Logo Nanna A Porter

Jet Lag: How to Manage Jet Lag with Infants and Young Children

How to Manage Jet Lag with Infants and Young Children

Before having children, jet lag meant feeling groggy, a sleepless night or two, and lots of coffee. But dealing with jet lag when you have kids… it can be an absolute nightmare. There’s nothing worse than battling the exhaustion of jet lag while your little one is wide awake and bouncing off the walls at 3 a.m.

If you’re worried about an upcoming international trip with your baby or have just returned from one, I completely understand your concerns. Here are some valuable tips to help you manage.

The Best Way to Handle Jet Lag in Infants and Young Children

To overcome jet lag in children, you need to reset their biological clock to sleep, wake, and eat at new times with minimal hassle. The key to achieving this is using natural light and physical activity while paying close attention to sleep and meal times.

Many recommend allowing one day for your child to adjust for each hour of time difference you crossed. If your trip involves a time difference of fewer than four hours, this is a great strategy to help your child adjust.

However, if your trip includes a significant time change, say 8 hours, and your trip lasts only 12 days, this advice isn’t very practical. My recommendation is: Allow your child to adjust for 2-3 days, then resume normal schedules.

If your baby is younger than 6 months, consider yourself lucky! Infants sleep so frequently throughout the day that they adjust more easily. For simplicity, I’ll use “baby,” but this advice also applies to preschoolers. (Adjust food, nap, and toy recommendations as necessary.)

3-Day Guide to Overcoming Jet Lag in Infants and Young Children

Day 1: Surviving the Jet Lag

If you land in the morning:

  • During the flight, let your baby sleep as much as possible. Whether it’s in the airplane bassinet, car seat, or in your arms, whatever works! Bring a light, dark blanket (or use the airplane blanket) to create a canopy over your sleeping baby to block out light.
  • Once you arrive, let your baby nap when they’re tired. However, try not to let them nap much longer than they would at home. If they usually nap for 3 hours a day, limit naps to 3.5-4 hours today. If they sleep all day, they’ll be awake all night, making it harder to reset their biological clock. It’s better to give them an early bedtime, around 6 p.m.
  • Ensure your baby eats enough today. Offer snacks every hour or two, including water and milk. They might feel groggy and have an upset stomach, so bring their favorite snacks to encourage eating. This keeps their energy levels up and helps them sleep longer at night instead of waking from hunger.
  • Don’t spend all day in the hotel because you’re too tired to go out. Get outside and explore, even if it’s just the local neighborhood. Natural light helps reset everyone’s biological clocks and boosts your energy.

If you land in the evening:

  • During the flight, try to keep your baby awake for the last few hours.
  • Offer snacks and liquids frequently on the plane to keep your baby hydrated.
  • Once you arrive, follow the same bedtime routine you use at home. This typically includes dinner, bath, and bedtime stories. Bring along anything your baby associates with sleep, like a stuffed animal, sleep sack, or bedtime books.
  • Don’t forget to darken the sleeping area as much as possible to help them sleep longer and not wake up too early. Early wake-ups are the worst when you’re jet-lagged.

The First Night: Patience is Key

Your baby will likely wake up during the night, perhaps multiple times, and may want to play and stay awake for hours. Prepare yourself mentally. Your goal tonight is to keep the lights off and encourage quiet, non-stimulating activities.

If your baby seems hungry, offer a snack like yogurt, cheese, or nut butter (appropriate to their age). Anything with protein and fat will keep them full. Avoid candy or simple sugars, which could give them a burst of energy.

Do your best to get them back to sleep. If it’s clear they can’t sleep, keep the lights dim and read books together or let them play with “quiet toys” suitable for their age. Soft blocks or rattles for infants and coloring books or Play-Doh for toddlers work well.

I know it’s tough when you’re exhausted, but try to avoid giving your child an iPad. The light it emits stimulates the brain, making it harder to sleep. If you need an electronic babysitter, it’s better to turn on the TV at a low volume. Limit TV time to 30 minutes, then encourage quiet toys again. For older toddlers or preschoolers, you might end up making promises like, “You can have ice cream after breakfast tomorrow, but you have to close your eyes and sleep now.”

Day 2: Establish a Gentle Routine

If last night wasn’t terrible, wake your baby at a reasonable hour (around 8-9 a.m.). If you were up most of the night, it’s okay to sleep in, but try to start your day by 11 a.m. at the latest. Otherwise, you’ll extend the problem.

Get outside! The best way to help everyone adjust to the new time zone is bright, natural light and exercise. Find a playground or children’s museum to help your baby burn off energy and play a lot.

Work towards having your meals according to the new time zone. If your baby won’t eat a full meal at the right time, that’s fine. Offer snacks and hydrating drinks every 1-2 hours. Frequent feeding helps their body adjust to the new “daytime.”

Let your baby nap today when they’re tired. But, like yesterday, don’t let them nap longer than they would at home. Limiting naps and giving an early bedtime is better.

Bring along a stroller or baby carrier for naps. If the whole family naps at the hotel, set an alarm! The last thing you want is an accidental 4-hour nap that disrupts everyone’s nighttime sleep.

Give your baby a reasonable bedtime tonight. If they were up early, put them to bed early while you enjoy takeout in the hotel room. Tonight’s bedtime will help set the pattern for the rest of your trip, so ensure it’s an appropriate time (7-9 p.m. is reasonable).

Night 2: Hang in There Your baby will probably wake up tonight. Offer a small snack if they’re hungry and do your best to encourage them back to sleep. You might need to pull out the “quiet toys” again.

Day 3: Get Back to Normal

No matter how last night went, wake your baby at a reasonable hour. 8-9 a.m. is perfect. When teaching babies to sleep well (in general), I always recommend a consistent morning wake-up time. This helps naps, meals, and bedtime fall into a predictable pattern. Not because I’m allergic to fun—quite the opposite! This helps your baby adjust to sleeping at night and being awake during the day, giving everyone more energy for fun activities.

Example Daily Routine:

  • Wake your baby by 9 a.m. at the latest.
  • Meals at regular times (with hydrating snacks in between).
  • Plenty of time outdoors exploring and playing.
  • Naps at regular times or when your baby seems tired. Limit naps to no more than what they’re allowed at home.
  • A reasonable bedtime, ideally between 7-9 p.m.

Night 3: You’re Almost There Your baby should sleep fairly well tonight. Keep their room dark, and if they wake, do everything you can to get them back to sleep. Tonight’s goal is no TV or iPad.

Day 4 and Beyond: Stick to a Flexible Routine

By day 4, everyone should feel pretty good and well-adjusted. As long as you stick to the flexible routine from day 3, you should be fine!

I hope this article is helpful and that you enjoy your international trip with your baby! If you have any further questions or need personalized advice, feel free to contact me. Safe travels!

Your Sleep Consultants NAP

Cri & Meri