This article about Jet Lag in Toddlers was written by toddler travel expert Celine Brewer and may contain affiliate links.
If, like me, you’ve been through the experience of dealing with baby jet lag, then you’ll know that you are probably in for a few sleepless nights when traveling internationally with a toddler. If you are looking for answers on how to overcome jet lag for toddlers, you’ve come to the right place.
As a fellow mother, who has had a lot of experience traveling internationally with a toddler, I can assure you that while toddlers do get jet lag, these toddler jet lag tips will help you and your toddler get back on the sleep train.
While there’s no magic cure on how to avoid jet lag in toddlers, a few extra toddler travel essentials PLUS my tips will help you to survive toddler jet lag! I promise, it not that painful. When your toddlers jet lag starts to rear it’s ugly head, turn to these jet lag tips for toddlers.
Before you know it you’ll be a pro at adjusting your toddler to the time zone change and getting your toddler adjusting after vacation!
When you take the time off work and travel internationally, it can be stressful to think that your toddler’s sleep schedule will be impacted and that it may have an impact on your family holiday. As parents, we are tired enough without having to deal with toddler jet lag symptoms.
What types of toddler jet lag symptoms can you expect? Most commonly you’ll find your toddler wakes up after be asleep for only a few hours. They’ll be lively and ready to play. You may also find that your toddler is getting up very early in the morning (ahem… 4 am).
In most cases, you can expect to deal with jet lag symptoms in toddlers for 4 to 5 nights. Sometimes it may only be 1 to 2 nights and other times slightly longer.
My Experiences with Toddler Jet Lag
I have a lot of experience flying with a toddler including long haul overnight flights to Asia from Canada. I’ve also been to Europe with a toddler on several occasions. So I’m experienced in how to help a toddler with jet lag.
This is one of the most common toddler jet lag symptoms I’ve experienced – getting my toddler to sleep, only to have them wake up a few hours later ready to play. Though I’m clearly exhausted, I might spend a couple of hours awake quietly reading to my toddler. At times I would give him some dry cheerios, just to make sure he wasn’t waking up because he was hungry.
In Japan, I dealt with our son waking up between 4 and 5 am every day. That one lasted about a week and was more of a challenge. But our family made the best of it by getting out early to beat the crowds, then making sure our toddler was getting a nap during the day.
In my experience, you can’t really avoid toddler jet lag but you can help a toddler with jet lag overcome it.
Toddler Jet Lag Tips
When it comes to how to deal with jet lag in toddlers, I follow the same strategy every time.
While I haven’t figured out how to avoid jet lag for toddlers completely, I have found these tips to be extremely helpful in getting a toddler over jet lag.
Here are my best tips for how to help a jet lagged toddler:
1. Get Toddler on Local Time Zone
The best way to help jet lag in toddlers 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 my toddler shows jet lag symptoms, like waking up after only a few hours of sleep, I find the most effective way on how to help my toddler with jet lag is to keep the stimulation to a minimum. To help overcome jet lag, I keep the room dark and keep my interactions with my toddler very calm and quiet (if at all).
3. Keep Toddler on Similar Sleep Schedule
One of my most important tips to get toddler 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 toddler-friendly hotel during the day. I find that this small sacrifice helps to beat toddler jet lag faster. We also don’t skip naps.
4. Help Toddler’s Body Clock by Getting Outside
To help our toddler’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. A playground or park is an excellent way to let toddlers burn energy and be out in the sun!
5. Keep Toddler’s Sleep Schedule on Flights
One other way on how to deal with time change when traveling with a toddler is sticking to our toddler’s sleep schedule even when flying. If it’s nap time during our flight, I try to get my toddler to nap (I try not to skip naps and have an overtired toddler). If it’s an overnight flight, I try to get our toddler to sleep as much as possible. I find an airplane toddler bed can work wonders at getting a toddler to sleep. It’s one of my best tips for getting a toddler to sleep on the airplane.
6. Don’t Let Toddler Sleep Longer
Even if I am up for a few hours in the night with my toddler, I find that to get toddler adjusted to jet lag it’s best to just try to get up at a regular time (local time) in the morning. I might let our toddler sleep in a little bit, but if his typical wake up time is 6am, then I’d make sure he was up by 8am.
7. Toddler Naps Shouldn’t be Extra Long
You might be wondering if you should wake a jet lagged toddler. I keep the duration of naps similar to at home, even if my toddler is still showing signs of jet lag symptoms. I don’t let my toddler sleep longer (within reason) and instead wake my toddler after his usual amount of sleep for naps in hopes it will help him sleep through the night. This also helps with keeping a similar schedule so it doesn’t completely throw off bedtime.
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. I have found this doesn’t really help one way or the other with toddler jet lag.
