Coping with Jet Lag on a Family Trip

by Matt Villano

Coping with Jet Lag on a Family Trip

As much as jet lag affects us grown-ups, it wreaks havoc on our kids. And as painful as it might be for the parent who has to stay up all night, the best solution might just be rolling with the punches.

We don’t need that uproarious Adam Mansbach book to remind ourselves that sleep and children are often like oil and water. Take your kiddies overseas and the problems are compounded instantaneously. The culprit: Jet lag, of course.

Yes, as much as jet lag affects us grown-ups, it wreaks havoc on our little tykes.

Experts have grappled with the question for decades (for a decent and recent article on the subject, click here). The consensus is that there’s no foolproof strategy for dealing with the problem. Gradually get them on a new schedule! Force them to nap! Drug them with Benadryl! These are only a few of the suggestions I’ve read over the years.

In our experiences (which exclude Benadryl, and always will), none of these strategies has seemed to work too well. The harder we try, it seems, the more disruptive our well-laid plans become.

Instead, we’ve actually had success just letting our kids work through jet lag on their own.

Don’t get me wrong, this process can be brutal—especially for the parent who volunteers (or is assigned) to cover the zombie child in the night. Some of my most vivid memories of our 2010 month-long sojourn in England involve 3 a.m. play sessions with L, who was 18 months old at the time and spent the first two weeks living the life of a bat.

Still, gradually, L’s first nighttime nap got longer and longer, and her early-morning hours waned. By the 9th or 10th night, she was back on a somewhat normal schedule (which is to say, she slept through until sunrise every day). The bags under my eyes disappeared.

More recently, we endured the same process with R, our 1-year-old, in Hawaii. Because the time difference was smaller (three hours, as opposed to eight), she made the adjustment in only a few days.

Nevertheless, she struggled (and my wife, who’s still breastfeeding at night, bore the brunt).

The bottom line on the issue of jet lag is that there’s no easy fix. Furthermore, what works on the front end of a vacation (at your destination) may not work on the back end (when you get back home). If it makes you feel better, consult your child’s doctor for suggestions before you go. Ultimately, however, it’s best to let your kids show you what works for them, and try to make the best of wherever that leads.

What’s your approach to managing jet lag in your kids? Leave a comment and let me know.