air and exercise. Your goal is to keep your child awake as much as possible during daylight hours in those first few days at your destination. You may need to skip daytime naps or at least cut them short. Being outside will perk your child up if he’s sleepy and running around will help him get genuinely tired so he’ll sleep for longer that night.
You should expect your child’s sleep schedule to be off-kilter for a number of days. Some people use one day per hour of time zone change as a rule-of-thumb. Personally, I’ve found that this is excessive especially when you’ve crossed six or more time zones. Using the information above, you should be on a close-to-normal sleep schedule within three days.