Many adults struggle with jet lag while traveling. But it can be even harder to manage in children.

“Young children tend to have less difficulty adjusting to traveling east across time zones while teenagers and adults tend to have less trouble adjust when traveling west,” says Dr. Daniel Lewin, associate director of sleep medicine at Children’s National.

If your family is taking a trip across time zones that is less than three days then it is best to stay on your home schedule. For trips longer than three days, there are a few tips for helping your children prepare for travel and adjusting when you land.

“Jet lag is a complex issue because of the way each person’s internal body-clock regulates,” says Dr. Lewin.

Factors to consider:

  • Are you traveling from east to west, or west to east?
  • How long will you be at your destination?
  • What will you do to regulate jet lag when you get to your destination?
  • What will you do to regulate jet lag when you return home?

Managing your child’s jet lag

To help you get through this holiday season, Dr. Lewin has tips to help you manage your child’s jet lag.

  • Bank sleep. If you anticipate a period when you will lose sleep (for example, a red eye flight) it is always better to go in well-rested because you can never really catch up.
  • Adjust your child’s schedule by 15 minutes a day a few days before traveling. This can be done by waking them up 10-15 minutes earlier or letting them sleep in longer by 15 minute increments over several days.
  • If you are traveling east, try waking your child up a few minutes earlier on successive mornings. If you’re traveling west, allow them to have a slightly later bedtime and wake up a bit later each day for a few days.
  • Depending on how long you intend to stay, get on the destination time zone by getting outside in the bright light, particularly in the morning, and limit bright light in the evening.
  •  If your teenager uses caffeine, limit their caffeine use to the morning only.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Lewin Daniel S. Lewin, PhD, DABSM is a pediatric psychologist, sleep specialist, and licensed clinical psychologist. He is Board Certified in Sleep Medicine and Behavioral Sleep Medicine and is the Associate Director of the Pediatric Sleep Medicine and Director of the Pulmonary Behavioral Medicine Program at Children’s National and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine.

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