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All Ages

12 Tips for Managing Jet Lag with Kids

See recent posts by Lisa Milbrand

For adults, jet lag sucks. But what’s worse is helping kids get into the groove of a new time zone. With our own tips and experiences and the help of experts, we’ve come up with some useful ways to survive jet lag on your next long-haul family trip.

1. Change Your Family’s Bedtime

Move your child’s (and your) bedtime in the direction of the new bedtime at the destination. “Start resetting children’s internal clocks three days prior to departure by adjusting bedtimes earlier when traveling eastward,” says Lia Batkin of In the Know Experiences, an exclusive travel and lifestyle consulting agency. “Try moving your child’s bedtime by 15 to 20 minutes toward the vacation time zone in the few days before your trip. Children’s circadian rhythms generally catch up with them naturally after four days or so.” If you’re planning a significant change in time zone (for instance, a 12-hour shift), you may want to start sliding the bedtime 15 minutes in the right direction every few days in the weeks leading up to the trip.

2. Decide If a Time Change Is Worth It

Decide whether it’s worth it to change your crew over to local time. If you’re only spending a few days in a different time zone, it may just be simpler to keep your kiddos on your home time zone. “Anybody staying at their destination for less than a week should not force the routine on the children,” suggests travel writer and mom, Lydie Thomas. “It is too much effort to work hard on relieving the jet lag when the routine will be changed again in less than seven days.”

3. Pretend You’re There

Act like you’re already there once you hit the plane. Reset your watch, and do what you would be doing if you were already at the location. For instance, if it’s 3 a.m. in China, but only 3 p.m. where you are, you should try to settle you and your kiddos in for a few hours of napping as soon as you get on the plane. That means you should also try to avoid light on the plane if it’s nighttime where you’re going. Drop the shade on the airplane window and perhaps bring along a sleep mask or even sunglasses to trick your body into thinking it’s dark.

4. Get Cozy

Bring cozy blankets and travel pillows to make it easy for them to get some sleep on the plane. At the same time, don’t freak out if no one sleeps much (or at all). “Don’t force the kids to sleep on the plane,” says Erika Christ, a mom of two and owner of Viva Europa Travel Consulting in Washington, D.C. “It’s going to be difficult — there’s too much excitement and adrenaline on the trip, and the lights are on late.”

5. Drink Fluids

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Plane air can make everyone parched — and being dehydrated can add to the weird feeling you get when you jump time zones. Lisa Lent, a former flight attendant, swears by Oxylent and other electrolyte boosters. “Drink something that contains electrolytes that actually helps you assimilate the water instead of retaining it,” says Lent. “Your body actually goes into a ‘reserve mode,’ so it needs this boost.”

6. Dress for Comfort

“Wear loose fitting clothing — comfortable, breathable, natural fibers — and you will sleep better on the plane,” Lent says. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you’ll be able to relax.

7. Take Fish Oil

Fish oil is great for your heart, but it can also be a big boost when you’re on a long-haul flight. “It helps reduce the stickiness of blood platelets, promoting circulation,” says Lent. That can help you feel more energized, and may help prevent dangerous blood clots that can form when you’re sitting for long periods of time.

8. Be Prepared to Lose a Day

Know that you’re going to lose a day, no matter what. “Experts say that it takes one day for every hour difference to truly recover from time zone changes,” Lent says. While you might feel more in sync with your new time zone by day two, make sure that the first day has very little on the to-do list.

9. Catch Some Rays

We consider this the key component to our jet-lag battle plan. Sunlight helps your body and brain make sense of the new time zone and resets your inner clock; most experts agree. Plan for the first day of activities to include plenty of time outdoors.

10. Time You’re Sleep Once You’re There

Don’t fall victim to the “we’ll just lie down for a few minutes” ploy. You will fall asleep, and you’ll pay for that with a much longer adjustment to the new time zone. We try to keep our kids up until at least 6 p.m. on the first night in a new time zone, and my husband and I try to make it until at least 8 p.m. However, others swear by a quick power nap upon arrival. “When we arrive in the early morning, we try to go out in fresh air and get some exercise, which helps up get through the day,” Christ says. “Sometimes after lunch, we have a two- to three-hour power nap, then we get up before dinner and go to bed at the normal time. We sleep for a solid 12 hours, and by the next day, we’re in the new time zone.”

11. Schedule a Layover

If you have the time (and the inclination), consider taking baby steps to a new time zone. “One thing we did to break up the trip was stop over someplace,” Christ says. “We flew from Baltimore to Reykjavik before going the rest of the way to Europe. It’s a nice place to visit and stay a couple of days.”

12. Consider Sleep Aids

Many people swear by melatonin or other over-the-counter sleep aids to help with their adjustment. Do what you have to do!

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