Taking a family trip with a little one is a wonderful way to create lifelong memories. But, international travel with a baby or toddler has the added complication of dealing with baby or toddler jet lag. We went to the sleep consultants at Wee Sleep to get all our questions on how to deal with toddler and baby jet lag answered.
In the Q&A section below, you’ll find tons of baby jet lag tips, but first we wanted to share our experience travelling internationally with an infant, baby or toddler.
In several instances, we’ve had to deal with a jet lag baby crying at night or had to deal with jet lag in toddlers. Through our real life family travel experience and the expert jet lag advice that follows, we are certain you’ll feel confident knowing how to deal with baby jet lag the next time you are traveling with your family.
Toddler and Baby Jet Lag Tips
- Our Experiences with Baby Jet Lag and Toddler Jet Lag
- Baby and Toddler Jet Lag Recovery Time
- 10 Toddler and Baby Jet Lag Tips
- Baby Jet Lag – Returning Home
- Expert Advice on How to Deal with Jet Lag in Babies and Toddlers
- Pin It For Later!
Our Experiences with Baby Jet Lag and Toddler Jet Lag
Our Baby Jet Lag Experiences
Having traveled extensively before kids, we were no strangers to jet lag and knowing how to deal with jet lag, but with a 3 month old baby this would be our first time learning how to deal with infant jet lag. When our 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 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 or toddler to fall asleep, 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.
Our Toddler Jet Lag Experiences
We had a very similar experience taking our toddler to London and Paris and dealing with toddler jet lag. This time our toddler didn’t sleep much on our overnight flight, but slept on and off throughout the first day in our travel stroller while we were sightseeing. Sticking to local schedule, though we were all exhausted, we stayed awake as long as we could.
By early evening, we were all sound asleep, but we still had toddler jet lag to contend with. She woke up a few hours later with classic 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 toddler jet lag symptoms quickly.
The first two years (before our son was born) was way easier as we only had to deal with baby or toddler jet lag symptoms for one child, typically for one night.
Baby and Toddler Jet Lag Recovery Time
Since our first few trips to Europe with a baby and toddler, we’ve also flown west to Thailand and Japan. In every instance except our trip to Japan with toddlers, it has taken 2-3 nights to recover from jet lag with toddlers or babies.
Our experience dealing with toddler jet lag in Japan was by far the worst. 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.
10 Toddler and Baby Jet Lag Tips
When it comes to how to deal with jet lag in toddlers or babies, we follow the same strategy every time. Here are our 10 best tips for dealing with jet lag in babies and toddlers:
- Get the entire family on local schedule as soon as we arrive. If it’s lunch time at our destination, we eat lunch. If it’s bedtime, then we sleep.
- When our baby or toddler does show some jet lag symptoms, like waking up after only a few hours of sleep, we keep the room dark and keep our interactions with our little one very calm and quiet (if at all).
- We try to keep a similar sleep routine 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 or toddler jet lag faster.
- To help our body clocks 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.
- When flying with babies or toddlers, we stick to our current schedule. If it’s nap time during our flight, we try to get them to nap. If it’s an overnight flight, we try to get them to sleep as much as possible. For long haul flights an airplane bed for kids can be a lifesaver!
- If we are up for a few hours in the night, we suck it up and try to get up at a regular time (local time) in the morning.
- We keep the duration of naps similar to at home, even if they are still showing signs of jet lag symptoms. We wake our baby or toddler after their usual amount of sleep for naps in hopes it will help them sleep through the night.
- 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.
- When dealing with a jet lag toddler or baby, it helps to keep naptime and bedtime routines the same as at home. For example, if we are dealing with jet lag in babies or toddlers 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.
- Though others may have different experience with this jet lag 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 or toddler jet lag to be quite effective as-is.
Baby 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.
We use the same strategies and baby jet lag tips described above to help get rid of toddler and baby jet lag returning home.
Expert Advice on How to Deal with Jet Lag in Babies and Toddlers
We first partnered with the sleep consultants at Wee Sleep to explore tips on how to get your baby to sleep on vacation. As we mentioned above, we have partnered with them again to answer all your questions about babies and jet lag.
Covering everything on how to deal with baby jet lag, from pre-planning to dealing with jet lag when returning home, this guide on baby and toddler jet lag will answer all your questions and hopefully get you and your baby a restful sleep on your next family vacation!
Pre-Planning to Avoid Jet Lag
Q: Can choosing the right flights help diminish the effects of jet lag in children?
- Is it best to have an overnight flight (hoping your baby will sleep) to arrive and have a full day on local time?
- For babies and toddlers that don’t sleep much on flights, should you try to arrive mid-to-late afternoon to have time for dinner then get everyone to bed?
