How to help your baby and toddler get over jet lag

Medically reviewed April 2022
tired baby or toddler jet lag Naytal

Short on time? Then the key things to know are:

  • It can take babies and toddlers at least a few days to adjust to a new time zone
  • Planning in advance will help you to ease them into a new sleep routine
  • Keep your child on UK time as best you can on arrival and then gradually adjust their body clock
  • Don’t forget a comforter from home and stay active during the day to burn off some energy!

We’ve all experienced the effects of jet lag. From falling asleep at dinner time to being wide awake at 5am, travel can have a big impact on our sleep habits.

It’s therefore unsurprising that travelling to a new time zone can impact babies and toddlers too. Even a couple of hours difference can shift their normal sleep routine, so it’s important to know how to help them adjust.

Here we share how to help your baby with jet lag - and get back on track for a good night’s rest.

How does jet lag affect a baby or toddler?

Jet lag can cause a temporary shift to your child’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock. It typically lasts for a couple of days to a week before they adapt and are back to their normal sleeping patterns.

To spot if your baby or toddler has jet lag, look out for the following signs that they are out of sync with their usual routine:

  • They need more daytime sleeps
  • They are extra clingy
  • They are waking up earlier
  • Showing signs of general fussiness

Babies under six months old typically don’t have a regular sleep cycle and so a few hours difference may not affect them too much. However older babies or toddlers who have a stricter routine may find it harder to adjust if they miss a nap or oversleep whilst travelling. It can therefore help to have a few tips handy to help your little one get used to their new environment.

 

Need help with your baby's sleep? Speak to a baby sleep expert

 

Top tips for helping your child get over jet lag:

Your baby or toddler should be fully adjusted within a few days, or even sooner depending on the time difference. Keep these tips handy to help them recover from jet lag:

  • Plan for adjustments. You can either adjust for a different time zone gradually, a week prior to travel, or make adjustments on arrival.
  • Keep them on UK timings in terms of feeds and naps as best you can for the duration of travel if you decide to adjust their body clock on arrival. This makes sure you meet their needs and helps to minimise unnecessary stress enroute. Travel can be really disruptive, but if you can keep some consistency, this should help your trip feel more relaxed.
  • Gradually adjust their body clock. Transition to local time by getting them up in the morning with a feed, awake time and exposure to natural light. Sunlight may play a key role in resetting the body’s internal clock, so spend time outside when you arrive if it's day time. It can help ease jet lag in toddlers (and adults too!). If you arrive at night, implement a familiar bedtime routine, such as bath, feed, story and bed.
  • Take a comforter or item from their bed. Something from home can help to calm and comfort your little one. You could pack their favourite toy or even a cot sheet that has a familiar smell of home.
  • Be aware of sleep cues. Keep an eye on your baby or toddler’s signs of tiredness whether it be eye rubbing, a lack of interest in toys or stimulation and being cranky. Put them to bed when they are still awake to help them self settle.
  • Keep active. Moving around and doing activities in the daytime will help your baby or toddler to sleep better at night and adjust to a new time change. Even something as simple as playing in the park or pool will use energy for a better night time rest.

Remember, adjusting to a new time zone can be hard for older babies and toddlers, so patience is a must. Give your little one time to get back to their routine and expect a bit more fussiness than usual. With comfort and some good sleep habits, they’ll be back to their happy self in a few days.

Want help with your baby or toddler’s sleep routine? Book an appointment with one of our sleep consultants at a time that suits you to get specialist advice with any concerns.

Claire, Sleep Consultant

Claire has over twenty five years' experience as a maternity nurse, nanny and certified infant sleep consultant. She supports families to develop tailored approaches for dealing with their sleep issues.

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