How to Manage Jet Lag in Children and Infants

To overcome jet lag in children and babies, it's important to prioritize quiet activities and good rest for the next few days.
How to Manage Jet Lag in Children and Infants
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 12 October, 2022

Generally, when planning a family trip, we think about tickets, destinations, activities for all ages, and children’s menus. However, we rarely take into account a crucial factor when crossing different time zones: The effects of jet lag on children and babies. This phenomenon, which is expressed in the body as dysregulation, needs to be taken into account, especially during the first days of travel. So let’s see how we can be prepared to manage jet lag in children and infants.

What is jet lag and how it is expressed in children and babies?

Jet lag refers to the phenomenon that our body experiences when changing time zones. This is how our internal clock is deregulated, the circadian rhythm -which regulates sleep and wakefulness- is affected, and the body hasn’t yet adapted to the change.

With jet lag, there’s confusion between what the body understands it should do (stay awake, although it’s already time to sleep) and what we really want to do, such as going out to discover a new destination. Most visibly, it manifests itself as confusion about when to sleep and when to eat.

While it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, some of the common symptoms are as follows:

  • Changes in sleep
  • Listlessness, fatigue, or tiredness
  • Changes in mood: Irritability and annoyance
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Stomach aches or upset stomach
A toddler sleeping in a carseat.
Jet lag disrupts the circadian rhythm, so changes in sleep and mood are noticed. Babies and children are usually more affected than adults.

How to manage jet lag in children and infants

Perhaps it’s easier for adults to cope with jet lag because we understand what’s happening to us and what we need in order to feel better. But for infants and children, it can be difficult to control emotions of discomfort and express what they need. At this point, it’s crucial that caregivers are able to be aware of how to help them.

In addition, it’s helpful to be informed on the subject, as, for example, when traveling eastbound, jet lag is accentuated. This type of information also provides guidance on possible changes and how to soften its effects. If you have any doubts, be sure to consult your pediatric professional for advice.

Recommendations to reduce the effects of jet lag in children and babies

If you’re going to travel with babies and children, it’s best to take into account some recommendations to reduce the effects of jet lag. Among them, we find the following:

  • It’s important that both babies and children stay hydrated. Keep bottles of water within reach.
  • It’s important to prepare little ones for the trip. You should tell them what’s going to happen, that you’re going to get on a train or a plane for several hours, that you’re going to visit grandparents or visit a new place. Children find it very useful to have this kind of information and it gives them more security.
  • If possible, it’s a good idea to make the trip at night, especially for long distance or long duration trips. In general, babies and children get to sleep and we also avoid the boredom and fatigue of having to sit still for several hours.
  • When arriving at the destination, it’s essential that you’re able to take a moment to rest. If the trip was at night, it’s good to be exposed to some sunlight. This will help the body get used to the new schedule. Also, taking a bath, eating, and changing clothes helps to make the transition more comfortable.
  • It’s also advisable to reserve lighter activities for the first few days until you can get used to the new conditions.
  • During the first few days of travel, it’s very helpful to try to maintain a routine. For example, have dinner and go to bed at the same time so that the body adapts to the changes gradually.
  • As sleep is likely to be affected, if your baby or child wakes up during the night and finds it difficult to fall asleep again, don’t force them to do so. Instead, you can encourage some quiet, soothing activity as age allows. It can be quiet storytelling, massage, breathing exercises, or conversation, among other things.
  • It’s important to avoid the use of screens and games with high stimulation and movement.

You may be interested in:Traveling with High-Needs Children

Children sleeping in the backseat of a car.
Traveling at night is a good option for children to sleep during the trip.

Align travel expectations with the reality of those traveling

Finally, especially if it’s your first trip with babies and children, it’s very important to be able to calibrate your expectations. It’s important to understand that children have different rhythms and needs and that they demand more care and attention. In this regard, it’s important to accept beforehand that this trip will be different from the last one you did alone with your partner or with your friends. You may not be able to visit all the tourist landmarks recommended this time, and that shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying another type of trip.

Also, it’s important to be patient and try to adapt to the time of your little ones to keep them from having a bad time, which will have an effect on everyone involved.

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The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.