Make sure they have plenty of Gin & Tonic at your destination. KIDDING!
Seriously though, jet lag is absolutely hideous and I have been scouring the internet looking for the best tips to deal with jet lag for children. The bad news is that there are very few options and most are hit and miss or rely on a placebo effect at best. Before we go any further I have some genuine advice,
Whatever you do, make sure you try it well in advance at home first. 30,000 feet up in the air is not when you want to discover a life threatening allergic reaction, or that it gives you a massive headache, or that it makes the children hyperactive.
On that note, my humble experience of kids and “calming drugs” is that the children who need them the most are either not effected or they have the opposite effect. The kids it works best on are the ones who don’t need it. I don’t advocate it, it’s something you’d need to do your own research on and discuss with your own doctor.
Now I am the sort of person who gets jet lagged travelling between Australia and NZ – and that’s a two hour time difference at most. So I am super aware of the horrible side effects of being jet lagged. The last time we did a major international trip, I was six months pregnant and also got horribly motion sick. As a result I was completely unable to deal with the Tube in London and the escalators and general commuting crush. We had to spend the all out time in London using the double decker buses instead (which was probably a whole lot nicer anyway).
I think the most important thing when planning a trip is to build in a buffer. Don’t plan on doing major attractions or theme parks on the day you arrive or even the day after. A lot of the sites I’ve looked at talk about it taking up to 5 days to adjust to the local time zones. (If you are travelling for 5 days or less, you might as well stick with your home time zones as much as possible).“Overcoming Jetlag” at Trekaroo goes into more details about starting things slowly. In our upcoming Europe trip we are starting with three nights at a campsite on a lake with a nice pool complex. Our plan is to be able to blob as much as possible for the first three days, plus naturally getting bright light at the right time by being in the pool. For the return trip, we’re scheduled to arrive at the beginning of the weekend – this means we have the whole weekend at home to recover from the flights and the change in time zones.
While staying awake once you reach your destination may be practical advice for adults, it’s not so easy for children. Exposure to sunlight is the most recommended activity. There are a couple of websites that help you calculate the best times to get a dose of bright light.
Fleet Street Clinic Jet Lag Calculator
Bodyclock: The Jet Lag Calculator
Alertness Solutions Jet Lag Calculator This is a bit different – it is a pdf chart to print off and fill in the time zones. It lets you see when your natural alert and sleep times are.
On the Fleet Street Clinic pages you will see a recommendation for using Melatonin. This is widely available in the USA but requires a prescription in Australia (even to import it). Melatonin seems to get very mixed reviews and it’s certainly not something I’d be prepared to give to my children. Help Me to Sleep has more indepth information on jet lag remedies for adults such as melatonin. A product that I have tried for myself that is a kind of precursor to melatonin is 5-HTP. “A Norwegian study showed that 5-HTP can affect sleep patterns by increasing the levels of serotonin, which is needed for sleep. Serotonin is needed to produce melatonin, a hormone which regulates sleep-wake cycles.” You can read more about 5-HTP here and here. Although you cannot buy 5-HTP widely in Australia it is easy to order online from many NZ stockists and there are no problems importing it. Again, it’s not something I’m planning to give to my kids, but I am intending to take some for myself on our trip.
So, non-invasive, practical things I am going to do to help lessen the impact of jet lag on my kids…
- A month before start changing their bed-time. because of the direction we are flying, I’m going to make this later by an hour each week (yay Homeschooling rocks, plus I’m making sure we have no morning appointments those weeks).
- In the week before we leave, I’ll be talking to my kids about what to expect, sleeping on the plane, and quiet activities to do if they wake up and their parents are still asleep!!!
- To help with sleeping on the plane (and when we arrive) I’ve bought Badgers Sleep Balm and Badgers Night Night Balm from Uncommon Scents. I wasn’t sure which one would work best, so I got both to try out before we leave. (And doesn’t the cute picture of the Badger just make you want to snooze?) I also have ear plugs, eye masks and white noise to put on the ipods. Powrnaps Sleep System Combo Pack 26-minute Nap Audio System & Easy2sleep Audio System I got from Amazon. Binaural Beats and Ambiscience Pure Sleep are two free iphone apps that have relaxing white noise soundtracks.
- Once we arrive I’m going to try the acupressure points recommended in No More Jet Lag I figure what is $10 when we have spent $$$$ going on this holiday? If it works, fantastic, if it doesn’t we’re really no worse off.
- As recommended in the Trekaroo article above, we’ll be stocking up on snacks once we arrive
These articles also have great tips:
Delicious Baby: Jet Lag
Travel with your kids: What you can do about jet lag
The Babies Online Blog has a hilarious article on dealing with jet lag and toddlers.