One of the things about going around the world with little kids, that you will not see on FB and Instagram, is the jet lag after. I can barely manage to settle my own clock. I remember sleeping for 14 straight hours when we flew to Chile, but that luxury (along with a few others) is wiped away with the arrival of the diapered ones in your travel itinerary.
Dealing with jet-lag, for adults, involves a few simple tricks
- Keep awake/asleep through the flight depending on what time of the day (at destination) you arrive, so you can switch the clock to fit the local time.
- Wake up with sunrise and exercise to get the blood circulation, and hence oxygen to brain, going.
- Eat more fruits and salads at more frequent intervals and make sure you drink enough water/liquids
With young children and babies, things get more complicated. While S, the older one, is a delightful traveler who enjoys company in the flight, eats most of the local food and wakes up enthusiastically even for the early morning activities, even she used to get high fever for 1 day whenever we returned. K, now almost 2 years old, is a different story altogether. He takes upto 10 days to get over jet-lag and that too after making sure we are easing him into the new timing.
For kids, or at least K, there seems to be a sleep disruption as well as a tummy disruption. Traveling East to West is easier. As the day ends later than ours began, we take a short nap on arrival and then definitely wake up for then next meal at local time. East to West is more complicated. The day ends sooner than our body clock and its difficult to sleep earlier. So, we have been there, done that and found a few hacks –
- Night flights – if the flying distance is longer than 4 hours, we prefer night flights. We then land when it’s getting day and can make do with a short afternoon nap and adjust to the time more easily. Also, for the younger ones, managing a night flight is easier since there is little or no physical activity possible during the day and the kid gets all wound up. It isn’t exactly convenient, because the kids are rested and you are not, upon landing; but I’d rather have happy kids and cranky mom than cranky kids and cranky mom. For older kids (above 4-5 maybe) you could well take the day flight so you and the kids are able to sleep at the same time.
- Work with the sun – our bodies are tuned to naturally wake up when the sunlight pours in, so keep the curtains drawn open and allow the morning sun to wake you and the kids up. Equally, switch off the lights at night to send the body sleep signals. Even if the kids wake up at night, try to do activities in low light or choose calm activities like reading or colouring etc. You will find K running around and shrieking though, even in the dark.
- Swap the time one hour a day – when flying West to East, the kids will stay awake at night and then sleep through till even noon, sunshine or not. We advance the wake up time one hour per day (if you have the luxury of course). So wake up at noon and sleep at midnight on day 1, wake up at 11 and sleep at 11 the next and so on. Afternoon naps, if any, should fit this moving cycle, else the night sleep time does not adjust well.
- Exhaust – swimming/park time are my best friends for combating jet-lag. Being out helps the body adjust to the sun – natural wake-sleep cycle and the activity helps night time jumping around less likely.
- Feed frequently – I didn’t have a clue what a disruption feeding cycles can be for a toddler. K has bad bouts of colic when we travel. So we now make sure he eats something every 2 hours if awake – 1 biscuit, half an egg, 4 grapes – literally anything that prevents a build up of gas in the tummy. Also, he has milk 5-6 times a day in stead of his usual 3 times. The child might refuse to eat and may look fine and active, but do make sure she eats, even if its just 2 bites. Even cake will do, though pure sugar like candy usually is worse than being hungry.
- Avoid cycle interference – (if its beginning to sound like a PhD, it’s because I have gone through some bad times). Apparently, the feeding cycle and the sleep cycle may not sync up at the same time. Kids can sleep at the right times and still wake up due to hunger or an unsettled tummy. So we make sure dinner is slightly earlier, there is a small snack just before sleeping and there is a bottle of coconut water right next to the bed for night-time hunger pangs. Giving K water or coconut water every-time he wakes up at night, helps.
- Be ready to dance – given the sleep time is so disrupted, its possible the child wakes up just as he is about to nod off. Prepare to spend anywhere between 2x-3x the time it usually takes to put the kid to bed.
- Linger – my kids frequently wake up within 10 mins to half hour of sleeping off, so I usually linger around the room to calm them immediately and prevent a full wake up. Cuddle up for longer, keep singing/humming, even if they look asleep.
Load up on patience & coffee. We have found jet-lag to be the most troublesome part of travelling with kids so far.