Baby Jet Lag


Baby's first trip on the A380.


If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably started to bang your head against you keyboard just to relieve the sheer tedium, because every second post on Expatria Baby details, with despondence and self pity, the many and sundry ways in which I do not get enough sleep. 

But before you navigate away from this page, hear this: I am writing in the spirit of optimism and I bring you the lessons that I have learned from a year of jumping across eight or fourteen timezones ever six weeks.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Sleeplessness

 Having realistic expectations is crucial for surviving baby jet lag. Think of baby jet lag as a nice little trip down memory lane: lucky you! You get to revisit the nighttimes of newborn hood. 

  • There will be a lot of, “wut? I slept two hours in a row. What more do you want from me?” And a little, “it’s 3:30 AM, so WAAAAAHHHHH! WAAAAAHHH! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”  Just resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to be awake a lot and then figure out strategies to deal.  

  • The first night will go relatively smoothly; your baby will be tired from the trip and will allow you to get a few consecutive hours of sleep

  • Nights two and three will be torture. You won’t have slept on the plane and you’ll be so tired that you will feel like vomiting

  • On the fourth night things will finally start to improve, but expect jet lag to continue for at least a week, or more likely two (especially on the return trip).

IMG_0424Baby sleeping on top of Japan


So You’re Leaving On A Jet Plane With Your Baby

You’ll read about adjusting your clock twenty minutes each night before your departure, and making sure that you maintian your typical bedtime routine, but that is total BS and does make one lick of difference. There’s actually very little that you can do to prepare, except for this:

  • Make a huge deposit in your sleep bank in the days leading up to your trip. Get as much sleep as you can. Go to bed early. Nap. Have your partner look after the baby in the mornings so you can get an additional thirty minutes of sleep. Trust me, being over-tired prior to the trip will cause baby jet lag to feel about as terrible as coming off heroin*.


*I’ve never come off heroin before, so think of this more as a literary flourish and less as representation of reality. 

IMG_0622Sunset and wing. At least it's pretty when we're awake. 

Up In the Air 

Again, there’s not much you can do to help prevent baby jet lag en route; baby jet lag is going to happen. But here’s what you can do to help yourself feel like you're doing something.

  • Encourage your baby to sleep as much as possible: be boring; do low-energy things; avoid making friends with the rambunctious four-year-old Korean girl behind you; keep bright lights and screens turned off; and never under any circumstances shift position while your baby is sleeping. Otherwise, AWAAAAAAAKKKKE! 

  • If you are breastfeeding, drink lots of water. You’ll be a pee-pee machine but you’ll also not be dehydrated. And you'll need that hydration to continue being a milky cow. (Fun fact, in addition to messing with your sleep schedule, jet leg messes up your milk production schedule.)

Baby AWAKE over the pacific. 


Final Destination

The key here is getting enough rest, at whatever time that may be. Fight for as much good quality sleep as possible in a bed (i.e. not a car seat or stroller or other random place) because being overtired will only serve to exacerbate  baby jet lag. DO NOT be tempted to keep the baby awake so she’ll “sleep at night”. Ha! You’ll only set yourself up for a, all night scream-a-thon. 

  • Switch to the local timezone immediately, and help re-set your baby’s time clock by offering food, milk, naps at the appropriate hour in the new timezone. 

  • If you can, wait until you arrive at your final destination before putting your baby down for a nap and / or bed. I’ve resorted to repeatedly hitting myself on the head to keep my girl laughing until we arrived home and she could sleep. Trust me, it’s totally worth the effort and your sanity will thank you. 

  • Keep naptimes about the same length or just a little longer as they would be at home. DO NOT let your kid sleep for hours in a row, tempting as silence may be...

  • If you arrive in the daytime or evening, get outside for a little natural light. A good little tool for calculating the best times to get daylight is here. Natural light is the best medicine in combatting baby jet lag.


Sleeping over Russia.


How To Cope At Four AM - The First Three Nights

Try as you might to resist baby jet lag, your kid’s sleep schedule is going to be effed, and there’s not much you can do about it save for maintaing your sanity. My rule is that anything goes for the first three nights. After that, you’re on your own, baby (just kidding, but I am a little less sympathetic to midnight play sessions after night three or four.) Here are my tips for preservation of mental health: 

  • Disregard typical rules combatting jet lag. Sleep when the baby sleeps. And that includes taking naps. You’ll need the extra ZZZZZZZZs to avoid jumping out the window at four am with your kid JUST. WONT. SLEEP. HOLY. EFFING. BALLS.

  • For the first three nights, do anything to get your kid to sleep. Nurse to sleep. Rock to sleep. Co-sleep to sleep. Pace around the house while listening to podcasts to sleep. Whatever it takes. Do it. Sleep begets sleep and over-tiredness begets screams. 

  • As soon as your baby falls asleep, go to bed too. In the first few days, sleep is a precious commodity. Don’t waste it. 

  • Your baby may be anxious about being in an unfamiliar cirb or strange room. I often put a blanket on the floor and snooze there until baby falls asleep. (This is the lazy man's way of dealing with middle of the night wake ups.)

  • During night wakings, bring baby into bed with you and play for a while, keeping lights low, and activity levels quiet. She’ll probably be up for a few hours, but if you can get her to look at books and play quietly while you doze, then you win. 

  • If your darling babe wakes up at four am raring to go, consider just getting up and starting your day a few hours early. Once you’ve had your coffee, it won’t be so bad. 


A Few Hacks

Here are a final few tips that I’ve learnt in my year of living bi-continentally:

  • It’s not only sleep schedules that get thrown off: poop schedules get all crazy like. So if your 11 AM pooper is obviously tired but not settling, check the dipe. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. (See undetected poop explosion.) 

  • Homeopathic remedies CAN help sleep SOMETIMES. You have to do a fair amount of research and find the remedy that fits your child’s sleep symptoms exactly, though.

  • If you’re crossing multiple timezones, DO NOT plan a vacation that is less than two weeks. You’ll need the second week to recover from the sleep problems of the first.

  • Twitter is very entertaining at 3 AM and sympathetic to exhausted parents. 


And there you have it. Baby jet lag is quite terrible. But if you’ve made it through newborn-hood, you can totally handle even the worst case of baby jet lag. Happy travels and sweet dreams!