The holiday season is here and many of you have already made plans to travel! Either it’s a vacation or going back to your home country, traveling is stressful especially when you have little ones in tow.
Not only do you have to deal with the sleep or naps inside the airplane, but you will also have to deal with jet lag when you arrive.
Don’t worry, I’ll help ease your worry and fear. This week’s post is perfect for those of you who want a clear guidance on how to handle sleep while traveling through different time zones.
What to expect
- The “lag” in jet lag means your child’s body will take time to adjust
- Sleep deprivation is likely to happen with almost any travel, so be patient in the first few days
- Calculate the time in your child’s body (or the old time zone) – don’t look at the clock in the new time zone, social time (for meal times and naps) doesn’t matter
- Light in the biological morning will shift bedtime and wake time earlier – the cut-off point here is 3am ‘home’ clock. If you’re traveling eastward and you want them to wake earlier, natural light exposure to the eyes after 3am body clock will help to speed this up.
- Light in the biological evening will shift bedtime and wake time later – the cut-off point is 3am ‘home’ clock. If you’re traveling westward and you want your baby to sleep and wake later, light exposure anytime before 3am body clock will help them shift quicker.
If traveling eastward 1-4 time zones, don’t take the red-eye as the timing of light exposure would cause the shift to go haywire. But if you must take the red-eye, make sure to shield your baby’s eyes from the morning light exposure upon arrival. Use a nursing cover, or carrier cover, or even sunglasses 😃
Bring something familiar from home – a sleep sack, blankie, lovey, a pillow or anything that’s suitable for your child’s age.
Use white noise app when you travel and turn up the volume to the level of someone taking a shower to block out any noise when the world is awake and making noise.
The key is to control the light and darkness exposure. According to Child Sleep Science website, you don’t need to worry too much about when your child actually sleeps, you just need to make sure that you’re controlling his exposure to light and darkness.
When you travel eastward, waking your baby up in the morning at a progressively earlier time each day is what will ultimately adjust your baby’s bedtime earlier. You will need to make sure that she’s exposed to light shortly after waking in order to ensure that her whole circadian rhythm shifts.
Don’t worry about napping on the go. A little sleep loss during the day will increase sleep pressure at bedtime to help your child move your child’s bedtime earlier.
For toddlers, bring quiet activities for long night waking if they can’t sleep when it’s night time at the local time. It’s okay to let them play, don’t force them to sleep because they can’t. Make sure that they stay in the dark.
Try not to use device or screen time because the blue light is not going to help them feel sleepy.
TRAVELING EASTWARD MORE THAN 8 HOURS
Now let’s look at how you would handle jet lag when you travel eastward more than 8 hours time zone. The night becomes day and the day becomes night. Very tricky situation to be in.
I suggest doing it a “split night”. For example, your child is ready for the “night” at 12noon (8pm at home) then let your child take a long 3 hour nap. Wake him up at max 3 hours, keep him up for a few more hours and let them take another “nap” – which is essentially the second half of night sleep back home.
At night in local time zone, keep it dark and let them play with toys that they can play with little light.
As the night sleep lengthens, you would progressively shorten their naps to a max of 2.5-3 hours total in the day.
Something else that could happen is that your baby is waking too early especially if you don’t block out the morning light. In some countries, sunrise happens as early as 5am during summer. Any light that comes in during this time can easily wake your baby up, given that the biological sleep drive is very low at this time of night.
TAKE NOTE: Wake time doesn’t shift as fast as you shift bedtime. It’ll take a few additional 3-4 days to achieve a stable wake time.
If traveling westward 1-3 time zones, and if you’re only going there for a week or two for holiday, I’d suggest to keep to the same ‘home’ time and gradually push bedtime by 15-30 minutes increment. The best way to do this is to expose to bright lights as much as possible before the bedtime.
For example, say you’re from Melbourne and you’re traveling to Kuala Lumpur. Bedtime for your child at home is at 8pm but that’s 5pm in Kuala Lumpur (KL). Socially, that’s too early for a bedtime. What you could do is to keep your child awake for an hour later by being out and exposed to noise and light.
Don’t forget, your child might just wake up earlier too at this stage. 7am in Melbourne is 4am in KL. What would help is to keep the room as dark as possible in KL until it has reached the socially ideal time to wake at sunrise around 7am. Which is essentially 10am back in Melbourne.
Naps are NOT controlled by the circadian rhythm, so you have a considerable amount of flexibility to nap your child at slightly off hours, while still maintaining the biological shift at night. Naps would follow the time your child wakes up. You could use this to your advantage by skipping a nap or shifting the nap to much later in the day to encourage later bedtime as well.
I hope this gives you an idea on how to manage your travel and jet lag adjustment for your baby. Happy traveling!
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