One concern I always have as a traveling parent was dealing with baby jet lag and how to help my jet lagged baby. When you take the time off work and travel internationally, it can be stressful to think that your baby’s sleep schedule will be impacted. As parents, we are tired enough without having to deal with baby jet lag symptoms.
As a fellow mother, who has had experience traveling internationally with a baby, I can assure you that while babies do get jet lag, these baby jet lag tips will help you and your baby get back on the sleep train.
In several instances, we’ve had to deal with a jet lag baby crying at night or just being wide awake in the middle of the night. With my tips for jet lag with babies, I am certain you’ll feel confident knowing how to deal with baby jet lag the next time you are traveling with your family.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Dealing with Jet Lag in Babies:
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My Experience with Baby Jet Lag
Having traveled extensively before kids, I’m no stranger to jet lag and knowing how to deal with jet lag, but with a 3 month old baby this would be my first time learning how to deal with baby jet lag. When my daughter was 3 months old we planned a week in Barcelona with a baby.
This was our first time flying with a baby, but we planned ahead and got the bassinet seat on our transatlantic flight. Our 3-month old daughter slept for 8 hours in the airplane bassinet which was the majority of our overnight flight.
When we arrived in Barcelona, it was early evening. With a 7-hour time difference, we settled into our baby-friendly Barcelona hotel and got ready for sleep. We knew the best way to avoid jet lag was to get on local time plus we hadn’t slept a wink on the flight. Our daughter fell asleep easily, but within a couple of hours, our baby’s internal body clock woke her up and she was wide awake.
This is one of the most common baby jet lag symptoms we have experienced – getting our baby, only to have them wake up a few hours later ready to play. Though we were exhausted, we spent a couple of hours awake with her on our bed.
Once we had our baby asleep again, she slept for several hours and we all woke in the morning ready for the day. On our first day in Barcelona, dealing with a jet lagged baby was pretty simple actually simpler, since she was able to sleep on and off throughout the day as we were sightseeing, just as she would have done at home.
Then, back at the hotel for bedtime, everything was dark and quiet, again similar to what she would experience at home. After that first night, she was back to her usual sleeping routine and we didn’t experience any other baby jet lag symptoms on that trip. We were lucky the infant jet lag was so brief on this trip!
We had a very similar experience taking our baby to Europe and dealing with baby’s jet lag. This time she was older and didn’t sleep much on our overnight flight. We arrived in London very early in the morning and allowed her to sleep off and on throughout the day. By late afternoon, we were exhausted but we did our best to stick to local schedule in an effort to reset our internal body clocks.
We managed to stay awake until early evening, but quickly fell asleep after dinner. Our daughter woke up a few hours later with classic baby jet lag symptoms and wouldn’t settle. She was up for a few hours, but we kept the Airbnb quiet and dark. We also made sure not to sleep in too long in the morning and forced ourselves up around 8am.
From there we stuck very closely to our typical at-home routine for naps and bedtime, which helped our daughter overcome her baby jet lag symptoms quickly.
We were lucky that our jet lag with a baby really only lasted one night before she was able to get on a normal sleep schedule. We were very fortunate that her night wakings were kept to a minimum. Even with a night flight in both the examples above, we still had very similar experiences with her. Our strategy for how to help baby adjust to jet lag was also the same, despite having to deal with 3 month old jet lag in one instance and her being older in the second example.
We’ve also had to deal with baby jet lag going west. This time it was with our son in Japan. He struggled with jet lag longer than his older sister ever did. Which also highlighted to us that jet lag affecting babies can not only be different depending on the trip but different babies can be affected by jet lag in different ways.
The first few nights were similar to our previous experiences in dealing with baby jet lag, where our kids woke up after a few hours of sleeping. But then our son started consistently waking up around 4-5 am and wouldn’t go back to sleep. This lasted for several more nights. We decided to make the best of it and got our early for the day and avoided the crowds. We also adjusted everyone’s bedtime earlier to help ensure the entire family got enough sleep.
In my experience, you can’t really avoid baby jet lag but you can help a baby with jet lag overcome it. Don’t forget to pack those few extra baby travel essentials that I mention throughout this post to help create that familiar sleep environment.
