As I write this in the mid-afternoon, many of my readers are settling down to sleep. Living on the other side of the world has its advantages, such as having almost a whole extra day to remember someone’s birthday.
But the process of adjusting back to life here in Papua New Guinea after time in North America is never easy. Preventing jet lag is probably impossible, but there are some things you can do to minimize its effects.
Having traveled to the South Pacific from North America a number of times, I probably have a different definition of jet lag than others. To me, having a one or two hour time difference when traveling within the States seems like nothing. Changing 16 or 17 hours – now that causes some serious jet lag.
Since it’s not possible to prevent jet lag, here are some ways to deal with the inevitability of jet lag.
10 Secrets for Dealing with Jet Lag
1. Prepare for the change. Reset your watch to local time immediately so that your mind can start convincing your body that it’s really breakfast time instead of the middle of the afternoon.
2. Schedule accordingly. The farther away you plan to travel, the longer you should plan to stay. And the farther away you travel, the more you can expect to struggle with jet lag. Crossing more time zones takes longer to adjust. You don’t want to spend your entire vacation trying to get over jet lag, so allow for a day or two (or 5) to let your body adjust. If you suspect you’ll be dealing with jet lag, don’t expect to hit the ground running on day 1 of vacation.
3. Spend time outside. We’ve found that getting outside for a walk is one of the best things to do to handle jet lag. It seems like we often fly into Australia in the morning (from the States). That makes for a very l-o-n-g day. Once we get settled in our hotel room, we often take the family for a walk outside. It helps so much because it takes up some time and helps your body start thinking that it’s really day time. What better way to start off an amazing family vacation, anyway? If the kids are old enough to walk, encourage them to walk, but take the stroller along – just in case they look as if they’ll collapse on the way.
4. Turn the television off. Don’t even consider turning on the TV. I can’t even stay awake through a movie or TV show when I’m not jet lagging. Imagine what I’m like when I’ve just crossed multiple time zones! Sitting there instead of doing something is a big mistake. You’ll probably feel like just sitting, but don’t. Get up and move!!
5. Gradually push the bedtime back. Our family generally tries to stay awake until at least 6:00 p.m. the first night (when we’ve travelled HUGE distances). That’s easier said than done, in case you’ve never tried it. The next night, we hope for a 7:00 bedtime, then we just keep pushing it later and later.
6. Let the kids sleep. It’s going to seem like you ought to keep the kids up, but that is a nearly impossible venture. They will eventually fall asleep whenever and wherever they need to sleep. I’ve been amazed at how easily children adjust to jet lag, actually. They generally don’t sleep as well on the plane and miss naps here and there anyway. So, in a lot of ways, their sleep patterns have already been very disrupted. You can try to keep them awake, but good luck!
The last time I traveled to the other side of the world, I had a newborn. At first I thought it would be so difficult to get her to adjust to a new time zone. Then I realized that she just eats every two hours around the clock anyway, and sleeps in-between feedings. She was by far the one who adjusted easiest. Jet lag didn’t even seem to phase her!
Our 2 and 4 year old children had a more difficult time. They were able to stay awake until 6 or 7:00 the first few nights, which isn’t too far from their normal bedtime. However, they were wide awake at 3, 4, or 5:00 in the morning for nearly a week! (I felt especially bad for the family who was hosting us during our jet lag week…)
7. Take turns with your spouse so that everyone gets some much-needed rest. Before I had children, jet lag didn’t seem like such a big deal. I could sleep and eat whenever I needed to. But now that I’ve got three little ones, jet lag is certainly a concern. Someone has to get up when they wake at ridiculous hours of the night.
8. Eat at local meal times. If you’re flying, you’ll probably be surprised to be eating dinner at breakfast time or such. But starting to eat at the local time will help you adjust mentally and physically to the change in time.
9. Try to get your kids to sleep on the plane. When all of the airplane games for kids are finished, suggest that your little ones lie down for a rest. Even if jet lag was out of the question, it’s still more fun traveling with happy, well-rested children.
10. If you must take a nap, set your alarm. Sometimes mind over matter is just hard. If you absolutely have to nap, set your alarm so you don’t sleep too long, but be aware that it’s probably going to be really hard to get up once the alarm sounds.
The good news? It definitely takes time, but everyone eventually adjusts. My kids sleep in until 6:00 a.m. now.