Toddler Jet Lag: Causes, Symptoms, and Tips for Prevention

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 10/23/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Tips

Changing time zones can be tough on us, toddlers especially. In this article, I’ll dive into the intricacies of toddler jet lag, including how to recognize its symptoms, how to help your toddler recover quickly, and most importantly, how to prevent it from ruining your vacation!

I’ll also share how to get back on track when you return home so you can enjoy your holiday to the fullest!

Toddler Jet Lag Featured

Key Takeaways

  1. Symptoms of jet lag in toddlers can include sleep disturbances, irritability, appetite changes, stomach problems, and being extra clingy. Understanding these symptoms can help parents identify and manage jet lag.
  2. To minimize toddler jet lag, try to keep sleep routines consistent, plan morning trips or flights that land in the evening, pay attention to diet, use sunlight to reset circadian rhythms, and recreate bedtime routines.
  3. It typically takes 3-7 days for toddlers to adjust to a new time zone. Be patient during recovery and adjust schedules gradually. Seek medical advice if symptoms persist beyond a week.

Symptoms Of Jet Lag In Toddlers

Jet lag can be a difficult experience for toddlers (and for you), especially when traveling across multiple time zones. So it’s best to be prepared for what changes to their behavior you are likely to experience.

Here are some common symptoms of jet lag in toddlers that you should be aware of:

5 Symptoms of jet lag in toddlers

What Causes Toddler Jet Lag?

Similar to adults, toddler jet lag occurs when children travel across different time zones, and their circadian rhythms become disrupted.

As a result, children may find it difficult to sleep at the right time, leading to fatigue, irritability, and other general symptoms of overtiredness. 

Toddlers are more prone to jet lag than adults because their circadian rhythms are still developing, and they have a harder time adjusting to changes in their sleep patterns.

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

5 Top Travel Tips To Minimize Toddler Jet Lag

Traveling with a toddler can be a challenging experience, and this is especially so when it comes to managing their sleep and routines during travel. 

All of which are magnified when you also travel across time zones!

However, with a few simple tips, you can help to minimize the effects of jet lag on your little one.

Travelling with toddlers - jet lag tips

1. Maintain Sleep And Routines During Travel

One of the most important things you can do to minimize toddler jet lag is to try and keep their sleep and routines as consistent as possible during travel. 

This means sticking to their regular nap and bedtime sleep schedule as closely as possible, even if it means adjusting your schedule to accommodate them.

If you’re taking a night flight, consider requesting a bassinet or bringing along a travel bed to help your toddler sleep more comfortably.

You can also pack an activity bag with familiar toys and books to help them feel more at home and relaxed during the flight.

2. Plan Short Trips For The Morning And For Long Flights To Land In The Evening

It’s much easier to travel with children in the morning as you do not have to contend with the bedtime routine and most children are also easier to handle in the morning too.

The exception to this rule comes when changing big time zones.

In this instance, you will want to book flights that arrive at your destination in the late afternoon / early evening so you can put your child down to bed at their usual bedtime when you arrive.

3. Dietary Considerations And Jet Lag

Another way to help minimize toddler jet lag is to pay attention to their dietary needs during travel. 

Be sure to pack plenty of healthy snacks and meals that your toddler is familiar with, and try to avoid sugary or high-caffeine foods and drinks that can disrupt their sleep and energy levels.

It’s also a good idea to encourage your toddler to stay hydrated during travel, as dehydration can worsen the effects of jet lag. Be sure to pack a refillable water bottle and offer it to your toddler frequently throughout the flight.

4. Use Sunlight To Adjust The Circadian Rhythm

One of the most effective ways to help your toddler adjust to a new time zone and minimize jet lag is to get outside every day. 

Exposure to sunlight can help reset your toddler’s circadian rhythm by regulating melatonin production and promoting healthy sleep patterns.

If possible, try to schedule outdoor activities and playtime during daylight hours to help your toddler adjust to the new time zone. You can also use blackout curtains to help your toddler sleep more soundly during the night and prevent early morning wakings.

Tommee Tippee Sleeptime Portable Baby Travel Blackout Blind

Maintaining a good sleep routine with your baby can be tricky, especially through changing seasons or when you’re away from home! This beautiful blackout blind from Tommee Tippee is made from lightweight premium fabric and completely blocks out daylight, helping to create a dark and sleepy space for baby, no matter where you are!

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5. Recreate Your Toddler’s Bedroom

Finally, maintaining your child’s sleep associations will make a huge difference in helping your little one sleep well when on holiday. 

My rule?

If it’s used at home, take it with… or at least a travel-friendly version!

Ensure you pack the white noise machine, night light, blackout blinds, and plenty of cuddly toys if you need to! 

My Top Pick
Toddler Night Light Lamp By LICKLIP

Finding the right night light for your child can be quite a task. You want something safe, comforting, and practical. The Cozy Starry Night Light ticks these boxes, with eye-friendly warm lighting and an easy-to-use dimmer.

Its gentle glow makes it the best night light for feeding baby, diaper changes, or comforting your little one back to sleep.

As your baby grows the Cozy Starry Night Light's starry sky projection can provide comfort and gentle quiet time stimulation. Its soft lighting ensures a dreamy, peaceful environment, supporting your baby’s natural sleep cycle.