8. Redo Your Sleep Routine in the Middle of the Night
Keeping naptime and bedtime routines the same as at home is the perfect signal to your toddler that it’s time to go to sleep. So whether it’s on the plane or managing toddler jet lag symptoms in the middle of the night at the hotel, I will redo that bedtime routine in the middle of the night. This would include reading a short story and singing a lullaby, etc.
If a bath is part of your bedtime routine, I would skip that in the middle of the night but still use it as part of your bedtime routine each night.
9. Medications or Other Remedies Can Be Avoided
Though others may have different experience with this how to deal with jet lag toddler strategy, I don’t adjust any sleeping schedules in advance or use any medications, herbal or naturopathic remedies. I find the above tips for dealing with toddler jet lag to be quite effective as-is.
10. Choose The Best Flight Time for Toddler
My toddler typically sleeps well on an overnight flight (assuming we’ve packed a toddler airplane bed like the Flyaway Designs airplane bed for toddlers), so I’ve found that an overnight flight can help my toddler overcome jet lag quickly. When we arrive we can get outside in the sunshine and get our toddler on the local time zone as soon as possible.
11. Don’t Be Afraid of the Quick Time Zone Change
While it might be tempting to try to adjust your toddlers sleep well before traveling to avoid toddler jet lag, I have never done this. I have found that the quick time zone change and jumping right into the new time zone for sleep, naps and eating works well enough for my toddler.
12. Ideal Toddler Bedtime
It might also be tempting to keep your toddler on their home time zone, when the time difference isn’t significant. This might help keep your toddler up later at night (which may work for your trip). But I have found that my toddler is easily able to adjust those few hours with either an earlier or later bed time without any real issue. My toddler might be a little extra tired for a day or two, but it all works out.
I’m not afraid of doing earlier bedtimes when traveling with a toddler. I find that travel is exhausting for everyone and naps aren’t always as good as they can be. Earlier bedtimes can help catch up on sleep as needed. If I need to wake him up from naps, I know he needs some extra sleep, so I will wake him up then do an earlier bedtime. Sleep begets sleep!
13. Toddler Sleep Environment is Important
Even for toddlers, I keep our sleep schedule and sleep routine the same PLUS I do our best to keep the sleep environment the same. During night time, I keep the lights off and use portable blackout curtains to keep things dark (just like at home). I also still pack our portable white noise machine, sleep sack and any other sleep items to help my toddler sleep on vacation because it keeps it similar to at home.
One option I really like are the Sleepout Curtains which have industrial-strength suction cups plus extra Sleepout pads to help stop any light from coming through on the edges! Read my full Sleepout Curtains review for more information, or visit the Sleepout Curtains store and use code babycantravel for a discount!
14. An Overtired Toddler Might Not Sleep
As parents we try different things to see what will work best. One thing that never works for my little ones is getting them overtired, especially on long travel days. I don’t skip naps because I have found that an overtired toddler is even harder to deal with. On the flight, I have learned to adjust our toddler’s nap slightly because it’s all too stimulating right when we get on the plane, but I don’t skip it all together.
If it’s getting close to naptime at the airport, I will try to help our toddler burn energy especially if there’s a play place at the airport.
15. Keep Your Toddler Well Hydrated
You should always ensure your little one is well-hydrated, regardless of being on a flight. Hydrating snacks can help too. Packing a travel sippy cup for your toddler is an easy way to make sure your toddler stays hydrated.
16. Should Your Toddler Sleep in Your Bed
I do my best to not introduce anything on a trip that might become a new habit that I will need to break when we get home (like co-sleeping). While it’s so tempting in the middle of the night to just bring your toddler into your bed, you’ll likely need to undo that habit soon! (This obviously doesn’t apply to co-sleepers).
17. Don’t Interfere (If You Aren’t Needed)
If my toddler’s jet lag has him waking up in the night, but he’s content, I just let him be content until he falls back asleep. I will address any needs he has, but if he’s happy in his toddler travel bed then I don’t interfere.
18. Wait Out Toddler Jet Lag
Sometimes I’ve done all we can to help toddler get over jet lag and I just need to wait it out. It’s tiring yet, but it can sometimes take 4-5 nights for toddler to adjust to a new time zone (or returning home).
19. Vacation Rentals are Great for Separate Rooms
I 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 I don’t want one child waking up the other child. One jet lag toddler to deal with at a time is more than enough!
20. Toddler 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 but again when you return home. At least a jet lag toddler is a little easier to deal with at home, since it’s easier to get back to your typical routine at home than when traveling with a toddler. My strategy for how to help toddler get over jet lag comes into play again the moment we get home.
I’ve had several trips and two children to refine our how to manage toddler jet lag strategy. I hope these tips for how to handle jet lag with a toddler will work for your family too! It may take a few days for your toddler 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.