Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Way of Jet Lag

A lesson we relearn every year, with every overseas trip, is to respect jet lag and flow with it. This is our 4th jet lag experience in the last 2 months. The novelty has worn off and I'm ready to return to "normal" life!
Jet lag is what you feel as your body adjusts the natural rhythm (sleep/wake/eat) to the day/night timing of the location you suddenly are at. It can cause sudden, deep sleep which is very hard to wake up from, pounding headaches and great hunger at odd times.
Here is what it often looks like when the kids are trying to adjust to a 14 hour time difference after 24 hours or so traveling...
Day 1: Arrive at destination in the evening, try to get kids to bed by 10PM
Day 2: Kids wake up at 2 or 3 AM, hungry and hyper. By noon they slow down a little and have had at least 3 meals. About 1 PM they fall into a sudden, deep sleep. 3 PM we attempt to wake them up again but this is often unsuccessful. At least one adult goes to bed by 7PM in order to get some sleep before the kids wake up.
Day 3: Kids wake up at 3 AM hungry and ready to play. Nap may happen earlier (11 AM) leading to missing lunch but creating the chance to be awake a little in the afternoon but that might make bedtime later than normal.
Day 4: Kids up at 3:30 AM. Morning goes well, kids stay awake into the early afternoon but fall into a sudden deep sleep around 2 PM. Attempts to wake them up for supper are successful for one but not the other.
Day 5: Kids wake up at 3 AM again but aren't starving so they will lay somewhat quietly for an hour before getting up. Morning goes well, perhaps we won't have a nap in the afternoon? Can they stay awake until the normal 8PM bedtime? No luck, 1 child is asleep by 4 and the other at 6.
Day 6: Kids get up at 4 AM but are somewhat quiet and don't ask about eating until 6 AM. Day goes well but 1 child falls asleep by 5PM and the other just after eating supper at 6:30PM.
Day 7: I'm guessing that they'll sleep a little closer to 5 AM and we may have supper as a family for the first time in a week! I can let you know how it goes tomorrow :-)
There are many approaches to getting over jet lag quickly but honestly I have never found one way that works all the time.
Here are some things that do help:
- Jump into the new time zone schedule as soon as you get off the plane.
- Keep the daytime bright and active, night dark and quiet.
- Don't plan anything important that kids "have to" be awake for in the first few days after travel. This will save you from experiencing a jet lag induced screaming/crying fit.
- Roll with the sleepiness making graduated adjustments towards the desired waking/sleeping schedule. You can do the sudden change method but don't expect a small child to be able to understand the yucky way the body feels or be able to force himself to stay awake. This only leads to frustration and tantrums.
Every trip, jet lag presents a little differently. While I have general expectations when we travel I've also seen times when a child gets over jet lag very quickly or takes 2 full weeks to recover. On a recent trip my kids "jet lagged" opposite each other (when one sleeps the other is awake) which meant I was up nearly 24 hours a day for the first few days so I could keep an eye on the non-sleeping child.
While jet lag is not fun it is part of travel. Knowing, accepting and working around that has made traveling with our kids a bite a easier!

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