It really is a fantastic nightlight (at a very reasonable price!)

  • Eye-friendly warm lighting with adjustable brightness.
  • Includes a timer function for convenience.
  • Projects a starry sky that is soothing for little ones.
  • Rechargeable battery, so it's very portable.
  • A USB adapter is not included for charging.
  • The star projector is static without motion (however, this is ideal for very young babies and toddlers).
  • Battery life varies based on the brightness settings.
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Dealing with Toddler Jet Lag Upon Returning Home

Returning home after a trip with your toddler can be exciting, but it can also be challenging as you deal with the effects of jet lag on the return journey. 

Here are some tips to help you and your child deal with toddler jet lag upon returning home.

  1. First, give yourself and your child time to adjust to the time change. Plan your return trip so that you have a day or two to recover before returning to work, daycare, or kindergarten. This will give you and your child time to rest and recover from the trip allowing them time to resettle back at home and to take extra naps if necessary.
  2. Next, make sure that your child is well-rested before returning home. If your child is tired and cranky, it will be harder for them to adjust to the time change. Try not to have a too hectic day in the lead-up to your return and try to stick to your child’s regular sleep schedule as much as possible.
  3. Once you are home, try to stick to your child’s routine as much as possible. This will help them feel more comfortable and secure and will make it easier for them to adjust to the time change. If your child is used to taking a nap at a certain time, try to stick to that schedule even if it means adjusting your schedule. If they don’t want to nap due to jet lag encourage quiet time instead to avoid overtiredness and bring bedtime forward until you have settled back into your usual routine.
  4. Finally, be flexible and patient. It may take several days or even a week for your child to fully adjust to the time change. During this time, your little one may be more irritable or have trouble sleeping. Try to be patient and understanding, and offer your child plenty of love and support as they adjust to their new routine.
Exhausted Toddler From Travelling

Recovery Time and Toddler Jet Lag

The recovery time for toddler jet lag varies, but it usually takes 3 to 7 days for your toddler to adjust to a new time zone. 

During this period, your toddler may experience difficulty sleeping, eating, and playing. They may also be more prone to tantrums and mood swings.

When my son was little, we used to travel to the USA from the UK every year for Christmas. And unless I was prepared in advance, my son’s sleep patterns would be out of whack for at least 4 days when we arrived…

Making our holiday festivities far less enjoyable.

Despite all the lovely activities we had planned, during this time, it was essential that my son’s rest was prioritized. And if your toddler shows signs of jet lag, I highly recommend that you do the same.

A few days of routine-focused rest will make your holiday far less stressful and a lot more pleasant overall.

Toddler Jet Lag Clocks

Special Considerations for Babies and Infants

Jet lag can be particularly challenging when traveling with babies as well as a toddler. 

An infant’s sleep patterns are already erratic, and the disruption caused by a long flight can make things even more difficult resulting in it being difficult to settle them to sleep and them waking erratically.

Combine that with an overtired toddler and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.

However, here are some special considerations to keep in mind when dealing with baby jet lag:

Remember, every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Be flexible, stay calm, and do your best to help your baby and toddler adjust to their new time zone as smoothly as possible.

When to Seek Medical Advice for Toddler Jet Lag

If your toddler is experiencing symptoms of jet lag that are interfering with their sleep or daily activities for longer than a week, it is time to seek medical advice.

A doctor or pediatrician can provide guidance on how to manage jet lag and may recommend melatonin, a hormone that can help regulate sleep patterns. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Toddler Jet Lag

Looking for more information about toddler jet lag? Here are the most commonly asked questions, answered just for you.

Q: How can I help my toddler adjust to a new time zone?

A: To help your toddler adjust to a new time zone, you can start by gradually shifting your toddler’s sleep schedule a few days before your trip. I recommend working the bedtime forwards or backward by 10-15 minutes a night. Once you arrive at your destination, try to get your toddler outside during daylight hours to help reset their internal clock. You can also try to keep your toddler active during the day to help them sleep better at night. Use black-out blinds to help prevent early waking.

Q: What are the symptoms of jet lag in babies?

A: Jet lag can affect babies in different ways, but some common symptoms include difficulty sleeping, irritability, and changes in appetite. Babies may also experience changes in their bowel movements and may be more prone to fussiness and crying.

Q: How long does jet lag usually last for toddlers?

A: The duration of jet lag can vary, but it typically takes toddlers 3 to 7 days to adjust to a new time zone. During this time, your toddler may experience changes in their sleep patterns, appetite, and mood. It’s important to be patient and understanding during this time, as your toddler may be feeling tired and cranky.

Q: Is it safe to give toddlers melatonin for a flight?

A: Melatonin is a hormone that can help regulate sleep, and some parents may consider giving their toddlers melatonin to help them sleep during a flight. However, you should never give your toddler melatonin without consulting your pediatrician, as it can have side effects and may not be safe for all children. Read my post on baby melatonin to learn more.

Q: What can I do to help my toddler sleep during travel?

A: To help your toddler sleep during travel, try to create a comfortable sleep environment by bringing along familiar items such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. You can also try to schedule your flights during your toddler’s regular nap or sleep time. Additionally, you can try to tire your toddler out with physical activity before your flight to help them sleep better but be careful to avoid them becoming overtired as then they will struggle to settle.

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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