Many couples use their parental leave to organize long trips. It's always enjoyable to be able to spend lots of time as a family. In general, about 70% of couples prefer the idea of traveling with kids. A study pointed out, however, that only 19% of them choose a longer trip. There are a few reasons that explain this phenomenon, among which the concern about jet lag effects in children.
How do babies and small children react to jet lag ?
The effects of jet lag vary widely from one child to another. In general though, they require 1 to 3 days to get used to the local time. It's possible for it to take longer, even for young children.
The good news is that normally it's easier for a child to get used to local time than it is for an adult, as the child doesn't yet have an internal clock that is as precisely adjusted as an adult's. Nevertheless, there are some important precautionary measures that prove useful in minimizing the effects of jet lag ...
Some good tips if you have babies or small children:
- Start preparing the children before departure. Depending on your destination, just put them to bed a little bit earlier or later than usual on the days leading up to your departure.
- To do this, keep on the lights a little longer, if you wish to keep your little one awake. On the contrary, if you want to get him/her to bed faster, turn off the lights earlier than usual. We are all dependant on light : darkness makes us get tired faster, and light keeps us awake. This comes from the fact that darkness leads to release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, in our brains.
- Children are also very sensitive to the natural rhythm of nutritional intake. For instance, a baby or child often wakes up at night because he/she is hungry. Therefore, you shouldn't hesitate to slightly change mealtimes and give the children dinner earlier than usual, and choose foods that are especially rich in carbohydrates. This helps them feel tired and ready to sleep.
- Always stay open-minded when you discover a new environment. There is not only jet lag to deal with, but also a different climate, local cuisine, new landscapes ... It can also happen, that kids completely change their routine. An early bird suddenly becomes a night owl, a child who is usually a small eater starts eating a lot, etc. You should observe how the child reacts to the new environment, and if possible let him/her just get used to it.
- If possible, book a night flight. In this way, it's more probable that the children will sleep on the plane. It will be a gain for you, and for the other passengers as well. If they remain awake however, don't panic, just give them something to play with, to read or to watch.
- To keep the children awake upon arrival, organize the same fun activities that fill up your daily routines. If they are nice and busy during the day, they will have no trouble falling asleep in the evening. Often though, they will be so excited by the trip that they won't want to or won't be able to sleep, despite being tired.
- If the children don't want to go to sleep the night after arrival, suggest a movie or a book to calm them down. Make them an extra portion of their favorite food. This should help them get to bed.
Finally, jet lag is not that bad for children, and it's not more challenging than dealing with life on a daily basis. Moreover, it's possible to minimize the effects of jetlag with adequate preparation.