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Managing Baby Jet Lag (Things To Do Before and After the Flight)

Ashley Onadele's image
Ashley Onadele
Ashley Onadele's image

Ashley Onadele

Senior Content Contributor

123 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 15U.S. States Visited: 10

Ashley discovered a love for travel in college that’s continued as her family has grown. She loves showing parents how they can take their families on trips using points and has contributed to numerou...

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Traveling by any mode of transportation with a baby is hard enough. But traveling with a baby that’s suffering from jet lag is downright terrible.

If you’re a parent, you already know what it means to have an overtired or cranky baby on your hands. 

But all is not lost. Just like there are tips for adults to battle jet lag, there are things that you can do before and after your flight to help your baby fight it too.

In this article, you’ll learn what jet lag is, how it affects a baby, and tips for avoiding and managing baby jet lag.

What Is Jet Lag?

Jet lag or jet lag disorder is the inability to sleep after traveling between different time zones. This generally happens when traveling 2 or more time zones away from where you started in a relatively short amount of time.

Since this sort of super movement is really only possible through plane travel, the term jet lag seems only fitting.

Jet lag normally lasts a few days, depending on the individual and the time difference between the time zone they flew to and the one they left. People suffering from jet lag tend to have a hard time falling asleep at what might be their normal bedtime or wake up in the middle of the night and remain wide awake for a long period of time.

Being unable to sleep is just as bad as it sounds, especially for babies, but adults can deal with jet lag in different ways than babies can. For example, adults and older kids can push themselves to stay up despite their tiredness in hopes of getting back on the right schedule. Babies, however, sleep and wake when they want to despite our most valiant efforts to get them on a schedule.

Hot Tip: Jet lag is worse when traveling east because the body has less time to adjust to fewer hours in the day (because we lose hours when traveling east). When traveling from east to west, on the other hand, the body has an easier time adjusting thanks to more time before the sun sets.

How Baby Jet Lag Is Different

Babies with jet lag endure the same dysregulated sleep pattern and notion of time as adults, albeit in smaller bodies and without the capabilities to understand what’s going on.

For especially young babies who haven’t yet found their rhythm with a sleep schedule, jet lag may not be much of an issue for them. But for those who have a successful sleep routine at home, you can expect there will be some form of disruption in the form of baby jet lag, especially when traveling west to east.

Luckily, baby jet lag tends to last a shorter amount of time than it does for adults, which can go on for weeks in some cases depending on the individual.

While infant jet lag is difficult to prevent entirely, we offer some tips for helping you and your baby deal with jet lag.

Tips To Help Avoid Baby Jet Lag

You can assist your infant in avoiding jet lag or, at the very least, minimize its discomfort in 2 specific ways:

1. Get Your Baby on the New Time Zone Before You Fly

One way to combat jet lag in your little one is to get your baby acclimated to the new time zone even before you leave home.

To do this, you’ll need to make small changes to your baby’s sleep and wake times incrementally until your departure date. Ideally, you’ll start to do this a few weeks before your scheduled flight.

Move your baby’s bedtime and naptimes in the direction of where you’re going by 20 minutes at a time. That means that if you’re gaining time by traveling east to west, try putting your baby to sleep 20 minutes later and waking them up 20 minutes later than usual.

Alternatively, if you’ll be losing time by traveling west to east, then you would move their schedule in the opposite direction meaning that sleep would start 20 minutes earlier and end 20 minutes earlier.

This is not a foolproof method for avoiding jet lag in your baby, but even if you don’t totally alter your baby’s schedule, you’ll likely have less jet lag-related stress at the beginning of your trip.

2. What To Do on the Plane

We’ve already outlined some tips for flying with a baby or lap child that should make the travel day a little easier. And some of these tips can also help with baby jet lag.

The first is to travel with a well-rested baby. This can sometimes be out of your control, especially if you have an early morning flight or a flight that requires you to be in transit to or from the airport during nap times. But a rested baby is usually a happy baby and that’s the first step in minimizing the effects of baby jet lag.

Mother and Lap Child Baby on Airplane
Schedule flights around your baby’s sleep schedule. Image Credit: Tomsickova Tatyana via Shutterstock

Speaking of nap times, try to fly during nap times whenever possible taking into account possible delays and time taxing the runway. Just because a flight is scheduled to depart at noon doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be off the ground and you’ll be settled in enough — i.e. no ears popping, feeding time is over, etc. — to put baby your baby to sleep.

And lastly, on especially long or overnight flights, try not to let your baby sleep longer than they would at home. Instead, try to get them on a sleep schedule even before you land by considering the current time at your destination.

Bottom Line: These tips won’t guarantee that your baby won’t suffer from baby jet lag, but they should help shorten the time your baby needs to readjust to the new time zone.

How To Get Your Baby Over Baby Jet Lag

Despite your best efforts, baby jet lag can still occur. If, after traveling, your baby is waking up in the middle of the night more than usual, has a hard time falling asleep, or is particularly moody or sleepy, then they probably have jet lag.

