Baby jet lag. This was a completely foreign concept to me, that is—till we had our own personal experience after bringing our 4 ½ month old baby back from Singapore. Imagine, if adults have difficulty adjusting to time zone transitions, how much more a baby! By 4 ½ months, our baby was stuck on Singapore time and an 11 hour night schedule of sleeping from 7pm Singapore time to 6am in the morning.
At first, not knowing any better, I tried to go cold turkey and put her to bed at the US EST of 7pm. Of course this didn’t work. Baby was fussy and kept waking up, and didn’t seem to ‘conk’ out like she usually would at night. I couldn’t understand it at first because I didn’t even think my baby would have jet lag. Then after a night or two of this, it began to dawn on me that baby could be having jet lag. I realized I had to help baby adjust gradually to the time change, but the question was, which way should I go? Should I gradually move the bedtime later each night or earlier each night? Either way, I was looking at an excruciatingly long adjustment because we had the extreme of a total of a 12 hour difference between Singapore time and US EST time.
So next I tried to make the strategy of making baby EXTRA tired before bed, and adjusting the bed time a bit earlier each night. This also didn’t work. I remember spending a frustrating 3 hours one night trying to make baby go to sleep and tired out with activity, and baby still only slept about 15 minutes earlier than Singapore time!
Finally, I had to give in, and make our whole family adjust to sleeping during US daytime hours (or no one got much rest!), and pushing the bedtime later and later each night. It worked! But this took us about 2 ½ – 3 weeks to work through the time change, especially if I was only able to make an ½ -1 hour adjustment each night. Sometimes I would have to stay on a slightly later bedtime for two nights, to help baby get established on that before moving the bedtime a bit later the following night.
So if you have just traveled, be prepared for a good week or two of adjustment for your baby! For some babies, this adjustment might not be too difficult if there is only a small change in time zones, but for us it definitely took some time. Here are some tips below to help you and baby get through a travel induced jet lag much easier (and hopefully faster!):
- What works best is to delay baby’s bedtime slightly later each night (e.g., ½- 1 hour each time) because it is easier to keep baby awake than to try to make her go to sleep, since babies love to play and attention! And since baby is already tired and wants to sleep, it will be easier to put baby to bed, and baby can then sleep for as long as she wants. This is healthier in the long run, as you are still promoting long stretches of sleep at ‘night’.
- Invest in blackout curtains, or buy a long piece of black cloth, as this helps to create the night time atmosphere to help with baby’s bedtime as you move it later and later into the day. Imagine, at one point, we were going to bed at noon US time (in bright sunlight!).
- Minimize daytime sleep to as little as possible (naps of no more than 45 minutes to 1 hour maximum) but if baby can function with less at a time (e.g., 20-30 minutes), then that’s even better. Distract baby as much as possible with games/activity even when tired so that she may be able to be more tired and sleep longer at night. Total daytime nap time should be kept under 2-3 hours in the day.
- Have an established bedtime routine (I started baby on one at about 2 months of age). This really helps with transitioning baby and getting her over her jet lag.
A final note: treat jet lag as a positive, as the change in environment and schedules is a chance to do away with undesirable old habits and try to re-establish new ones. For instance, my baby had the habit of sucking on the breast to sleep at bedtime, but as I made the bedtimes later, there were times when baby was so tired that she ended up unlatching and just falling asleep naturally. (Though she didn’t really kick this habit until another month or two afterwards, when we had adjusted the bedtime routine and got her used to the pat and ‘shush’ method for bed time…).