How to Make Traveling with Toddlers Easier (Even Jet Lag)
Rebecca asked for medication to help 2-year-old Luke sleep on the long flight from L.A. to South Africa. Her doctor suggested Benadryl, but he neglected to tell her to try a test dose the week before they traveled.
This was a big mistake! Luke was one of the many children who get wired—not sleepy—when they take Benadryl.
Rebecca said she gave him a spoonful shortly after takeoff and he cried for 2 hours straight until he fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. Needless to say, the trip was a nightmare for her, Luke and everyone around them.
Anything that disrupts the circadian rhythm can lead to sleep problems, including traveling (especially to the east) or moving the clocks forward in the springtime for daylight savings time.
Practical Tips for Traveling with Toddlers
When you travel with your toddler on short, close trips (under 5 days and fewer than 3 time zones) try to stick to your home time zone and keep your regular day schedule and bedtime routines.
For international travel with toddlers, jump to the new time zone and provide your child with lots of morning daylight and exercise to reset his brain’s melatonin release. Offer familiar bedtime routines (including his all-important white-noise!), and bring along his cherished loveys and even his comfy old sheets. Dim the lights an hour before bedtime, turn off the TV for 2-3 nights and avoid late meals.
Crossing time zones to the east is tougher for us than crossing time zones traveling west. That’s because our natural circadian clock actually wants to be awake 25-26 hours a day. So, it’s easy for the brain to absorb an extra hour or two—but removing a few hours from our day (as when we fly from L.A. to New York) gives us a bad case of jet lag, which can take several days to recover from.
So, if you’re planning to travel east across more than 3 time zones, move your tot’s sleep and wake times a little earlier. Start a week before, and move things 15 minutes earlier every day or two (starting with an earlier wake-up and then shifting all naps and meals a bit earlier as well).
The key to making a good transition to a new time zone when traveling to the east is to get plenty of daytime light and avoid sleeping too much during the day. The first day or two, wake your child if he’s sleeping more than 1 hour later than his normal waking time. Move his naptime earlier if he’s very tired during the day.
Ask your doctor if melatonin or an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) might help your toddler sleep on a long flight. But remember Rebecca’s experience with Luke, and make sure you test any medicine with your child before you travel!
One way to make daylight savings time a little easier is to make a gradual change in your child’s bedtime before the day you actually spring forward. Shift dinner and bedtime 15 minutes earlier 4 days ahead of time. Then shift it another 15 minutes 2 days later, again 15 minutes earlier on the day of daylight savings, and then again 2 days later.