Perhaps one of the worst things about doing long-haul travel with kids is the inevitable crankiness that comes when everyone is trying to adjust to a new time zone. suitcases&strollers spoke to the European Director of the International Association of Professional Sleep Consultants and founder of Sleep Matters, Lucy Wolfe, about strategies for getting everyone a good night’s sleep. Here is the suitcases&strollers travel advisor in dealing with jet lag in kids.
The plane can be a noisy, busy environment. What are some tips for getting children to sleep while flying?
Travelling with young children can be challenging and a big undertaking. Older children from about 4 to 5 years of age can be occupied and entertained during long flights and will find it easier to sleep if they are naturally tired. Talk to your older children about sleeping on the plane so that they know what is expected of them. Try to have food before going to sleep and keep their safely seat belts on to avoid having to disturb them later if the seat belt light goes on.
Younger babies and toddlers will need the parents to be part of the entertainment and the sleeping conditions. If you have a regular type of a schedule for your children then you will have a good idea of when they will be naturally tired and then you will need to try to create an optimum environment for sleep, in a confined space. Make them comfortable with the provided blankets and pillows. Try having some of their familiar sleep associations like a special blanket or stuffed toy. Make sure they are in comfortable clothes, remove their shoes and try to avoid them becoming too warm.
Is there a trick to getting kids to sleep on cue during long-haul travel in places like transit lounges or other forms of transport?
Sleeping out and about can be temperament based. Some children are totally adjustable and can sleep anywhere, just like adults; some will struggle and resist sleep at all costs. When we travel there will always be less sleep achieved and a poorer quality of sleep during this time, but it’s totally worth it!
All you can do is ensure that, where possible, you create suitable conditions for sleep. Most of us need a dark quiet environment so try to be in a quiet spot and consider using an eye mask for an older child or a snooze shade on your buggy to darken things down. Make sure that your buggy meets you at the cabin door for connecting flights so that you can wheel your child around in between. I also find with older children that if you encourage them to sleep and talk to them about it, they will do their best to nod off.
Once you have crossed the time zone, how do you get children to adjust to the new local times?
Children definitely recover more quickly than adults, however, they can still have the same symptoms such as headaches and upset stomachs, feeling tired, hungry, and wide awake, and needing the bathroom all at the wrong times. The best approach is to match the time zone of the place that you are visiting, almost immediately, give or take an hour or two. Try to have regular wake-up times in the morning to help reset the body clock and open up natural times for sleep for a child who will still require daytime naps.
I always encourage parents to know what the early onset of sleep signals may be for their young child, such as a brief yawn, slight rubbing of the eyes and maybe starting to become quiet. This is the sweet spot for sleep and, if you see it, you should act on it.
Unfortunately when the young body becomes over-tired (intense eye rubbing, bleary yawning, agitation, impatience, whinging or crying) the body has a chemical response that helps the body to make it harder to fall asleep. This is particularly relevant for children under the age of 3.
Avoid allowing your young children to have extra long daytime naps. Limit them to their regular duration (the same as what they usually have at home) in order to regulate the circadian rhythm and establish bedtime in your new time zone.
[Sometimes children initially experience waking up in the middle of the night], particularly around the times that they normally eat. It may be necessary to ensure firstly that they are well fed before bedtime, but also to give them a small snack [if they wake up in the middle of the night] during the first couple of days of adjustment.
Once a trip is over, how long does it take for kids to recover from jet lag and what can parents do to help minimise it?
The first few days are the hardest and experts suggest that it can take a day for every hour of time difference, but I normally find that within a week the body readjusts. The key is regularity.
[Set up your routines again.] A sensible wake-up time is between 7.30 to 8am and then a suitable bedtime for a young child (until age 10) is suggested at somewhere from 6pm to 8pm. Exposure to bright, natural or artificial light on wake up and plenty of physical activity can help reset the body clock. In turn, creating a dim environment within the hour before sleep time can help the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Avoiding television, screen time, stimulating activity in the lead in to sleep time can also help.
But sometimes all the best efforts won’t make a difference and you just need to go through the readjustment…remembering what a great holiday you had!
What if a child is a very poor sleeper? Can the family still travel or will this just cause more trouble than it’s worth?
I encourage parents to live! As a parent of four children myself, I recognise the importance of exclusive, holiday, family time and wouldn’t suggest that people avoid holidays for a reason like jet lag. Travelling long haul with really young children can be ambitious, though, so you could always holiday closer to home to avoid a potential time zone problem.
Sleep problems can emerge for any family due to sickness, teething, travel or developmental stages, for example. If you have only recently solved your sleeping issues, stay put for another month before thinking of travelling.
Obviously, if you do not have current sleeping problems with your children then a trip away can be seamless because there are no issues and typically the more well rested your child, the more adjustable they can be.
What are your must-have sleep aides for long-haul or time zone travel?
· Snooze shade for the buggy
· Familiar blanket or toy for sleep times
· Spare clothes for the babies or toddlers on the plane (you could even bring their pyjamas)
· Eye masks for older children
· A booster seat on the plane can be more comfortable for kids around 6 years of age as they are slightly higher up and able to use the head props
· I would also suggest FlyeBaby for infants. It is a hammock-type seat that can be used on an airplane during the cruise portion of the flight
For more travel tips on how to get kids to sleep in foreign environments read the suitcases&strollers interview with Tizzie Hall here
For more travel tips on how to cope with kids on long-haul flights, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
Image: Amy Slayter