Shifts in time change can be hard to adjust to. In general, it is easier to fly west to east (SF to NYC) than it is to fly east to west (NYC to SF).
When flying to the east, your child’s normal 6 am wake up time would now be a 9 am wake up time. Totally doable. This is much easier than flying west (NY to SF), where your child’s normal 6 am wake up is now 3 am. Painful.
In general, it takes one day for your body to adjust to each hour of time shift.
The length of time you are traveling will impact if you want your child to adapt to the new time zone. If you are traveling west to east, you might want to try and maintain that shifted schedule with the late wake up if you were only visiting for less than 10 days.
The challenge comes when you are making significant leaps in time zone, traveling to Asia, Europe, etc.
Sometimes the amount of time it would take to adjust to the new time zone is longer than your intended vacation stay. So, here are my four ways to help your child sleep in a new time zone:
- Get lots of sunshine during the day. The old adage that fresh air wears them out is true, but the exposure to sunshine helps regulate our internal clocks that tell us to be alert during the day and sleepy at night.
- Be flexible with napping. It can be tempting to keep kids up until the new later bedtime, but with babies and toddlers, keeping them awake too long can cause them to be overtired perpetuating night waking and difficulty falling asleep. Let your child sleep when tired. For example, if your two year old fell asleep at 4 pm, which would be her bedtime on her old schedule, let her sleep for an hour, but then wake her up to have a later bedtime. Treat it like a nap. She won’t be happy about it, but this can help prevent a 4 am wake up for the daytime if you let her sleep right through.
- Expect some middle of the night or early morning wake ups. Know this is going to happen and be prepared with something to keep your child entertained while you continue to snooze. Traveling is harder when the entire family is tired. Older kids can watch iPads or tv. Younger kids are tougher as they require more supervision. You may resort to bringing your toddler into bed with you to help persuade her to sleep.
- Consider melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep aid that is to be used for short periods of time to reduce time to sleep onset, meaning that it tells your body it is sleepy time through hormonal messaging rather than making you drowsy. *Remember to speak to your physician before giving any herbal supplements or medications. We are not physicians.
Remember that even the best-laid plans can go awry. Do your best to enjoy your vacation knowing you can get sleep back on track when you get home!