A: It’s best to try and plan a flight in the late morning so your baby can nap during the flight – if possible – and get a good first night’s sleep upon arrival. This sets your little one up for a fresh start the next day.
Don’t miss our ultimate list of airplane activities for babies & toddlers, tips for flying with toddlers and tips to deal with a toddler tantrum on a plane!
Q: Is there anything you can do pre-trip to lessen the effects of jet lag in babies and toddlers?
Should you begin to adjust your baby’s sleep schedule in advance of your family trip? For example, getting your baby up and going to bed earlier before heading east (and later for a trip west)?
A: We suggest jumping right into the new time zone for sleep and feedings for both babies and toddlers.
The other option is to shift a week out: For a week, or over a period of several days before your trip, make small adjustments (15-20 minutes a day) to your child’s bedtime every night to gradually shift the baby’s body clock to the new time. This may help minimize the impact after you arrive by avoiding having to make a large adjustment.
Q: Would using a jet lag plan like jetlagrooster.com work for a baby?
A: We don’t suggest using a jet lag plan. Babies are not as experienced in sleep as adults and adapt better to a quick change. Jumping into the new time zone is best for dealing with baby jet lag! See above.
Q: When flying with babies and toddlers, should you use the flight to help your baby adjust to the new time zone?
For example, encouraging your baby to sleep the first part of the flight, then tire baby out the second half of the flight in preparation for sleep upon arrival. Or is it better to just follow your baby’s sleep cues?
A: It’s best to keep your baby on the schedule he/she is used to. We often recommend a nap (if it is nap time and your baby is tired) in the airport while waiting for your flight.
When onboard baby will be very stimulated, even if it is naptime. It’s a sure bet – they will NOT want to nap with all the excitement. Usually when the flight has taken off, everyone is settled in, and the hustle and bustle of drink service etc. is over, it would be a better time to attempt/encourage an in-flight nap.
If it is not naptime and you are in the airport, tucker your little one out with play, cruising around and activities to help him or her get tired.
Help your toddler sleep on a flight with an inflatable airplane cushion that turns their seat into a toddler travel bed for the airplane!
Q: Will ensuring your baby is well-hydrated during and after the flight help?
A: You should always ensure your little one is well-hydrated, regardless of being on a flight. If you can, upon arrival, you should try to immediately change your feeding schedule to suit the new time zone. However, feeding on demand will probably be the best strategy.
When flying with a baby and breastfeeding, make sure to keep yourself hydrated as well, because time zone changes can impact breast milk production.
How to Deal with Baby Jet Lag Upon Arrival
Q: Upon arrival, should you replicate your baby’s at home schedule as soon as possible (ie. naps/ bed times on local time)?
Yes – when you are dealing with a time difference, jump into what you do at home, ensure it is in a dark sleep environment. Get into local time as quickly as possible. 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.
Baby Can Travel Tip: Keep a familiar sleep environment for your baby or toddler by bringing one of these portable baby beds for travel (includes travel cots & cribs too) or a toddler travel bed.
Q: Should you add back dream feeds/night feedings as jet lag may disrupt their eating schedule?
Or keep it to water during night wakings to help adjust eating schedule?
A: NO! Never go backwards! Always honour the hard work you and your baby have put into learning to sleep through the night. By introducing feeds, co-sleeping or new “habits,” you can expect those great sleep skills to revert backwards very quickly.
Are there specific times of day you should target to get more sunlight?
For example, is morning better or is more sun better regardless of time of day?
A: Like adults, sunlight is very important for children to adjust their circadian rhythms. Try to get out in the daylight as much as possible. We do not think morning is better than afternoon – sunshine is sunshine and daylight is daylight! Just don’t forget the sunscreen! Plan outdoor activities on the first few days after you arrive at your family vacation destination.
Exposure to sunlight and time spent in natural daylight will help you and your baby adjust to the time difference. During designated night time, keep the lights off and use portable blackout curtains to keep things dark.
One option we 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 our full Sleepout Curtains review for more information, or visit the Sleepout Curtains store and use code babycantravel for a discount!
Baby and Toddler Jet Lag Symptoms
Q: If your baby is waking in the night, what will help them get back to sleep faster?
Option 1: Keep it dark and low stimulus until you can get them back to sleep?
A: As always, we recommend keeping the hotel bedroom dark. Then keep things calm and have as little stimulation occur as possible during the night.
Option 2: Feed them and let them play for a set amount of time then try to put them back to sleep?
Ideally you would follow the guidelines in option #1 above. Introducing a feed would depend on the child’s age, circumstances and situation.
