Jet lag is a drag. And yet, off we go.
Maybe a middle of the night Instagram scroll stroll is fun in theory but it's hard to maximize the travel awesome when sleep is at a minimum. Jet lag blows. Agreed?
Add a kid and, gosh, the stakes seem higher on at least two fronts.
The first is the hellscape that is an overtired and underslept kid. They're more prone to tantrums. To making a haul across terminals to catch a short connection less hilarious and more heinous. To refusing a food they love, peeing their pants, ripping up something important in a huff. Super fun stuff.
The second is that being a parent even while fully rested is hard. A fully awake 3 year old eyeballing you at 2 am wondering what's for lunch is a nightmare when you are working off an hour sleep over 36 hours ago. And (at least for me) it's hard to fall asleep on a plane when I know my kid is wide awake wondering when the next snack is or peeping some horror movie between the seats in front of her. So generally if she's up, one of us is up. And that one is usually me because I'm a crap sleeper on a plane.
Kiddo seems to have inherited crap plane/car/anywhere not her bed sleep from me. While I wish she had her dad's conk-out-anywhere skills, she's otherwise a fantastic sleeper. And she also seems to have scored my ok-on-less sleep + less impacted by jet lag. Brett can't stay awake to save his life the first few days we travel. Which, hey, gives me time to tell you all about it.
Even when the three of us are crazy tired, it's crazy worth it to take the leap.
As I chew on it, in part, jet lag and kids is part of the reason we do longer trips. With a month, we have time to settle in and not stress about making the most of the first day or two. There's a mighty "hope we can see it" list but many moons to tackle it.
Here's a few ways we cope. All anecdata. Sample population: 1. But, hey, when you're desperate for sleep tips I know I've looked at way weirder stuff.
Since she was tiny, we operated on the 85% rule. Most of the time, way most of the time, we keep her on a pretty solid sleep schedule. We missed events and were the early-leaving dorks plenty of times. Neither of us enjoy an overtired kid in public (or private either) so it was more worth it to leave than to deal with a kid-turned-crazy-tired-butthead. We would demure skipping a nap until she was over three and usually only if we knew it wasn't a multi-day scenario. We missed BBQs and ball games. We survived. I mean, we brought this human into the world. The least I can do is get her a nap when she needs one. Maybe if we had a chill sleeper who'd nap in a stroller or fall asleep anywhere we'd have a different approach. But we don't, so we don't.
The leverage that gives us, especially as she's gotten older is two fold. First, she's generally a happy-go-lucky, flexible human being. She makes traveling fun so we like to travel with her. Second, when we do ask a ton of her in terms of sleeplessness and pushing through, she's dynamite. After four hours of sleep in a tiny cubby in Dublin, she made it the rest of the first day here like a champ.
Our work life affords us the opportunity to pick her up early from childcare, have dinner done and bath wrapped in time for an early enough bedtime to keep her rested. When we travel, we are mindful that she's still a small human and giant lattes aren't an option. So sometimes we don't get to do something. That's ok. As she gets older we're way more lax and she's way more resilient, whether at home or abroad.
I am not zen by nature. I am wired anxious and like to plan for all contingencies. Kids and time changes? Should be my downfall. After having gone through labor, which I now understand why it is called labor, I figure I can handle any impossible thing for at least 18 hours. It made that one four-hour flight that involved screaming and blowouts in turbulence kinda funny because it was not 18 hours of that. It makes long-haul, overnight travel seem doable, too.
The zen is tested though. Isn't that what kids do?
The cross-globe trip to New Zealand a couple years back meant we had enough hours in one quiet-ish place that Lo would eventually fall asleep. We got her in PJs during our layover, took off from SF around midnight our time and she eventually conked out.
When we landed in Auckland and had 24 minutes to make a connection in another terminal we relied on a well-rested kid and a marketing approach to the rush "Isn't this FUN! This is so FUN!" as we tossed her on top of a luggage cart and sprinted. Just enough sleep on the overnight, a chill mom and dad and some helpful Kiwi bag handlers made it work. We made the flight, she made the time leap. That night she went to bed at normal Christchurch bedtime and we were good the rest of the trip.
This most recent flight? Kind of poop for figuring out kid sleep. We landed in Dublin at about 11 our time. Then we had a 6 hour layover. Yup. Six hours in the middle of the night. In the airport.
