I am generally thankful that both my kids and I wake up with the sun and start to feel sleepy as soon as it gets dark and quiet at night. In equatorial Singapore, where the length of daylight and darkness remains more or less the same at all times of the year, this is a real blessing. This natural sleep-wake cycle or body clock is known as the circadian rhythm, and it helps my children to form predictable behavioural patterns in that they feel alert, tired, or hungry at set times during the day.
All this changes, however, once we zip across time zones (especially when travelling eastwards back to Singapore) and our bodies become completely out of sync with the sleeping, waking, even eating times at our destination. The Barn Owl, who is currently developing a resistance to the chronobiological issues related to shift work and irregular sleep patterns, is the least affected. But the kids and I do suffer from jet lag, with all its associated crankiness and irritability.
However, there is no time to be cranky and irritable on holiday so we have figured out how to minimise and manage jet lag, in order to make the most of our holiday travel and sightseeing!
- Choose a flight that allows you to arrive with at least a few daylight hours to spare. That way you will be more motivated to get out of the hotel for a short while.
- Pack a few items in the check-in luggage that are associated with comfort and sleep. If your child has a sleeping bag or a blanket that is used often at night, bring it with you. Even a familiar toy or nightlight helps to create a restful, homely environment in a new place.
- If you are travelling with an infant, get or borrow a travel cot and let your infant sleep in it for a few weeks before your trip, then pack up the whole cot and bring it with you. If you have room in your luggage and access to laundry facilities at your new destination, bring the cot sheets with you. You won’t regret it.
- Try not to schedule anything within the first two days of your arrival in a new destination that requires exceptionally quiet and controlled behaviour for the kids – they’ve already had enough of that on the plane!
During your flight
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. On the plane, the stewardesses will normally try to adjust the lighting in the cabin to be in sync with the daytime or nighttime at your destination. However, if the kids are not feeling sleepy or hungry at the times set by the stewards, don’t get anxious about it. I do not regulate my children’s sleep and wake times on the plane – I normally let the kids watch movies and play games on the plane until they pass out from exhaustion.
- Stay hydrated. The dry atmosphere in the plane is very dehydrating which can really mess your body up and contribute to tiredness, headaches and muscle cramping.
- Stretch and move around the plane. If your kids are toilet-trained, it’s likely you will be doing this with them anyway as you accompany them to the loo. If your tiny tot is still in nappies, it’s okay to walk them up and down the aisle for a while to wear them out, or let them stand on the floor in front of their seat and bounce up and down to get all the wiggles out. Doing some light and gentle exercise occasionally on the plane with the kids will prevent them from bottling up their energy and getting restless limbs on the plane.
- If there is no opportunity to move about the plane and the kids are getting tired but experiencing restless limbs, a gentle massage sometimes helps.
- Change your kids into their most comfortable clothes for lounging around. I like to put J and Little E in their pyjamas, with extra socks for them to wear and a soft cardigan or jumper to keep them warm. The more comfortable and relaxed they are, the more likely they will drift naturally off to sleep when they are tired on the flight.
After you land
- If you still have a few daylight hours left before bedtime, bring the kids to the nearest park for a quick runabout, or for a short walk around the neighbourhood. The sunlight exposure really helps to your body to readjust to the new sleep/wake cycle.
- Before bed, consider a nice long, hot bath for everyone. Not only will the hot bath wash away all the aches of the day, but the dip in body temperature that you experience after leaving the bath is a signal to your body clock that it is time to sleep.
- In temperature countries, where the sun rises very early, try to keep the room dark and quiet. I try to nab sleep masks from the airline wherever possible, and some airlines even have sleep masks for bigger children – and they really do help!
- The first morning after you land at a new destination is always the hardest, so I like to keep things flexible. I usually plan plenty of outdoor time which helps with the readjustment of circadian rhythms, but nothing that requires any rushing around keeping appointments or quiet behaviour. Visiting a park or the city centre is a good activity with a noisy atmosphere so that your kids can be as loud and active as they want!