As you may have noticed from my lack of update last week, I have been away, off to celebrate my Mother-in-law’s 60th birthday in Memphis, Tennessee. We went as a large family group, with baby Ava as an honorary member and first-time long-haul traveller.
She has actually flown a plane many times before (her first time was when she was 2 months old) but never as far as the States before. I wasn’t really worried about how the flight and the journey would affect her as she is just the perfect plane baby. I always have strangers coming up to me at the end of the flight to congratulate me on how well she’s behaved. And this time was no exception; we had a breeze of a flight both ways and a delight of a holiday. But boy, was I not prepared for what came next!
We returned to the UK on a night flight, landing in Heathrow at 9 am. Ava slept the whole way home and seemed perfectly content so I really thought I was onto a winner. I was looking forward to some rest after an exhausting day travelling. But what followed when I tried putting her to sleep at her usual bed time that evening came pretty close to my idea of hell. She was exhausted, falling asleep in my arms but then waking at every tiniest sound (such as me breathing) and proceeding to scream without a moment’s hesitation. I spent my evening between 7.30 to 00.30 soothing her and putting her down again for what felt like 500 times.
There’s little I can do at this stage to improve my baby’s jet lag and the situation is certainly getting better on its own (tonight she’s only woken 5 times so far). But seeing as jet lag can last for anything up to 14 days, I thought I’d put together a list of resources to prepare myself (and you) for any future travels across the Ocean, should such madness ever strike me again. Although my current sleep deprivation seems enough to put me off long flights for a lifetime, jet lag in babies can be managed and even prevented with the following steps:
You may know a day is 24 hours long but your body certainly doesn’t. A natural circadian cycle is actually slightly longer (as you may have noticed during holidays etc. when we tend to go to bed later and later each day). This is why it’s much easier for humans to travel from East to West rather than the other way. All you need to do to adjust to local time is simply delay bedtime for a few hours and any tiredness can be dealt with some additional napping during the day.
Disquiet on the Eastern Front
If you’re travelling East (like for example from New York to London), baby jet lag is going to hit you and there’s no avoiding it. You can, however, minimise the damage and help your child transition into a new time zone with less drama. Your strategy should depend on the length of time you’re planning to spend away from home.
If you’re going away for only a couple of days you may want to consider keeping your baby on the home schedule to avoid jet lag. That could mean putting them to bed in the middle of the day and missing a lot of attractions but it may be better than turning their body clock upside down this rapidly.
|Time difference between Europe and East Coast of USA|
Researchers from Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory in Chicago[i] experimented with methods of preventing jet lag and managed to achieve a 2-hour phase advancement in a space of 3 days. In their experiment, they exposed subjects to strong artificial light for the first 3.5 hours after waking. After 3 days, their body clocks were shifted an average of 2 hours backwards. 2 hours of adjustment may not seem like much but it can make a big difference to the severity of baby jet lag. Using their technique in preparation for a flight Eastwards, you can trick your body clock and ease the transition into the new time zone.
Stay in the dark
As your body clock is essentially powered by light, you can also try and trick it by managing light exposure at strategic times. Research from Cleveland Clinic suggests that the best thing you can do after a night flight from the USA to Europe is avoid sunlight and any artificial light as much as possible.[ii] Even though your instinct will probably tell you to enjoy the day in your new location, that will only further upset yours and your baby’s body clock. In fact, as this couple of writers for Travelling with Baby found, it’s best to head straight to the airport hotel and close the blinds behind you. As you slowly adjust to the new time zone, your baby’s jet lag may be alleviated and the recovery will be faster.
Once your baby begins to adjust to the time change you need to be very attentive to their sleep needs. If they clearly need a nap, don’t try and keep them awake to fit in with your day. It will take some time but with patience and very little rest on your part, things will get back to normal eventually.
[i] Jet Lag. Current and Potential Therapies. Mary Choy, PharmD; and Rebecca L. Salbu, PharmD, CGP