And, zen test ahead: She slept a sum total of zero on the plane. Got in her PJs, sang her a song, cozied up and then watched her not sleep. So I didn't sleep.
As we landed she stretched her arms and yelled "I LOVE overnight flights!"
This would typically send me into an anxiety tailspin. But, you know, whatever. She conked out in the cubby for a few hours in Dublin. That was our night of sleep. Me on the dirty floor in the disco sleep lounge, Brett catching up on some work after a quick plane snooze and her in a Mork egg.
It led to a moment on the plane when her water bottle exploded but we survived. Because zen.
Leverage the Shitty Sleep
This one may be me blowing smoke or Pollyanna-ing to the max, or it's the best tip I can possibly offer. On our trips with major time changes I pretend the bad car and plane sleep ultimately help her adjust faster. She's tired enough (but not so overtired in general) that when it is time to sleep, she can fall asleep.
At 14 months on our way to France, she screamed till she puked then passed out on the overnight flight. (This is where the zen started, I guess.) What was typically 13 hours of sleep was more like 8. She was rested enough to be awake and crawling around at the airport and then tired enough that she fell asleep in the car (miracle!) at dang close to nap time, even though it was near wake up time in Chicago. She slept the whole car ride to our town and then went to bed at normal bedtime, Francetime. That was it. Brett? Not so much.
Middle of the Night Chill
On our trip this year we were looking at a 7 hour time change headed east, which seems easier to me in theory but is apparently harder? After keeping myself up and active till 11 our first night, I heard Lo at 12. Needed water. Reasonable. Then at 12:30 I was informed I'd been eaten by a crocodile in her dream. Bummer, but deal-able.
When she walked out at 1 and came into our room to ask when it was morning, I humored a moment of panic. See, I was now working on maybe that exact one hour of contiguous sleep in the last 36 hours (plus general terrible pre-trip sleep as I work through all my own anxieties).
I had a moment of screw-it and thought I'd just start our day. Or maybe a warm bath would help? I didn't know exactly what to do because, remember, I was a zombie. We had one late night wakeup early on in New Zealand, too, so I tried to remember what I did then. And then? We just chilled out for a bit.
So we snuggled for a while and I reminded her that we were all really tired. Then, miraculously, she said she was ready to go back to her room. And off she went. I swear, sometimes I think she's made of magic. I want to claim excellent parenting on that one, it might just be dumb luck. Or my theory of crap-travel-sleep-begets-sleep holds.
When she came into our room the umpteenth time, Lo wanted to be in the middle of the big bed. I get it. It's way more fun. But I knew that if both of us grownups got bad/worse/no sleep it wouldn't do anyone any good. So instead I told her she could be next to me but not wake her dad up.
Likewise, on the overnight to France a million years ago I took the screaming/baby holding so Brett could sleep. I wasn't being a martyr. He needed to be rested enough to drive the next day and that meant it was my turn to be up and on it.
If you are fortunate enough to travel with a partner, gift each other sleep. Uninterrupted, guilt-free sleep in those early days as you adjust. It makes everything better.
In the End, You Get There
We follow some of the general advice given on jet lag and adapt if for Loie too. One tip is to encourage a full belly more than usual. A kid waking up at 11 pm local time because they're hungry for breakfast is hard to ignore. So we are aggressive snackers and eaters, protein in particular, looking for a bypass to breakfasttown.
And, no matter how tired we are, we try to pursue the sun. No matter how little sleep, I've yet to see Loie turn down a playground, park or chance to bop around. As she's gotten older, it's easier for us to sit semi-comatose on a bench nearby.
And, remember, as with all the heinous phases of childhood, things end. Jet lag goes away. You adjust. And the best part is once you do, you're in the new place doing new things and the crying till they puke till they sleep or middle of the night requests for pancakes become part of the family lore.
NB: This is in regards to cuckoo bananapants time changes. We do a few coast hops a year with family in California and Pennsylvania so the hour or two isn't something I stress. On the East Coast, we just keep the kid on Chicago time. It means we can eat a later dinner, all sleep in a bit. When we head west, I assume one 5ish am wakeup and then trust the cousins to exhaust her to the point of sleeping in the next morning. That is said with the understanding that she usually sleeps past 7 on her own so 5 or 5:30 isn't too insane. If she was an early riser and got up at 3 California time I might be less cavalier. Not might. I would be. I'd be freaking out.