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How to Cope with Jet Lag in Kids

How to Cope with Jet Lag in Kids

Traveling Abroad With Kids? Get Ready for Jet Lag.

So, you’ve made the long trek somewhere abroad with the kids. Sure the trip has been fantastic, and the journey back home hasn’t been too bad either. You’ve battled long security lines, meandered through airport terminals, and watched the miniature airplane make impossibly slow progress on the airplane monitor on the back of the seat. Now that you’re home, the question of how to deal with pint size jet lag begins to enter your mind…What are the options? What is the plan? Why did we elect to stretch the trip out to make it home the day before school?

jet lag

The First Night: Embrace the Jet Lag

Here’s the deal. You have fairly little control when it comes to the quality of sleep your kids will have while traveling, especially on the long flight/flights home. Depending on how many time zones you have passed and how long your little ones have had time to acclimate to their surroundings will change the variables.

According to WebMD, “It can take up to a day for each time zone crossed for your body to adjust to the local time. If you’re traveling east to west, from Rome to San Francisco, jet lag could last four to five days — about half the number of time zones crossed. Jet lag is generally worse when you “lose time” traveling west to east.”

First the obvious. The shorter the duration and the fewer the timezone crossings, the easier time your kids will have with their jet lag. For longer travels, the effects of recalibrating internal clocks will unsurprisingly take longer. And yes, kids and babies do get jet lag, just like us grownups. Age is not a factor in susceptibility to jet lag. (Darn it anyways.)

Here’s what we do–we set the bar low. Very low. Why you may ask? Because we always love to be pleasantly surprised! If we get home from the airport, carry our kids into their beds, and then find ourselves waking up 8 hours later, we give each other a little high five and consider ourselves lucky. On the other hand, if we are interrupted by footsteps 5 minutes into our sleep, and then enjoy a similar trend through the rest of the ‘night’ we simply make more coffee the next morning and save the good-sleep high five for another day.

jet lag in kids

Be Proactive: 5 Steps to Best Cope With Jet Lag Right Away

The first night back from any trip, especially a longer one is usually the most challenging. Our family is lucky in that our three little ones are fairly adaptable. With that being said, we take a few precautions the day of travel in order to try to beat the inevitable jet lag we all will be facing when returning from a trip abroad.

  1. Limit nap time on your travel day if possible: Lets say you’re on a 10 hour flight from ‘Adventureville’ to your home base. If the Westbound flight leaves early afternoon and is scheduled to arrive in the early evening hours, a lengthy nap en route will wreak jet lag havoc when their little heads hit their home pillows.
  2. Attempt a normal bedtime: When possible, try to stretch the weary ones to a bedtime as close to the desired new time as possible. Apply a normal bedtime routine when practical. Sometimes hauling kids into their beds in the clothes they traveled in is the only option also.
  3. Fill those bellies: There’s nothing more preventable than a kid waking up in the middle of the night hungry. Yes, we know it’s not that simple all the time, but if you can focus on making sure they hit the hay with something in their belly, you have eliminated one of the variables vying to disturb their and ultimately your sleep.
  4. Be ready for the inevitable: Assuming it’s been several timezones or a particularly difficult travel, kids are probably going to wake up when you’d really rather they wouldn’t. Our personal parenting style isn’t too proud to have Netflix ready for some late night/early morning kid-friendly binge watching. We brief the kids on where the healthy snack food will be as well as what movies/shows are fair game. This way when they wake up, they know what the plan is and hopefully you can avoid getting poked in the forehead at 3am (our children’s preferred yet questionable method of waking someone up). When they do wake up in the middle of the night, we just role with it. If they are wide awake and just ready for the day at that point, we grab some healthy snacks, cups of water and settle in with a cozy blanket for a middle of the night snuggle session with a movie. If they are half asleep, we help them get back to bed and hopefully fall back asleep ourselves.
  5. Plan to return home on a Friday or Saturday. Understand that jet lag is going to happen, give your kids and yourselves the chance to recover over a weekend and not rush back into school or work. We do our best to get home on Fridays and Saturdays when traveling so that we have all day Sunday to lay low, take naps, grocery shop, unpack and relax together. This low key day is always a huge part of helping our kids recuperate from jet lag.

11 Tips to Help Kids Recover From Jet Lag

The Days After You Return: 6 Tips to Recover from Jet Lag

An adult circadian rhythm (basically our internal clock) is very similar to our pint sized equivalent’s. However, because we (adults) require less sleep, the fact that the sleep loss occurring over the span of a full travel day (sometimes more than 24 awake hours in a row) can lead to a significantly larger sleep deficit in kids. Because sleep loss is cumulative, the lost sleep from traveling plus irregular sleep at the old time zone has in many cases lead to something we refer to in our house as ‘Manic-Zombie Disorder’ or MZD. This disorder can yield agitated, tired, yet playful and restless children. MZD can be treated by:

  1. Get back into your routine: Even when all you want to do is have your preferred adult beverage and put your feet up (adult alcohol consumption is not your friend when recovering from jet lag), do your best at getting the family back in the old swing of things. This means normal bedtimes, normal wake up times, etc.
  2. In the first few days back, nap when you need to nap: We tend to allow the kids to sleep, but we try to avoid longer naps. Unless you want the evening routine to take as long as an entire season of Downton Abbey with just as much drama, keep the naps on short side.
  3. Expect some acting out: Pretty straight forward. They’re recovering. You’re recovering. Tantrums may be encountered–hopefully not from you. Just accept that they are going to be off their game.
  4. Eat, drink, and be merry: Perhaps your traveling day diet wasn’t the best. Lets face it, sometimes it’s hard to eat on the road so a good recovery diet of healthy food can make a big difference. Also keep yourself and kiddos well hydrated. Longer flights can lead to dehydration. (Again, skip the alcohol. You might fall asleep instantly, but can encounter a restless night.)
  5. Let yourself rest, too:  It goes with the age old tip of, “Put your oxygen mask on before assisting others.” If you aren’t well rested, you’re going to suffer, too.
  6. Get some exercise: Bust out the bikes and scooters. Some fresh air, sunshine and movement always does a body good. Getting exercise also assists in getting back in the general swing of everyday kiddo (and adult) life.


The next time you are getting ready to buckle up and take off into the wild blue yonder on another trip with your pint size adventurers, plan ahead of the inevitable effects of jet lag. These are our tried and true methods to help our kids cope with jet lag and have helped us as parents keep our sanity while our kids recover from the aftermath of a trip abroad (or even a few time zones away).

Want to hear from other travel bloggers on how they help their kids with jet lag? Read more from the Wandermust Family!

11 Tips to Help Kids Cope With Jet Lag


This post is part of Weekend Wanderlust. Do some armchair traveling and please visit the sites for other travelers’ wonderful photos and posts.