Luckily, your baby will probably get over their jet lag even sooner than you will. Here are some tips to help your baby get over jet lag:

What To Do on the First Night

The first night your child has jet lag, he or she will probably wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake. Even though it’s still late at night and there’s no sun out, they’ll be so awake that they’ll think it’s time to play or start a new day.

You should expect this to happen, so when it does, try these things to get your baby back to sleep:

  • Keep the lights dim. Keeping the lights low lets the baby know that it’s not time to get up yet.
  • Avoid bright screens in your baby’s face. Bright screens will overstimulate your baby and get them even more riled up than they already are.
  • Keep your voice down. Whispering should also signal that it isn’t time to wake up yet.
  • Feed your baby if you have to. Whether or not your baby usually has a midnight bottle, you may want to give them a warm bottle to help them back to sleep. This is entirely optional as cutting out the middle-of-the-night feeding is hard to go back to once you’re past it. If eating solid foods, try something with protein instead of anything high in sugar.
  • Try soft toys and books: Soft toys that don’t make much noise or reading a book to your baby are alternatives to a tablet or television.

Your baby should eventually go back to sleep but remember to be patient through the first night.

Hot Tip: If the time difference between where you are going and where you are coming from is 3 hours or less, you may not have to worry as much about baby jet lag or getting the baby on a new schedule to match the new time zone.

Start the Second Day Strong

Family in garden park blowing bubbles.
An outdoor activity is a great way to encourage good sleep. Image Credit: Faces of Travel via Adobe Stock

Day 2 will likely also be challenging but not as hard as the travel day and first night. How hard it is will depend on how far you’ve traveled and whether you flew from west to east or vice versa. After the first night, you’ll want to follow your regular home routine as much as possible starting right when you wake up.

Encourage your baby to wake up at their normal time and get your day started, whatever that looks like. On vacation, you might have plans to visit a children’s museum or other attraction that will keep your baby engaged. Another great activity is time spent outdoors in the sun either at a park or sightseeing.

The goal is to give your baby a reason to be sleepy at the right times. Age-appropriate activities are a great way to do this. For nap time, don’t let your baby sleep longer than they would at home. Remember, the goal is to get them adjusted to your current time zone by following their home routine as closely as possible.

At bedtime, stick to the same routine as you do at home in order to signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. Baths help to soothe and relax babies for restful sleep, as does reading a book or listening to music. You’ll want to replicate whatever you do at home when you’re traveling, especially on this second day.

There will almost certainly be some obstacles to overcome on the second night, but that’s alright since you’re making progress.

Get Your Routine Down by Day 3

Hopefully, your baby got a more restful sleep on night 2 than they probably did on the first night. After a solid night of sleep, the strategy for your third day away from home is to follow your routine even more closely.

For whatever reason — jet lag, getting used to a new environment, etc. — you may not have been as on top of your routine on day 2 as you would have been if you were at home. On day 3, you should establish a sleep pattern and routine.

Dinner time, sleep time, and playtime should all be as near to normal as possible by day 3. Your baby’s jet lag should be considerably minimized starting on this day.

Bottom Line: Expect it to take about 3 days for your baby to begin to recover from baby jet lag. The time could be more or less depending on how far you’ve traveled from home.

Final Thoughts

Even babies can experience jet lag, just like adults and older kids. The upside is that they often have less severe jet lag, which allows for a quicker recovery. With the aid of these suggestions, you should be able to reduce the symptoms of jet lag on your baby and start enjoying your holiday sooner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can babies get jet lag?

Babies and toddlers can get jet lag but it usually only lasts a few days. Younger babies that don’t yet have a dependable sleep schedule are usually less affected by time zone changes.

How do you get rid of jet lag in babies?

Stick as closely as you can to your routine starting on day 2 of baby jet lag. Spending time outdoors in the sun helps to acclimate them to the time of day, and playing is a great way to burn extra energy before sleep times.

Should you let a jet-lagged baby sleep in?

When dealing with a jet-lagged baby, you’ll want to get them back on their sleep schedule eventually, but it’s okay to let your baby rest the first day of jet lag. After that, you’ll want to work your way up to the same or a similar sleep schedule like the one they have at home.

Do I wake up a jet-lagged baby?

Your baby should begin to get back to their normal sleep schedule beginning on day 2 of jet lag. In this case, you’ll want to gently encourage your baby to sleep or wake up at their usual times, taking the size of the time change into consideration.

How do I get my baby back on schedule after travel?

After travel, you’ll follow the same steps to get rid of baby jet lag that you did when you arrived at your destination. It may take a few days to get your baby back on schedule after travel.

Ashley Onadele's image

About Ashley Onadele

Ashley discovered a love for travel in college that’s continued as her family has grown. She loves showing parents how they can take their families on trips using points and has contributed to numerous publications and podcasts.

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