Dr Wong Poh Chen Petrina
School's out and fun's in! It’s the holiday season, and many families would be travelling with the little ones in tow. If you are taking a long flight, and travelling across different time zones, jet lag can be difficult to handle especially for your little ones. Here are some useful tips to help parents manage a child's jet lag and get the most out of the family holiday.
Jet lag, also known as 'flight fatigue', is caused by air travel across multiple time zones. It refers to the disruption of the body's internal biological clock, and the inability of the body to adjust to new time zones.
How long it takes to get over jet lag depends on the number of time zones crossed. Travellers who fly from West to East may have more problems adjusting. For example, when you return from a trip in the US to Singapore.
In most cases, travellers tend to recover in about 3 – 5 days. Children may be more susceptible to jet lag and may take longer to recover than adults.
Common symptoms include: feeling irritable, having a poor appetite, and a lowered ability to concentrate the first few days upon touchdown. Daytime sleepiness or insomnia may set in as well.
Even the most experienced travellers suffer from jet lag, so you should be prepared for your child to experience this condition when you are travelling across time zones.
Before the flight
Try to pick a flight that arrives in the late afternoon on local time. This gives the family enough time to catch some sunlight, an early dinner, and get an early night's rest to wake up refreshed the next day.
Night flights are often good for long-haul travel. Lights are generally off on night flights and things are often a lot quieter, so everyone can get some rest (hopefully!)
Change your child's bedtime
Leading up to the trip, you may want to gradually change your child's sleeping schedule. If you're travelling East, try scheduling bedtime an hour earlier each night before departure. Conversely, schedule bedtimes an hour later if you’re travelling West.
Set your watch to the destination time zone
Be sure to set your watch to your destination time zone before boarding your flight. This will help you keep track of your child's activities, and manage their sleep schedule if necessary.
Pack familiar belongings
If you suspect that travelling may cause stress in your toddler or young child, you may want to pack comfort objects like stuffed toys or security blankets.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that our body produces naturally to help us sleep. It is an over the counter supplement that has been used widely in adults for various sleep conditions including jet lag. Its usage and safety in children however, has been less studied. Do discuss with your child's paediatrician before trying melatonin on him/her.
During the flight
If you're taking a particularly long flight, you may want to consider changing what you do with your child on the plane.
Get your child to sleep when it's night-time at your destination. Requesting for eye masks and packing ear plugs will help prevent in-cabin distractions.
If it's day-time at your destination, have some fun with your child to keep them awake, whether it's reading together or binging on the in-flight entertainment's selection of Disney movies.
Get cosy on the flight! Be sure to have your child dress in loose, comfortable clothing, and don't hesitate to ask the flight attendants for extra blankets and pillows. Your little one will likely be less grumpy if they are well-rested on the flight.
Hydrate with fluids
The air in airplane cabins can be rather dry, causing irritations in the throat and skin. Staying hydrated with lots of water and fluids will help everyone feel better and minimise discomfort.
Having healthy meals will help your child on a long flight. Some foods are preferred to others. For example, bananas, oatmeal, water-rich foods like vegetable sticks, strawberries, and watermelon. Avoid sodas and other caffeinated beverages.
A family holiday should be fun and is best enjoyed when everyone is in high spirits. You may want to avoid scheduling strenuous activities too early in your plans. This will allow your child to rest after a long flight, and allow everyone to better adapt to the new time zone.
There is no perfect solution to beat jet lag, but its only temporary! With these tips, we hope to help minimise stress and sleepless nights for both you and your little ones!