Toddlers & Time Zones

Somebody needs sleep.

Hush Little Baby

Circadian rhythms may have sway, but they’re no Fred Astaire. Lila leads; sleep sometimes follows.

My daughter is the rare baby who won’t simply conk when she’s exhausted. If we’re out, she typically continues to explore everything and everyone around her, until she’s home and alone in her crib, regardless of how overtired she is.

My husband and I were cognizant of this reality when we booked our plane tickets to Geneva soon after Lila’s first birthday; we reserved seats on a red-eye. Since the flight coincided with Lila’s standard sleep time, we assumed slumber would call like a siren song. We did our usual bedtime ritual in-flight, songs and all, but Lila wasn’t impressed. She didn’t want to sleep on my chest. She didn’t want to sleep as I held her, walking around the cabin. She simply didn’t want to sleep at all.

Lila was an overtired wreck by the time we landed. We put her down for a nap as soon as we arrived at our Geneva apartment, and like Sleeping Beauty, Lila spent that day sleeping. After that, she returned to her typical sleeping patterns. And that was the rub. Since we were physically six hours ahead of our East Coast body clocks, Lila was rising in the afternoon, and we often didn’t get outside for our afternoon walk until 4 or 5 p.m.

We were lucky that our schedule was completely flexible. We had nowhere we had to be, and Geneva stays light until 9 p.m. in May. So, we still caught some sunshine, even though our afternoon outings were late.

I did my best to push Lila’s bedtime back, but she resisted mightily. At the end of our nine day trip, she was going to sleep a little over two hours earlier than her typical bedtime. That wasn’t much of a shift. But it meant I was in bed by 1 a.m. local time – rather than 3 a.m. – so that was an improvement.

What if our schedule had been more hectic, or I weren’t a natural night owl? I spoke with Isis Sleep Team Leader and Senior Sleep Consultant, Meghan Casano about some tips for traveling parents:

  1. Be Directionally Aware. When flying east, expect your child will want to stay up and sleep in later than usual. Lila felt comfortable staying up until the wee hours, beyond her usual 8:45 p.m. bedtime. When heading west, your child may both crave sleep and wake earlier than usual. On the first 1-2 days, offer a brief afternoon nap, but then keep her awake until the desired local bedtime. Young babies may need several days to adjust, while toddlers may need only 1-2 nights.
  2. Fly During Daylight Hours. Meg says the worst thing you can do for your toddler is take a red-eye flight – as we did to Geneva. Lila wouldn’t sleep, and by the time we landed, she was hopelessly overtired. Nobody was happy. Lila was exposed to light and the wrong time, so her Circadian Rhythm couldn’t adjust to European time. Be wise. Book daytime flights, so if your child misses any shut-eye (or has light exposure at odd times), only her naps suffer. When you reach your destination, she’ll be more inclined to sleep and won’t be miserable.
  3. Pack Sleep Aids. We did our best to recreate Lila’s typical bedtime ritual mid-air, to no avail. As a one year old, Lila was already wise to the fact that we were not, in fact, in her quiet bedroom. Ever the social butterfly, Lila was curious about the many new faces and noises on-board, and she didn’t want to miss any of them. Meg suggests bringing mobile white noise with you. The Sleep Sheep is easy to pack and can offer familiar white noise in-flight. A continuous white noise machine, like the SleepMate, may prove helpful at your destination, so tuck that in your checked bags as well.
  4. Tweak Before You Go. Six hours is a sizable difference in timing. One thing we could have done, says Meg, was begin shifting Lila’s bedtime and wake-up time backward before our trip. So, a week before our departure, I could have begun waking Lila 20-30 minutes earlier each day, stretching her day back by several hours before we’d even left home. That could have smoothed the adjustment to our new time zone.
  5. Keep Perspective. If you’re taking a short trip, worrying about changing your toddler’s sleep schedule is likely overkill. However, if your trip will be at least five days long, consider how much of a time adjustment you’re asking of your toddler. Applying some of these rules of thumb may be helpful, because wherever there’s a happy toddler, there are happy parents.

This article appeared on Isis Parenting’s blog, Parenting Starts Here.

3 Responses to “Toddlers & Time Zones”
  1. Cheers for quality content in your article Toddlers & Time Zones melissa langsam braunstein.

  2. Thanks for share this excellent post with us is really interesting, keep up the good work

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