Are you traveling across time zones with a baby soon? I’m sure you’re feeling a range of emotions about the upcoming trip. Don’t worry mama. You have me on your side 🙂
Congrats for saying yes to adventure. You are courageous and brave, mama. If Lewis and Clark would have had a baby along with them, I’m guessing they would have called it quits before they hit the city limits.
But, we’re mothers and we are strong. We’re not going to stay chained to our homes for five or six years waiting for our babies to reach an age where they will be easier to travel with. We’ve got a world to explore and our babies are coming with us.
Before you set out, I want to make sure you’re armed with all the information you need to maintain those sleep skills you’ve been working so hard to develop.
So how does one maintain good sleep habits while traveling? If crossing time zones, how does one deal with the inevitable complication of jet lag in babies? I will answer both questions in this blog post.
- Avoid the Red-Eye Flight if Possible
Some of us like to envision this scenario where we jump on the plane when baby’s already asleep, and they just magically sleep through the entire flight, arriving fresh and rested and ready for the upcoming adventure.
It may have even happened once or twice in human history, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it. It’s much more likely that you’re both going to have an awful night and arrive frazzled and seriously overtired. Catch a daytime flight and hope for a decent nap or two on the way. You’re all going to arrive with a bit of a sleep debt anyways, since motion sleep isn’t nearly as restful as what we’re used to, but that can actually help you get your baby adjusted to the new schedule.
- Travel Prepared
Given the circumstances surrounding traveling, I think this is one of those rare times when it’s okay to give in to your baby’s demands. I call it “airplane mode” parenting. If your child wants to watch seven straight hours of cartoons while on the plane, I say do what ya gotta do to keep your sanity when you land at your destination. Be sure to pack your carry-on with plenty of toys, snacks, books, and portable battery chargers. Pro tip: wrap new toys in wrapping paper to make it more fun.
The only real exception here is not to feed baby a bunch of sugary snacks in the hopes of taking the edge off during the trip because it’s just going to result in a crash when she comes down from the sugar high, and that’s going to make sleep that much harder. Offer her plenty of fruits and vegetables, and make sure you keep her hydrated. Jet lag symptoms go way beyond sleep. Constipation and diarrhea are two of the most common so maintaining proper hydration is crucial.
- Is it worth altering the schedule?
If you’re traveling for less than four days, it’s not worth making adjustments to baby’s bedtime regardless of the time difference. Experts say that jet lag lasts, on average, a day for every hour of time change, so if you’re taking a four day trip and you’re looking at a six-hour time change, it’s hardly worth getting baby fully adjusted to the difference just to turn around and have to do it all over again once you get home.
If, however, you’re going to be gone for longer than a couple of days, then you’ll want to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible preferably on the first night in the new time zone. Luckily, our bodies have an inherent ability to adapt to new time zones based on the light/dark cycle, so you’ll have nature working on your side.
- Stick to your bedtime routine.
Bedtime routines are about more than just getting into comfortable clothes and unwinding from the day. A predictable bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that sleep is just over the horizon, so the brain starts preparing for it by firing up the melatonin production, relaxing the muscles, and slowing down mental activity. So whatever your baby’s bedtime routine is at home, stick as closely to it as you can.
I recommend to blackout external light sources two hours before baby’s bedtime to help your baby fall asleep faster. If that means putting garbage bags over the windows then go for it because esthetics doesn’t matter to a sleepy baby. A completely dark room is one of the best tools you’ve got for helping your child get to sleep and stay asleep in a new sleep environment and time zone.
- Sunlight’s on your side.
As much as we don’t want any sunlight getting in the room while baby’s trying to sleep, we want lots of it when they’re awake. Getting a significant amount of sunlight during the day charges up our melatonin production and helps the circadian rhythm adjust quickly to the new time zone. Getting outdoors during the day will work wonders in helping baby sleep well at night.
- Add an extra nap
Even in the best case scenario, baby’s still going to be needing a little more sleep once you get where you’re going, so an extra nap of somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, can really help counteract the over tiredness that comes after a long flight. Just remember to leave enough space between waking up from her last nap and bedtime so that there’s time for fatigue to build up in the interim. For example, an 8 month-old normally goes to bed at 7pm. You’ll want to get her up from her last nap of the day by no later than 4pm so she’s sleepy enough to go down for the night once bedtime comes around.
- Keep things familiar
Remember to pack baby’s lovey, book, and sound machine. Once baby’s asleep, it will help them to stay asleep if their surroundings are similar to what their used to. And if you don’t usually share a bed with your little one, don’t start now.
Bed sharing while traveling will encourage the child to cry when they get home expecting to bed share again. Babies get accustomed to bed sharing in just one night. Once they expect bed sharing, they will be determined to keep it that way. The problem with bed sharing with children is no one gets quality sleep.
- Keep Calm and Carry On
Nobody thrives when they’re sleep deprived, and kids are no different. We’re all going to be a little grumpy and short-tempered once that plane lands, but you’re the adult and its up to you to remain unruffled, even when your baby starts melting down. Easier said than done!
As I mentioned earlier, it takes about a day to adjust for every hour of time difference, so it’s going to require patience and consistency on your part to get them over the hump as soon as possible. Remaining calm will help baby adjust quicker, and the sooner you’re all accustomed to the new time zone, the sooner you can all get on with enjoying your trip.