Jet Lag and Kids

Help for getting your little ones back on track during and after travel. And there are some useful tips for grown-ups in here too!


While we offer advice below, here are some general reminders from PSP members:

"I was super worried about the plane ride and the jet lag and it all turned out to be fine - I realized that the best approach was just to follow her lead rather than any of the advice that we received or read online.  Every kid is different and every trip is different, and in the end jet lag sucks for everyone but is worth it to experience the wonders of travel!"

"I would just go with the flow... and have no expectation for the schedule to go perfectly."


General Goals:

  • Aim to get your child on the new time zone right away.
  • A lot of sunlight, fresh air and exercise help get the body adjusted.
  • Try to limit how long your child naps upon the day of arrival.
  • Utilize as much light as possible for designated “awake" times.


 Flight Scheduling:

  • Purchase nonstop flights whenever possible.
  • Travel during times that are less likely to disrupt your child’s sleep schedule.
  • Schedule a flight that leaves late in the evening and encourage your child to sleep for the duration of the flight.


Seating Arrangements:

  • Instead of checking your car seat, ask if you can carry it on.  This is a great option since you can strap your child in the car seat and get some rest yourself.


Sleep on the plane:

  • "Let him sleep as much as possible on the plane regardless of how it might impact jet lag.  It is so hard to manage a toddler on the plane since all they want to do is run around and have too much energy to sit still.  I would try to get as much rest for all of you regardless of time."
  • "Regarding the flight, I strongly recommend to have them sleep when they are tired. I would not keep them up at all. Last time when we went [abroad] when my son was 2 years old, we tried to make him go to sleep (even by giving Benadryl) but he slept for 4 hours and was up for 10 hours! My husband and I gave up after sometime and slept by taking turns. He was too excited looking at in-flight entertainment, overhead lighting, remote, tray table etc. On the way back, we let him play for 1-2 hours instead of insisting him to sleep, and he fell asleep for 8 hours after contently playing with everything around."


Food and Beverage Recommendations:

  • No caffeine.
  • Pack a variety of healthy snacks and drinks.
  • Encourage your child to eat lightly on the plane.
  • Keep your child hydrated throughout the flight.


On arrival, no sleeping when you get there:

  • Avoid naps when you get there.
  • Go to bed as late as possible (adults / older children) or at the normal sleeping time (toddlers / babies)
  • "What I learned is that babies get over jet lag alot faster than adults.  The first few days you are there try to keep him outside as much as possible during daylight hours.  If you are bringing a stroller or baby carrier just let him doze off on the go and don't put him down for proper naps during the day until he has reversed his time.  Do the bedtime routine when it is dark out and you want him to go down and if he has a few rough nights that's ok, eventually he will adjust."
  • Though another parent disagrees with this strategy: "Our trick when we went to Scotland (a 5 hour difference) was to let him have a big nap when he got there but no longer than 3 hours. We then put him to bed at his normal time and when he woke in the middle of the night (his morning) crying and crying I nursed him and held him in pitch black to be sure he knew it was still night. He was up for 45 minutes but caught on. The first two nights this happened but then he got the hang of it! The cruelty of it all was after two weeks away he slept better there then he ever has here in NYC."


Similarly, keep them awake as late as you can:

  • "We have found on the two trips to the UK that James seems to snap on to the new timezone a lot faster than when he gets back here in NYC. Normally we try to just get on his normal schedule with perhaps another bottle than he would normally get to force it to happen. Then in terms of bedtime we try his normal routine, but often he won’t go down properly till 10pm or later when he normally is fast asleep by 7:30. We’re up and the Grandparents are excited to see him so it all works. Of course, coming back really depends on what flight [as described above] we get back and the flights that leave the UK later in the day are much more painful to try and get back on schedule. He wants to sleep and we try to keep him up meaning many, many tears. Even still after a couple days he snaps back in to it."


Allow a day per hour and be out in the sun:

  • "We've done a few trips and it's been easier than expected. Our pediatrician told us to expect him to change his normal schedule by about an hour a day, which I found useful for setting my own expectations. The more time we spent outside in the sun and the more stimulated the baby is, the faster he got over his jet lag. So on a recent trip to Spain, it took him about 5 days to get over a 6 hour change. On the way back, we went straight to a couple of friends' campsite wedding, so there were a ton of people around and we were always outside and the baby was rolling around everywhere and he was back on normal time within 3 days."


Keep sleep schedules to the current time zone you are in:

  • "I agree to keep them at as local a time and outside as possible."
  • "Some 3am wake ups are inevitable but I kept consistent with her afternoon nap time (put her down at 12:30, same as here) and I think that helped solidify her bedtime as well."


Or, depending on the length of the trip, keep them to the "home" time zone instead:

  • "As for the time difference, we literally did nothing! She essentially became a late sleeper (read 10pm / 11pm until 10am); which actually worked at very well for us and the family / social life of a vacation."


Or try a middle ground:

  • "Once we get to France, we try to get to local time as soon as possible - but allowing for somewhat later bed times and wake ups because it tends to be easier with jet lag and also easier for later outings and dinners with friends and family.  It's been surprisingly easy, actually to get the kids on local time with a lot fewer middle of the night wakings than I expected."


When sleeping:

  • Make it is dark as possible.


Advice for Adults:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Pack your own water bottle and reduce frequent spills and refills.
  • Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
  • Moisturize every hour to avoid dehydration.
  • Pack essentials into your carry-on luggage, such as toiletries and an extra change of clothes.


Jet Lag Diets:


And then there is a PSP member who advises against everything other members have said! ;)

  • "It is almost impossible to follow the same schedule from night 1 for sure. My advice is to just go with flow (give them short naps during the day - they are going to be exhausted during the day from jet lag; wake them up for feedings as much as you can and have them play outside in sunlight etc). Early morning wake-ups are inevitable but you yourself are going to be up anyways from jet lag. So, you yourself nap as much as you can during the day so that you have energy to deal with early morning wake-ups. If not, drink more coffee!!"


Although this particular diet may be too regimented for a small child, the overall ideas are helpful:

 Medicinal Recommendations:

  • Benadryl on the flight is recommended by some families; however, test it out on your child beforehand as it does make some children hyper rather than sleepy. 


Alternative Medicine Recommendations:

  • The Common herbs for children website information:
  • California poppy: calming; used in children’s nighttime formulas
  • Catnip: calming, digestive aid; used for colic, sleeplessness, minor fevers
  • Chamomile: a digestive aid and calming agent
  • Hops: sedative; hops flowers placed in a pillowcase make a good sleep aid
  • Valerian: sedative; relieves insomnia, hyperactivity


Related Reading on PSP:


Important Message from Park Slope Parents (PSP):

Just a reminder:  PSP member posts are not checked for accuracy. The content is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. is not intended to, and does not, provide medical advice diagnosis or treatment.  Never disregard professional medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read on the PSP Yahoo! Group or on the website. Never rely on information in an e-mail or on our web site in place of seeking professional medical advice.