Baby Jet Lag Tips
When it comes to how to deal with jet lag in babies, we follow the same strategy every time. We did find dealing with jet lag in younger babies easier, since at 3 to 4 months old we had less of a focus on sleep schedules and just let our daughter drift in and out of sleep throughout the day (similar to what happened at home at this age).
While we haven’t figured out how to avoid jet lag for babies completely, we have found these tips to be extremely helpful in getting a baby over jet lag.
Here are my best tips for how to help a jet lagged baby:
1. Get Baby on Local Time Zone
The best way to help jet lag in babies is doing exactly what you would do for yourself. Get everyone on the local time zone and follow the local schedule. If it’s lunch time at our destination, we eat lunch. If it’s bedtime, then we sleep.
2. Keep Overnight Stimulation to a Minimum
When our baby shows jet lag symptoms, like waking up after only a few hours of sleep, we find the most effective way on how to help baby with jet lag is to keep the stimulation to a minimum. To help overcome jet lag, we keep the room dark and keep our interactions with our little one very calm and quiet (if at all).
3. Keep Baby on Similar Sleep Schedule
One of our most important tips to get baby to sleep on vacation is to keep a similar sleep routine and schedule as we have at home, even if it means returning to our baby-friendly hotel during the day. We find that this small sacrifice helps to beat baby jet lag faster.
4. Help Baby’s Body Clock by Getting Outside
To help our baby’s body clock adjust, we spend as much time outside in the sunlight during the day, especially on the first few days. We usually build this into our plan, saving indoor activities for later in the family trip.
5. Keep Baby’s Sleep Schedule on Flights
One other way on how to deal with time change when traveling with a baby is sticking to our baby’s sleep schedule even when flying. If it’s nap time during our flight, we try to get our baby to nap. If it’s an overnight flight, we try to get our baby to sleep as much as possible.
6. Don’t Let Baby Sleep Longer
If we are up for a few hours in the night with our baby, we find that to get baby adjusted to jet lag it’s best to just try to get up at a regular time (local time) in the morning.
7. Keep Naps Similar in Length
You might be wondering if you should wake a jet lagged baby. We keep the duration of naps similar to at home, even if our baby is still showing signs of jet lag symptoms. We don’t let our baby sleep longer and instead wake our baby after her usual amount of sleep for naps in hopes it will help her sleep through the night.
8. Use a Short Nap to Get Through the Day
If we arrive at our family vacation destination in the early morning and need a nap to get us through to bedtime, we keep it as short as possible. We have found this to not have a big impact on how to get a baby over jet lag. Using a baby carrier for travel is an easy way to get baby to nap on-the-go.
9. Use Sleep Routines in the Middle of the Night
When dealing with a jet lag baby, it helps to keep naptime and bedtime routines the same as at home. For example, if you typically do a bath, pjs, reading, then feed and to bed, you’ll want to continue to do that on your trip (in the order you do them at home).
if we are dealing with jet lag in babies in the middle of the night, we will do an abbreviated bedtime routine to get them back to sleep, like reading a short story, singing a lullaby etc.
For a bath while traveling, you can use a baby travel bathtub (or one of the many other suggestions we give in this post).
10. Avoid Medications or Other Remedies
Though others may have different experience with this how to deal with jet lag baby strategy, we don’t adjust any sleeping schedules in advance or use any medications, herbal or naturopathic remedies. We find the above tips for dealing with baby jet lag to be quite effective as-is.
11. Choose The Best Flight Time for Baby
While choosing the time of the flight isn’t always possible, the right flight can help babies with jet lag. Our baby typically sleeps well on an overnight flight, so we’ve found that an overnight flight can help our baby overcome jet lag quickly. When we arrive we can get outside in the sunshine and get on the local time zone as soon as possible.
12. A Quick Time Zone Change is as Effective
While some people try to adjust early to avoid baby jet lag, we have never done this. We have found that the quick change and jumping right into the new time zone for sleep and feedings for our baby works best.
