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How to help your baby with jet lag when traveling

Oct. 27, 2022
7 min read
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When I decided to take a trip to Portugal with my 10-week-old, I knew all the horror stories of traveling with a baby. If I believed them, he was inevitably going to scream through the whole flight, my husband and I would have to limit our sightseeing and I’d have to breastfeed in some strange places.

Amazingly, none of that happened. Well, there was a feeding session in a castle — but that was actually pretty cool. The hardest part of vacationing overseas with a newborn? The jet lag.

Related: The best credit cards for family travel

Yes, I knew sleeping would be off for me and my little one. But I wasn’t fully prepared for the brutal six-hour time change. Had we traveled to another part of the world, that number could have been even worse. Luckily, he adjusted to Portugal time relatively quickly after our overnight flight. Coming home, however, was a different story. There were multiple sleepless nights and I feared I had ruined his sleep schedule forever.

I did what every tired mom does in a state of sleepy panic: I researched how to handle jet lag with a baby. To my surprise, there wasn’t a truly comprehensive guide on how to handle that pesky time change, especially with a newborn. So, to help other parents who want to cross time zones with their tots, I chatted with certified infant and child sleep consultant Lauren Wolf to get her expert advice on preventing – and dealing with – baby jet lag.

Here is TPG's complete guide to preparing for and surviving jet lag with a baby:

Before you travel

According to Wolf, you should anticipate one day of adjustment for every time zone crossed. So, if you’re heading from New York to California, expect children to need three days to adjust to the new time zone, more or less.

ONFOCUS/GETTING IMAGES

What can you do ahead of time to make the transition smoother? “If you want to prepare before the trip, you can start shifting your child’s naps and bedtime later a few days before your departure,” she says.

For example, if your child usually sleeps from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., and you travel from New York to Colorado (two time zones), you could have them sleep from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for a few days before and then during the trip, and then just go right back to normal upon your return home.

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Adjusting nap times and sleep schedule

Quick trips with babies are great, but the impact of small time differences on little ones' routines can be unpredictable. “If the trip is really short, you could choose to keep your child on their regular time zone,” says Wolf, adding, “Especially if you’re only traveling through one or two time zones.”

If you are dealing with a three- or four-hour time difference, however, you will need to shift your baby's bedtime to help them adjust.

Using an East Coast to West Coast example, “When you arrive, your child will want to go to sleep three hours earlier than usual. If their normal bedtime is 7 p.m., your child will be ready for bed at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. It’s best to try and keep them up as long as you can the first night. Even if you can hold them off an hour the first night, this could help them adjust more quickly,” says Wolf.

If you’re traveling eastbound, from California to New York, for example, your child will most likely want to go to sleep three hours later than usual. If your child usually goes to bed at 7 p.m., he or she most likely will be ready for bed around 10 p.m. This makes the strategy a bit different, so what should you do?

“It’s challenging to force your child to fall asleep when they aren’t tired. My advice for traveling east is to try and put your baby to bed say 30 minutes earlier than normal (meaning 9:30 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. local time),” says Wolf. “And then wake them at their normal wake-up time the next morning. This should help reset them for the following day."

Planning activities

Eyeing that European trip or a trip out to Hawaii? Be ready for a few potentially rough days. “For international travel/crossing multiple time zones, you can expect it to take at least a week for children to adjust,” warns Wolf.

Her advice to help minimize the pain?

“Plan the busy parts of your trip toward the back end if you can because the first few days will be the roughest,” she says. “Also, while away and when you return, it’s important to limit naps to regular length. Often, children will make up for the loss of nighttime sleep/jet lag with long naps. This can delay the process of getting them on the new time zone."

KATRINAELENA/GETTY IMAGES

Exposure to sunlight

I’ve been on plenty of planes to Asia with many babies aboard, so a long-haul trip with your tot is not out of the question. But again, be prepared for some serious time warps.

There’s actually not a huge difference in what you need to do for an eight-hour trip versus a 12-hour journey, according to Wolf. Try your best to get on the new time zone as quickly as possible by being conscious of light exposure and your internal body clock.

AARON BLACK/GETTY IMAGES

“By shifting mealtime right away, our body’s sleep clock often follows suit,” says Wolf. “Don’t worry about what time zone you are on while on the plane either. Just try and eat and sleep normally and when you touch down at your location, then start to shift gears,” she says.

She adds, “Also, as soon as you arrive, try to move to the local time zone quickly. Get outside as much as possible during the day to expose your child to sunlight. This helps to reset their circadian rhythms. When it’s time for naps or bedtime, ensure the room is dark (think cave-like) to help set the stage for sleep.”

Arriving home

Always factor in your jet lag when it comes to planning day-to-day activities, both on the road and when you arrive home. Without the anticipation and thrill of your vacation, the return to normal life can be a much tougher proposition.

Personally, I try to have a few low-key days when after vacation to help my baby return to a normal sleeping schedule. Having a long weekend to readjust helped my husband and me survive the first few rough nights back home. Try to arrive home on a Friday if you need to be back at work on Monday to give everyone's schedules a little time to adjust.

Bottom line

Jet lag isn’t easy to deal with, but with an actionable plan and some managed expectations, it doesn’t have to be a barrier to exploring the world with your kids.

Need more tips for traveling with a baby? TPG’s got you covered:

Featured image by RYANLJANE/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023