JET LAG AND KIDS

shutterstock_244061818.jpg

Personally, I quite enjoy being jet lagged.

It's that hazy space where nobody expects anything from me, where I have every excuse to be unaccountable, and slow (or even asleep!).

Jet lag occurs when we travel by plane across multiple time zones, and our internal body-clock (or “circadian rhythm”) is disrupted. This can result in fatigue, drowsiness, insomnia, and irritability.

Just like adults, children can experience disruption from long-distance travel, but there are ways to help minimise this.  

BEFORE THE FLIGHT

One of the best ways to reduce the severity of any jet lag is to make sure both parents and kids get adequate sleep in the days leading up to the flight. Having a sleep debt before travelling increases the likelihood of experiencing more debilitating jet lag when you arrive.  

Also, try to ensure that everyone is well hydrated prior to flying.

Telling children in a playful way about your travels and jet lag helps them understand what is going on, and why they may feel different to normal.

DURING THE FLIGHT

During the flight, eating lightly, drinking plenty of water, and trying to synchronise sleep times with the time zone of the destination country can all help. To help kids sleep on the plane, eye-masks and earplugs can be useful. 

The use of antihistamines (such as promethazine or diphenhydramine) to help kids sleep is generally not recommended, as they can have unpredictable effects.

AFTER ARRIVAL

At your destination, body-clocks are on still on “home time". It will take everyone time to readjust to the new location. 

Being exposed to bright daylight as much as possible after arrival can help to reset the body-clock. 
Getting kids to go to sleep at their usual bedtime at the new time zone will also help, even if this means them staying awake for longer after arrival.  

Short naps during the day can also help counter any fatigue and sleepiness caused by jet lag.

The direction we travel in can affect the likelihood of experiencing jet lag. 
Travelling eastwards tends to disrupt our body-clock more. Going in this direction, it can be helpful to keep kids up as late as possible, so that they go to bed closer to their normal time at the destination. 

Travelling west can mean kids sometimes have trouble falling asleep after arrival. 
Even if they end up having a late night, try to wake them at the normal local time the next day.

Jet lag generally occurs when we cross three or more time zones. 

Breaking up a long-distance flight with one or two layovers on the way can reduce the effects of timezone disruption and sleep deprivation.  

For short trips with time changes of less than three hours, a good option is to keep kids on their home time schedule, which can minimise the disruption of attempting to match a time zone that is fairly similar to home. 
This could apply to travel within a large country, such as Australia or the United States.

If kids have trouble getting to sleep at night, try to tire them out through lots of physical activity during the day, because as we all know, kids will usually fall asleep more easily once they've had lots of exercise and play.

To help catch up on your own sleep, try to rest at the same time as your children. And expect that a jet lagged child is a possibility for a few days after arrival, (especially travelling eastwards) so plan events around this.

MELATONIN AND KIDS

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in our brains. It helps to regulate our natural sleep-wake cycle, and has been extensively studied in adults as a remedy for jet lag.  

Because travel can disrupt melatonin production in the brain, taking it in the form of a pill has been shown to be a safe and effective way to reduce the symptoms of jet lag in adults.
However, Melatonin is generally not recommended to treat jet lag in children. Kids already produce large amounts of melatonin as it is, and its use as a drug has not been studied in children with time zone disruption.

The use of electronic screens (such as mobile phones, iPads, tv etc) before bedtime has been shown to suppress melatonin production in both adults and children. Avoiding the use of screens at least a few hours before bedtime is one of the best ways to support healthy sleep patterns in children, and reduce the severity of jet lag. 

How do you approach jet lag with kids?

I am sure there are many more wonderful ideas to contribute, so please feel free to add them in the comments box below.

For more Healthy Kids Travel tips sign up for email updates here!

Happy, Healthy Travels!