13. Adjust Bedtime as Needed
Some people keep their baby on their home time zone, when the time difference isn’t significant. This might help keep your baby up later at night (which may work for your trip). But we have found that our baby is easily able to adjust those few hours with either an earlier or later bed time without any real issue.
14. Keep Sleep Environment Similar to at Home
Not only do we keep our sleep schedule and sleep routine the same, we do our best to keep the sleep environment the same as at home. During night time, we keep the lights off and use portable blackout curtains to keep things dark (just like at home). We also pack our portable white noise machine, sleep sack and many of these other sleep items to help baby sleep on vacation because it keeps it similar to at home.
Two options for keeping a room dark that I really like are the Sleepout Curtains and the SlumberPod.
The Sleepout Curtains have industrial-strength suction cups plus extra Sleepout pads to help stop any light from coming through on the edges! Read our full Sleepout Curtains review for more information, or visit the Sleepout Curtains store and use code babycantravel for a discount!
15. Avoid Overtired Baby on Travel Days
For our travel days, we also try to keep baby’s schedule similar to at home. We don’t skip naps because we have found that an overtired baby is even harder to deal with. We use a baby carrier to help our baby sleep in the airport. On the flight, we have learned to adjust our baby’s nap slightly because it’s all too stimulating right when we get on the plane.
If it’s getting close to naptime at the airport, we will try to help our baby burn energy by playing on a blanket (these are my favorite blankets for travel or get one of these baby travel play mats) and any other activities we can think of (which works especially well if there’s a play place at the airport).
16. Keep Everyone Well Hydrated
You should always ensure your little one is well-hydrated, regardless of being on a flight.
When flying with a baby and breastfeeding, make sure to keep yourself hydrated as well, because time zone changes can impact breast milk production.
17. Don’t Introduce New Habits
We do our best to not introduce anything that might become a new habit that will need to break on the trip or when we return home (like dream feedings or co-sleeping).
18. Don’t Interfere (If You Aren’t Needed)
If our baby’s jet lag has her waking up in the night, but she’s content. We just let her be content until she falls back asleep. We will address any needs she has, but if she’s happy in her travel crib then we don’t interfere.
Not sure which travel crib to buy? The Guava Lotus Travel Crib is one of the best travel cribs! It’s also a great way to give your baby a familiar sleep environment, no matter where you go.
19. Earlier Bedtimes Can Do Wonders
We aren’t afraid of doing earlier bedtimes. We find that travel is exhausting for everyone and naps aren’t always as good as they can be. We try to pay attention to our baby’s awake time and tired signals, then do earlier bedtimes to help catch up on sleep as needed. If we need to wake her up from naps, we know she needs some extra sleep, so we will wake her up then do an earlier bedtime.
One baby travel hack to make it easier for your baby to sleep on-the-go is to create a dark environment for your infant travel stroller. My recommended stroller sunshades are the Cozigo Stroller and Bassinet Cover or the SnoozeShade Plus Stroller Cover.
20. Wait Out Baby Jet Lag
Sometimes we’ve done all we can to help baby get over jet lag and we just need to wait it out. It’s tiring, but it can sometimes take 4-5 nights for baby to adjust to a new time zone (or returning home).
21. Get Separate Rooms
We try to get our own room where possible and with two children, keep them in separate rooms. This is especially important at the start of our trip, since we don’t want one child waking up the other child. One jet lag baby to deal with at a time is more than enough!
22. Baby Jet Lag Returning Home
Expect to deal with jet lag returning home. Of course, you don’t just deal with family jet lag at the beginning of your trip – it usually rears its ugly head on upon your return home too. At least a jet lag baby is a little easier to deal with at home, since you don’t have to worry as much about your jet lagged baby crying at night and waking up others in the hotel. It’s also easier to get back to your typical routine at home than when traveling with a baby. Our strategy for how to help baby get over jet lag comes into play again the moment we get home.
We’ve had several trips and two children to refine our how to manage baby jet lag strategy. I hope these tips for how to handle jet lag with a baby will work for your family too! It may take a few days for your baby to adapt, but he or she will get over jet lag and it will make everyone’s trip easier and more enjoyable.
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This post was written & edited by:
Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.
Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.