Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Surviving Jet Lag With Babies And Children

I used to think that jet lag was nothing of consequence.  Sometimes it would cast a little fog of disorientation for a few days, and it might lead to one or two unexpected night wakenings.  But short of sipping tea at three in the morning before cosying back down into my peaceful bed, it had little bearing on my life, really.

Of course, that’s changed now.  Since the advent of children, jet lag has become Something Of Very Great Consequence.  Because jet lag is now a very firm presence in our life and has a bearing on almost everything we do over the course of the week following long haul travel (and most notably, West to East travel).  Not because my own symptoms of jet lag have changed, but because I am now in charge of relieving the prominent jet lag symptoms of two small people who don’t have recourse to soothing midnight cups of herbal tea in the same way that I once did.

So what to do?  I wish I was writing today to share a golden rule or a vital nugget.  I'm afraid I have neither.  But perhaps I’ll be able to share one or two things that might make the getting back to normalcy process a tiny bit shorter, or at least, a little less shocking and a little bit more likely to turn into a funny anecdote one day.  Maybe.  (And please forgive any typos.  I'm in the midst of London to KL-induced family jet lag at the moment).

All the experts say this, don’t they?  Getting your tots out into daylight may not reset their circadian clocks instantly, but it does seem to cheer everyone up. And keeping little ones occupied will give them fewer opportunities to discuss alternating sleep patterns for the coming night (is it just me, or is it an unwritten rule that in a household of two or more children while one sleeps the other will wake, and vice versa?).

If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor pool you can get your sunlight dosage and wear out your little ones all at the same time.  Swimming exhausts me at the best of times and I find it brings my children one little step closer to a decent bedtime during jet lag spells.

Take the pressure off
Try to return from a long trip at the start of a weekend.   And it might be wise to postpone that playdate with the destructive boy next door until you have the inner poise to deal with it calmly.

Forgo the sleep in and the long nap
This is of course the evil of jet lag: after an almost sleepless night, the family finally settles into a deep sleep sometime around six am.  Naturally no one wants to stir from this blessed relief until well after lunchtime, but do try!  Because let’s be honest, the child who sleeps until 1pm is not going to be happily dreaming at 8pm.  Of course, the same applies to naps too.  Whilst it might seem like a heavenly idea to put your feet up while your baby takes a (normally unheard of) four hour nap, you can also guarantee that your feet will be firmly on the floor in the wee hours of the coming night.

Keep it dark (and slow)
I once convinced my husband to watch an interior design documentary with me.  It happened to be about lighting.  He hasn’t watched another since, but he did take away a bit of a fixation with soft lighting.  And so we invested in a number or lamps.  These are a godsend during jet lag weeks.  As soon as the evening settles, we forgo overhead lights for tripods, uplights and table lamps (or you could just get a dimmer switch).  This helps somewhat, and even if I find myself sitting on the floor playing tea parties at two am the soft glow makes it somehow feel more like a dream than a nightmare.  It also seems to slow things down.  When we switch to low light as evening settles, games get quieter and more subdued.

Banish the clock
We’ve all played that dreadful little game that begins with a quick glance at the clock during a bout of sleeplessness.  There’s the countdown to wake up time and the mean little inner voice that pipes up with such useful gems as ‘Even if you fell asleep right now, which you won’t, you won’t get anywhere near enough sleep.’  Remove your phone from your bedside table.  Turn clocks inwards.  Do not succumb.

Roll with it
Because honestly, none of the points above are going to take you from jet lag to blissful sleep in one easy night.  But if you can, embrace a little of the craziness of jet lag and laugh a little at the midnight family gatherings in the hallway.  Remind yourself that your little one will probably manage to fall asleep on a matress, rather than your head, in a few days’ time.  You might even find it funny.  Sort of.

And do bear in mind that there is one very silver lining to family jet lag.  When your children finally do manage to return to their normal sleep patterns, you can rest assured that you’ll have no more of your own jet lag to deal with.  Sheer exhaustion will have taken care of that.  You’ll be able to snore your way through all the time zones in the world.

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