Jet lag is hard enough on adults, but children have it the worst. They don’t understand why they are tired, awake and may want to fight it but don’t have the strength. There are some easy ways to avoid jet lag for yourself and help your kids too.
The short six-hour flight from Toronto to Manchester, UK was actually a lot harder on our three-year old Lucy than a sixteen-hour flight to Hong Kong. The medium length flight over the pond is a typical trans-Atlantic redeye departing at 9:45pm and arriving the next day at 9:35am which means that we will need to stay up a full day before we can go to bed. It seems easy, but when you consider that true flight time (not including taxi) is closer to six hours even, and that it is tough to sleep through the flight from take-off to touchdown straight through, it makes for a very short night and a very long day.
We decided to fly out of Toronto after scoring an amazing deal on airfare, but this also meant we would need to drive 5 hours from Pittsburgh. I worried that Lucy would sleep during the long drive and then be up the entire flight, but luckily she stayed busy for most of the time and only slept the last hour. Our plan was to arrive at Toronto airport (YYZ) three hours early which would give us more than enough time to park and battle normal airport tasks, but also allow a little more time for pre-plane activities to help burn off some toddler energy.
I always advise that parents do their best to get their kiddos nice and tired before a long flight. It is not always possible and can be a lot harder during daytime flights so do your best and think ahead.
In addition to being nice and tired, here are a few ways that you can try to prepare a child for a long-haul flight.
Slowly Adjust Bedtime
We try to adjust Lucy’s bedtime before a flight to help her get used to going to bed a little bit earlier than usual and hope that this will help sleep more easily on overnight flights.
Skip the Nap
This doesn’t always work, but if you can skip nap time on the day of your flight, it may aid in an earlier and hopefully easier bedtime. For some kids though, skipping a nap may mean a cranky flier and this advice may not be the right advice for every child.
Give Meal Service a Pass
If you can eat a meal before flying and give the on board meal a pass. Taste buds are limited at altitude and airlines compensate for food that has flavor (but can’t be sensed as easily) by loading it with sodium to make it more palatable. If you and your little can manage to avoid the sodium-laden food and enter the plane with a full belly you can be sleeping while others are snacking.
When all else fails and sleep isn’t going to happen right away, it’s ok to hit the easy button. Air travel can be stressful and we do our best to make it as smooth and comfortable for ourselves and fellow passengers. We rely on iPads, books, small toys and trips to visit the flight attendants in the galley. I always make sure the devices are charged up and that I download content that my daughter likes, but won’t get her too worked up. (She can’t watch “Trolls” without singing and dancing along.) Instead I go for something like “Bee Movie” that will hold her attention for long enough, but not over-stimulate.
Attempt to Sleep on the Flight
It sounds easy enough that leaving at almost ten o’clock at night a toddler should be tired and will easily go to sleep, but with travel comes excitement and Lucy knows there will be snacks and movies – falling asleep in a small, vinyl airplane seat isn’t something that will just happen on command. As a matter of fact, it was quite difficult for her to go to sleep at all. As we queued up for boarding, Lucy asked if her seat would turn into a bed (a sure sign of how spoiled she is) but for someone so small, almost any seat can be a bed.
We had a row to ourselves in deep coach and hoped for at least four hours of sleep, but we soon realized that was not going to happen. After about three hours of flight time, a very tired toddler soon drifted off and I tried my best to grab a couple of hours of z’s myself.
Catching as much sleep as possible on the plane will only help with an easier day upon arrival. There is a saying when you have a newborn baby which is “When the baby sleeps, you sleep” to ensure that you rest while you can. This little piece of “advice” didn’t always work for me as a new mom, but I say this same rule applies when flying with small children.
A Few Helpful Products
These items can be helpful during a long overnight journey:
I have never used this product, but I have seen it recommended and it may be a helpful item to have on hand for those long haul flights in economy.
My daughter has always used Kidz Gear Headphones that you can see in the picture above. I have been impressed with the quality for such an affordable price.
We collect a lot of amenity kits and the unopened ones come in handy for those times when you aren’t flying in the front of the plane. Eye masks were essential for us on this flight. If you don’t have a kit, you can also find these all over amazon.
Hard Work Upon Landing
The Most Important Rule of All – Don’t Cave on Naps
There is a no nap rule the day you land to help you get right on track. If you land at 9:30 in the morning as we did, there are no naps and no exceptions until it is late in the evening. We have some ground rules when my husband and I make the short flight to Europe from the East Coast of the US – no naps, hold each other accountable, no limits on coffee, forgive unequivocally when the other person snaps at you and absolutely no judgement. With kids it is harder to enforce the no nap rule but you must not cave, there are no exceptions.
Try to avoid spending time at the hotel when you arrive, those beds will only further tempt you. Lucky for us, our room was not quite ready. To some folks this may seem unfortunate however, it forced us to drop our bags and go exploring right away. We grabbed ourselves coffee and a hot cocoa for Lucy and met up with some friends.
Go Easy on Them and Yourself
As I mentioned just before, Kyle and I have learned after a few rough days (post long-haul flights with no sleep) that we need to allow forgiveness. We expect that there will be moments that first day where our patience is thin, our words a little short, and our brains complete mush. Remember things don’t always go as planned and while hopefully these small pieces of advice will be helpful, it doesn’t mean that they will all work every time. Do your best not to stress and to enjoy this time together.
Jetlag is tough on adults, but have you ever flown with a child and had to help them adjust?