Holidays are such great fun for everyone. The kiddos get to explore new surroundings, savour new foods and spend uninterrupted hours with mummy and daddy, who are also enjoying their time off from work!
As we become more adventurous and well-travelled, parents these days are also willing to cross time-zones and do long-haul trips with their young kids. No doubt, it will be an amazing experience for all, but such extensive travelling can also be physically draining, especially for inexperienced little travellers.
“I still remember the first time we went Europe with our then 5-month-old baby. Our first night there, my baby woke up every 30 minutes screaming,” says mum Natasha Lim. “He would only take sips of milk, fall asleep and wake up screaming soon after. It lasted the entire night, for four nights. Needless to say we were pretty traumatised.”
Jet lag can be hard on adults, so what more when it comes to babies and tots who have no idea what’s going on in their bodies. This feeling might not last long, but it can affect how well your holiday is going. Admit it, the last thing you want is an exhausted and constantly cranky child while taking a long road trip.
The bad news is that you can’t avoid jet lag totally. However, there are steps you can take to minimise the effects it has on your child. In fact, all these tips will also work on you!
Tip #1 Make sure junior is well rested the weeks leading up to the trip
A well-rested child is always more able to adapt to a new time zone as compared to a child, or even an adult, who has not been getting sufficient rest. We know the weeks leading up to a big trip are usually busy with last-minute shopping, packing and repacking. As you deal with the inevitable vacation prep, don’t compromise on your child’s health. Make sure you’re not keeping junior past his bedtime or letting him skip naps as you run errands. Keep putting your kewpie down at the same times for naps and evening sleep. He needs as much rest as he can get.
A well-rested child is always more able to adapt to a new time zone as compared to a child, or even an adult, who has not been getting sufficient rest.
Tip #2 Ensure your child is already on a bedtime routine
Do make sure your little one is already on a set bedtime routine before you start making long-haul vacation plans. The reason behind this is simple. Different countries have different seasons, and depending on what they are, you might have to adjust to longer or shorter hours of sunlight. So, if you’re travelling to America during summer, expect the sun to set close to 9pm and rise again by 4am. This means junior might only go to bed when it’s dark and wake up once the first ray of sunlight hits him. Do the math and you’ll realise it doesn’t total up to a lot of sleep, which will only exacerbate jet lag.
“We’ve always had a strict bedtime routine since our daughter was a baby,” notes mum Preetie Gill. “A bath, book and snuggles means it’s time for bed, so it didn’t matter where we were, or if it was still bright outside at 7pm. She would consider it as her bedtime. Black out curtains also helped a lot!” So, if you want your child to sleep well while on holiday, which can play a big part in how quickly she recovers from jet lag, start the routine today!
Tip #3 Get them to sleep as much as possible on the flight
Once again, it’s all about making sure your kiddo gets as much rest as possible. By the way, as tempting as it might be to keep junior awake on the flight so that they will crash once you get to your destination, don’t do it. It only adds to the confusion their body is already going through. Also, don’t drug your child so that he’ll sleep longer on the flight and don’t keep them up the entire day before a flight, so they’ll crash the minute they get onboard. It may seem like an easy way out, but these tactics do not result in a well-rested child and will only add to the toll the travelling is taking on their little bodies.
Tip #4 Acclimatise to your new environment immediately
If you’re landing at your destination in the evening, head to bed once you’ve settled into your new abode. If it’s in the middle of the afternoon, head to a playground or a restaurant for a meal. By doing so, you’re getting your kewpie accustomed to his new destination's schedule, plus experts also say sunlight is very useful in helping travelers reset their internal clock and adjust to their temporary time zone. Zoe Chu, a baby sleep expert, concurs and adds, “When traveling to a country with different time zone, try to keep baby awake till it’s bedtime at your destination. This will help baby sleep through at night.”
Tip #5 Offer nutritious food and lots of water
Dehydration can worsen jet lag symptoms, so make sure junior is drinking lots and lots of water, especially on the flight. Stick to water and not juices or soda, as all that extra sugar is only going to rile your rugrat up, instead of keeping him calm, which is what you want! Also, pack lots of nutritious snacks, such as fresh or dried fruit, whole meal biscuits or home-made muffins. It’s easy to start eating badly while travelling, especially when jet lag causes you to have the munchies at all odd hours. Instead of throwing whatever you can find at your kids, always be prepared with healthy options. It will satiate their hunger and you’ll avoid having to deal with a kid who’s having an upset tummy from eating too much junk.
The middle of the night is not the time to break open a packet of potato chips – as famished as you and your little fella might be – or to turn on the TV.
Tip #6 Be prepared for junior to wake up in the middle of the night
“Yes, baby’s sleep will be interrupted, just like for adults, and it will take a few days to adjust,” notes Chu. As a general rule of thumb, sleep experts say it takes one day per hour according to the time difference, to get over your jet lag. So, if your new destination is seven hours behind, you can expect your child to take up to seven days to fall back into his usual sleep patterns. When junior does wake up in the middle of the night, help him to fall back asleep by offering some warm milk or simple snack like biscuits. The middle of the night is not the time to break open a packet of potato chips – as famished as you and your little fella might be – or to turn on the TV. “Whenever our son would wake up from jet lag during the night, we will offer him some milk or a slice of bread, then we will let him lie in bed with us with the lights off,” says Preetie. “We do not engage him in conversation, unless he needs help or is not feeling well. We just let him play by himself until he tires out and falls back asleep.”
Tip #7 Stick to the usual routines
Sight-seeing and moving from one destination to another can take up a lot of time. But, do your best to stick to your child’s usual routines so that it doesn’t disrupt their body clock and sense of familiarity too much. “It was hard sticking to our daughters’ nap and bedtime routine when travelling and it meant having to forgo a few things from our itinerary” admits dad-of-two Calvin Chan. “But we made the sacrifice because it meant having more well-rested children and lesser tantrums.”
Tip #8 Be patient and flexible
Even with the best-laid plans, things may not always go according to schedule. That’s when your patience needs to kick in and you have to go with the flow. If junior insists on waking up at 5 am every morning, start your day early, but then also adjust nap time and bed time accordingly. If your little one’s crankiness is an indication that he’s ready for a nap, but it’s two hours too early, let him take a snooze. There’s only so much his body can handle. Don’t pack too much into your holiday schedule either, so that you can afford to be flexible with your days. Ultimately, holidays are a time to relax and bond as a family. Keep that as a priority and everyone will do just fine!
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