Q: Is there a typical amount of time your baby will be up with jet lag before trying to get them back to sleep?
For example, are they likely to go back to sleep faster if you just let them play for 45 minutes?
A: Again, this would depend on the child’s age, circumstances and situation.
If they are content, let them be content until they fall back asleep. If they are not and protesting (again a very hard one to answer), then make sure you are checking on them and addressing their needs.
Q: Will night waking usually happen after a set amount of time?
i.e. in bed for 8pm then waking at midnight. Is waking after only 2 hours normal?
A: Night wakings for a child with jet lag can sometimes be predictable and sometimes not. Depending on when the child went to bed, his or her age and feeding schedule, awake times during the night can vary.
Q: What is the most effective way to help a baby overcome jet lag?
Should you keep to a strict schedule or go with the flow? For bedtime, if your baby seems really tired, will an earlier bedtime help them get adjusted quicker or should you stick to the regular schedule?
A: You should try to stick to your typical schedule in the new time zone. Occasionally, if it is a poor nap day an earlier bedtime may be suitable. As always, keep an eye on your child’s awake times and tired signals.
Q: Should you let your baby sleep longer to make up for sleep lost to jet lag?
A: Again, this would depend on the age of the child and his or her circumstances. Typically for older children sticking close to the regular wake time is ideal.
Q: Should you stick to a similar nap schedule as at home?
In addition, should naps be kept to their regular length (i.e. baby should be woken up if sleeping too long)?
A: Your established nap schedule is key. You worked hard. Never go backwards! Always honour the hard work you and your baby have put in.
Q: If your baby’s sleep and eating schedules are off, can you also expect their bowel movements will happen overnight?
Are there any ways to help this adjust?
A: Typically, there is a correlation between when feeds occur and bowel movements. Whether your child will have a bowel movement in the night is difficult to predict. Even if your baby is dealing with jet lag, never leave your child in a dirty diaper. Always go in and change their diaper with low light and minimal interaction.
Q: Are there any natural remedies for helping a baby adjust to a new time zone?
A: We do not recommend any herbal or naturopathic remedies to help a baby deal with jet lag. As mentioned above we recommend sunlight, daylight and darkness to help your baby’s system adjust naturally.
Q: How long should it take for your baby to adjust to the new time zone?
Suggestions have been made that it can take 2-3 weeks to adjust based on the time zone change (alternatively, expect one day for each time zone change).
A: It is safe to assume that it will take 4-5 nights for your baby to adjust to the time difference. This can vary depending on the magnitude of the difference in time zones. Be sure to take this into account when you are planning your trip and the return home.
Q: If your baby seems to be not adjusting well, is there a point where you just go with the flow and do whatever it takes to get your baby sleeping (including bringing them into bed with you)?
Would this create a bad sleeping habit that would be hard to break when arriving home?
A: NO! Never go backwards! Always honour the hard work you and your baby have put into learning to sleep through the night. By introducing feeds, co-sleeping or new “habits,” you can expect those great sleep skills to revert backwards very quickly. Different ages will have different parameters for naps.
Dealing with Baby and Toddler Jet Lag Returning Home
Q: When you arrive home, should you immediately get back to your pre-vacation schedule and try to be strict with it?
A: This will be another adjustment period and should be treated the same way as when you arrived at your destination.
Will your baby go back to sleeping as they did before? Or will you have to do sleep training all over again?
If you honour your established sleep routines and schedules, with time your baby will adjust to the time difference and go back to sleeping as he or she did before. Sleep training is an ongoing effort that requires consistency and commitment during challenges (such as travel, teething etc.)
Other Baby and Toddler Jet Lag Questions
Q: Is there an age where your baby might be less affected by jet lag?
For example, a newborn to 3 months who sleep the majority of the day off and on.
A: To some degree, jet lag will impact all children regardless of age. Your preparation and consistency in applying the schedule will help influence the impact.
Q: Can the effects of jet lag get better with the age of the child?
As you know, jet lag occurs even in adults. So, to some extent, the impact of jet lag it depends on the child, time difference and circumstances.
Q: Can you give some suggestions for the following jet lag scenario:
Baby used to sleep from 7pm to 7am, but now is crying in the night then insisting on getting up very early in the morning. Baby’s daytime routine is mostly back to normal with two 1.5hr naps. Some afternoon naps seem to go very long or need to be woken up. This has been going on for over a week. Should baby be woken up early from afternoon nap, then put to bed earlier?
A: Making sure daytime sleep is capped so baby is not getting TOO much sleep (again – this is all based on age) and then bedtime should be the appropriate wake time from end of nap. Again – all age appropriate.
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This post was written & edited by:
Celine is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's been helping new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade.
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.