How to… help kids beat jet lag

With their two-year-old in tow, AJ Ratani and Natasha Sandhir travelled to 31 countries in just short of nine months. Not surprisingly, they learned a lot about travelling with a toddler

Before you travel… 

We always plan to align our son’s sleep schedule to the destination. For example, in Spain, their culture is to enjoy dinner much later than we do in the US, so we’ll do the same when we’re there. This gives our child the opportunity to mix with the locals and taste the local cuisine, rather than having to eat at an empty restaurant or just grab a snack and go to bed at the same time they would back home.

When you’re travelling somewhere and know the time difference will be significant, it’s a good idea to start preparing a day or so in advance. Even though it can make for a crazy day or two, depending on whether you’re gaining or losing hours, wake your child up a couple of hours’ earlier or later than normal and have them go to bed earlier or later as well. This will help with the transition. 

Booking the best flight time…

If you know the flight will be long, we prefer to book overnight or late-night flights. We have found that our son will be tired and typically falls asleep on the flight and (hopefully) sleeps until our destination. It also allows us to get some sleep as well, and we aren’t stressed out trying to entertain and manage him during the flight. For shorter flights, we typically try to book one which departs after 11am. We try and avoid short flights that start around our son’s usual bedtime because that can be disruptive to his sleep.

When you’re flying at night…

We typically try to replicate as much of what we do at home. For example, we will put our son into his pyjamas and read him his books before he goes to sleep. And then, when we say “good night”, we tell him it’s time to go to sleep. 

Is there a noticeable difference in jet lag when flying East to West and West to East?

We personally prefer flying East to West over West to East. That’s because when you fly West you gain hours and hence can get to your destination during the day. This means the family just needs to stay up until the evening to lessen the effects of jet lag. You are so exhausted having stayed up that you will go to sleep easily and adapt to the time change much easier.

If your plans fail, just go with the flow…

If all of what you’ve planned for goes out of the window, then you simply must go with the flow regardless of what happens. As the saying goes, kids will be kids, so try not to get frustrated if your child can’t go to sleep at an ideal time. Your best bet in that situation is to stay up with them and let them adjust over two or three days. To give you an example, when we flew from Dubai to Beijing we arrived around midnight, but it was only 8pm in Dubai. Our son wasn’t tired at all and it was useless to try to force him to go to sleep – we knew from experience that it will just end up in frustration for us all. Instead, we stayed up and went to bed when he was tired. For us, that meant going to sleep at 4am. However, we made sure to wake up by 11am, to start our day. Yes, we were tired, but it meant everyone would go to sleep earlier that night. Within a day or two, we had all adjusted, our child included.