PD Martin's Blog

May 1, 2013

Jet lag, toddlers and children

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 4:00 pm

A new era has begun…

As my regular readers will know, for over a year now I’ve been part of a group blog called Murderati and blogging every fortnight. Sadly, on Monday Murderati closed its doors (at least in its current form) and I made the commitment to start blogging once a month, on the first of every month. So here I am…1 May = first blog. Some blogs will be about the writing life, others about something totally unrelated (like today’s).

42-15977950First topic of the new regime…jet lag and toddlers/children.

A couple of weeks ago we made the long-haul trip from Australia to Ireland (and back). The jet lag in Ireland wasn’t too bad (more about that in a sec) but when we got back to Oz it was pretty horrendous those first few nights and I found myself Googling like crazy and asking friends who’d also done multiple long-haul trips for their advice.

Time difference when we left Australia was 11 hours, so pretty much the exact opposite. It’s difficult to adjust to such a massive time difference for anyone, let alone children (who only partially understand what’s going on) or worse yet toddlers who have no idea that they’ve just reversed their body clocks.

Our daughter (6yro) is a seasoned traveller. What do you expect with an Irish father and Aussie mum? Not to mention the fact that she’s adopted from Korea so has also done that trip a couple of times. Anyway, our little man (23 months old at time of travel) was a newbie. He’d only done the one trip — Korea to Melbourne back in September 2012.

Australia to Ireland

The first night in Ireland was pretty good. Grace (our 6yro) and I both woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night (1am, 2am and 4am) but managed to get back to sleep quite quickly. However, Liam (nearly 2) woke up at around 4.45am and was then ready to go. Pretty early, but not too bad in the scheme of things, especially given he’d fallen asleep around his normal time the night before of 8pm (Irish time).

We kept him close to his normal nap schedule and pushed him that first day until midday. We let him sleep for two hours, then woke him up. After that it was 12.30pm, letting him sleep for two hours. I know people have very different opinions on whether you should wake a sleeping baby/toddler but I think when travelling it’s essential to help them get into the new time zone. Even if they wake up very cranky!

Second night/morning he woke up at 5.30am. I was hopeful this was a pattern, and it was with the next morning being around 6.15 and then 7am the morning after that. So by the fourth night/morning he was waking up at his normal time. Fab.

However, like I said at the start, travelling back to Oz wasn’t quite so easy!

Ireland to Australia

We managed to get both kids down to bed only a couple of hours after their normal bed time but Liam woke up at 2am — wide awake. It literally took four hours to get him back to sleep and we tried various methods, from bringing him into bed with us to letting him cry a bit in his cot. There was a great deal of protest crying and mini-tantrums, and this situation was complicated by the fact that the kids share a room so we wanted to contain him and keep his as quiet as possible.

That morning we woke him at 8.30am and he went down for his normal daytime nap (12.30pm). After a day in pretty much the right time zone, I hoped the night would be getter, but it wasn’t. Again, he woke at exactly 2am and took nearly four hours to get to sleep.

The next day and night was much the same. At this point I read a few things online from other mums. Some said to let them get up and play, others said to keep the room dark and focus on getting them back to sleep. Some said to give them food (they might be waking because they’re hungry) others said NOT to give them food because this might reinforce the old time zone. I certainly did notice both kids were eating less during the day than they normally did. In the end, I opted for dark room and no food. I also looked up the effectiveness of melatonin for kids, and the results didn’t seem promising.

After the third night (and I was only getting about 2-4 hours sleep myself) I decided to look up the east/west travel thing. I remembered studying circadian rhythms and jet lag in university and knew you did something different in terms of sunlight depending on which direction you’re travelling. Around this time, I was also told by two frequent long-haul traveller friends that it was usually 3-5 nights or 3-7 nights before their toddlers got into the new time zone.

After I’d Googled my east/west thing, I knew that because we’d travelled west to east when coming from Ireland to Australia, Liam needed afternoon sun. It wasn’t particularly sunny that afternoon, but I took them to an indoor play area that has heaps of skylights directly above it. That night, I also put a drop of lavender oil on each of their pillows. Voila…8pm to 7.30am.

Quick tips

  1. Get into the new time zone as soon as possible. ‘Push’ the kids to their normal nap time/sleep time, especially those first few days.
  2. If you’re travelling west to east, make sure to get afternoon sun. If you’re travelling east to west, get morning sun.
  3. It may take 3-7 nights for the kids to get into the new time zone.
  4. No harm in trying lavender oil or something similar to help relax them before bedtime.

What about sleep on the plane?

In case you’re wondering about the plane trips, neither Grace nor Liam got their ‘normal’ amount of sleep on the plane. On the way over, Liam got about 6 hours (when he’d normally get 11) plus a 1.5 hour nap on the second leg. Grace got about eight hours (as opposed to her normal 11-12 hours). I think that’s just the nature of the beast, the nature of long-haul flights.

Happy travelling! If you’re mad enough to travel with young kids, it always helps to know how to ease the pain.

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