Dreaded jet-lag and kids

Well, at some stage we have to talk about jet lag and babies.  I think we get so worked up about jet lag and how to cope we forget we are going on holidays. Yes! We are going on holidays! We went to Perth for a week. We spent the week getting the kids adjusted to west coast timeframe and just when they adjusted we were home and spending another week adjusting back! Flying east to west and west to east apparently makes a difference. Getting up early meant I saw sunrise each and every day I was there. My travel memories of the trip are central to sunrise and running on the beach as the sun came up.

Your circadian rhythm (body clock) is less confused if you travel westward is what I have read in various places. Apparently travelling west ‘prolongs’ the body clock’s experience of its normal day-night cycle. Travelling eastwards runs in direct opposition to the body clock. The solution I am told is to choose a westerly route. That doesn’t really help me in Sydney trying to get to  Los Angeles does it? Let’s put that in the ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’.

Jet lag is defined as the combination of fatigue and various symptoms caused by travelling across different time zones. Interestingly some people call it ‘time zone change syndrome.’ Who are these people? I have not met one person in my life who calls it this but for facts sake I’ll believe it.

The body is synchronised to night and day by the action of sunlight through brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, especially melatonin. Body processes are calculated based on this clock. This I includes temperature, hormones, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure and brain states. This changing rate of activity is called the circadian rhythm travelling to a different time zone disrupts the circadian rhythm.

Symptoms of jet lag

The symptoms of jet lag = irritability or cranky bears :

  1. Sleepiness
  2. Fatigue
  3. Digestive problems
  4. Impaired judgement and decision making
  5. Memory lapses

Generally all of the above = Irritability

But you’re a mother. You’ve been through all this before? Admittedly your body releases hormones to help you cope with the fatigue of a new born and you potentially won’t be releasing these if you are travelling, but you’ve coped day to day before with fatigue and memory lapses. You’ve been pregnant. You’ve had digestive issues. You’ve been pregnant. You’ve had impaired judgement and decision making. How hard can it be right?

Strategies to reduce the impact of jet lag

Suggestions include:

  • Try to get as much sleep before you depart. What a great idea. I would like to get as much sleep as I could period! Before I depart… how about every damn day? Again let’s put that in the  ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’.
  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Tick. Shouldn’t be hard with children should it? Let’s put that too in the  ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’.
  • Drink plenty of water. This one is slightly more difficult. Not allowing you to take a water bottle on the plane, I find I am constantly asking for two drinks at a time. Pack some Hydralyte tablets put one in your drink as prescribed. The difficulty comes with constant toilet requirements. For feeding mothers this is especially important. Being tired can impact your milk supply so if you have to travel ensure you are prepared with wither formula or breast stocks in case you are running out. Perhaps useful information.
  • Nap whenever you can. When travelling with my kids I am always reluctant to fall asleep in case I need to meet their needs. Why do airline staff always put me with the kids and my husband in a row where he either reads the entire flight or watch movies? I need to remember that detail next time. If I could nap walking around the supermarket believe me I would. Good in theory but let’s face it this peice of information goes into the  ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’.
  • Snacks and smaller meals are suggested. That makes sense given the size of an airline meal. If you are travelling with an Asian airline will your kids be okay if one choice is curry? Or noodles? I always pack vegemite rolls just to be sure but nuts, individual packets of fava beans and some type of lollybto suck during decent. Useful information.
  • I’ve read that fruit and vegetables are also recommended. That can also be put in the ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’ given quarantine restrictions and the like. Perhaps packets of dried fruit might be allowed? But, this is  ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’ if travelling between states with fruit restrictions and internationally .
  • COMFORTABLE CLOTHING. I flew back from Singapore in pyjama pants last year. I know there are people I know who would rather die. There are no paparazzi following me anywhere though so I’m good. I can absolutely confirm that comfort is everything on a plane. To those in business and first class, it is still essential to be comfortable and the fact you may receive pyjamas as part of your ticket is proof. On my last flight I sat next to a man in Middle Eastern dress of loose pants and long tunic top. He looked so comfortable. Useful information.
  • Arrive in the morning where and when you can. Sunlight is one of the best cures for jet lag and for adjusting your clock. Useful if it’s not the opposite of what the next person suggests!
  • Walk around the cabin and stretch whenever you are up. Don’t be afraid to touch your toes and when it is quiet take the floor and stretch. Useful information.
  • When you sleep on the plane, try to plan sleep as if the time is that of the destination, is another piece of information for the ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’ if you are getting on a plane in Sydney to arrive in Los Angeles in the morning – what you are going to flip your clock and sleep during the day and take your kids to the park in the middle of the night?
  • Earplugs and an eye mask are good suggestions. Try to invest in a contoured eye mask that fits over your nose. These are great help with the kids. Invest in one that can be adjusted to big and small heads. Some elastic masks are too big for the kids. Useful information. I saw a log the other day that a mum was raving about how successful her trip was with a baby in an eye mask. Useful information.
  • Buy the kids a pillow each to support their neck and head. I personally hate these and prefer to use a rolled up jumper. Each to their own huh? Useful information. If your in business and first class  ‘good-to-know-but-completely-useless-information-pile’.
  • Pack a light rug. My children have bamboo cot blankets that are easy to wash and roll into their backpacks. If they are not warm, it’s hard to invite sleep. These will help once you land in giving some comfort from home in your various beds whilst away. Useful information.

In the new zone rather than deliver “good-to-know-but-useless-information’ I will give you practical tips.

  • Get outside in the fresh air. If you arriving in the middle of winter, doesn’t matter get as much air as you can. A well-travelled friend use to swear about landing first thing on the morning and planning activities for immediately upon landing.
  • See the sun. Not always possible in all places but try your best to get some sunlight. The brighter the light the better as it will reset your clock.
  • Relax. Yes be active but enjoy it. A leisurely stroll or if a gym workout is more your thing, it may just be a gentle workout.
  • For the first few days try to plan your activities so you are either waking late and heading out in the afternoons and early evening or allowing yourselves time to get back to the hotel and have an afternoon siesta after an action filled morning.

There are loads of seasoned travellers who will give you varied advice. Like all things in parenting you will need to take the information that appeals to you and your gut instinct trusts. Remember it’s a rough guess that less that 10% of the worlds population have been on a plane – jet-lag as a result is a privilidge. A first-world problem. I have in the past travelled with blackout curtains. I have demanded blackout curtains at the point of reservation and if they cannot commit to being able to black out the room, I have gone elsewhere. I have bought a local porta cot when arriving at the hotel and the wrought iron contraption they had supplied was ridiculously small, (I have large babies) . I have bought a bed rail. I have slept a baby in a cupboard. I have slept a baby in a drawer. That same baby chose to sleep in a cupboard for a week on one holiday. I have spent a week in Perth being up at 5.00am every day. Never mind, I didn’t miss a sunrise!

Babies and children are just as unpredictable at home. A little jetlag will pass. Plan for it and allow time to rest and relax. If you have a hectic schedule from the moment you touch down you can’t expect little people to adjust really. Prams are good for naps for smaller ones and for larger you’ll just have to accomodate the needs of your children for a few days.  You can enjoy your holiday with a little jetlag. Just slow down and go with the moment. I certainly enjoy my children in that horrid week at home when it’s all going wrong. If all else fails just think how lucky you are to be where you were and with people that love you. Enjoy!

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