The real cause of jet lag and how to beat it – for you and your kids
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When you travel to far-flung destinations you have to deal with the dreaded jet lag. Even the seasoned flyer will reduce to a sluggish, sickly, grumpy mess. While this can be annoying for adults, it gets a little more complicated with kids. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to overcome jet lag for you and your kids.
What causes jet lag?
The first and most obvious cause of jet lag is the disruption to your circadian rhythm – your natural sleep-wake cycle. When you cross multiple time-zones, your internal body clock falls out of sync, along with your eating patterns and body temperature regulation system. It can take up to one day for every hour of time difference to fully adjust to your new time-zone. Interestingly, jet lag is often more severe when traveling eastward than westward.
Sunlight, too, is a major contributing factor to jet lag. This is due to the way in which light affects the regulation and production of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep-wake cycle.
Research indicates that the pressure and low humidity of airplane cabin environments are also partly to blame for jet lag.
The age of a child significantly affects the potential for jet lag. Babies who are newborn to 2 months are still developing diurnal cycles, so the impact of jet lag won’t be as severe as older kids. For kids ages 2 to 5, time-zone changes start to cause regression. Older kids will probably respond similarly to adults physically but might be less driven than adults to stay awake in attempts to adjust to the schedule.
It’s all very well knowing the underlying causes of jet lag, but the more pressing issue here is how do we manage it.
How to minimize jet lag?
Adjust sleeping patterns – A week before you travel, try adjusting your and your kids’ sleep-wake cycle by moving your sleeping schedule to more closely resemble that of your destination. Of course, matching it exactly is often impractical, but every little bit helps.
Prep kids – In advance of the trip, teach kids about time changes and the effects of jet lag, and what they can expect to experience.
Get out in the sun – Your body takes a lot of its cues from light. Exposure to the sun will help you and kids to adjust the internal clock naturally and get back in sync with day and night. If you land in your destination in the daytime, try taking a walk with your child when you get to your destination to quickly adjust to your new time zone.
Hydrate – Consume water before, during and after the flight to keep yourself hydrated. The recirculated air on planes make everyone parched and being dehydrated can amplify the feeling of jetlag. It’d be wise for adults to minimize caffeine and alcohol intake while flying and during transits. Having said that, a slow-release of caffeine can help your hormonal rhythms resynchronize and improve concentration during daylight hours. Remember to avoid consuming caffeine while in the air and only drink it during the day.
Eat meals at local time – Mealtimes are important for two reasons. Meals are obviously part of most kids’ daily routine. If you can get them eating in the right time zone, it’s a step in the direction of getting them to sleep at the right time. Kids also fall asleep much faster on a full tummy, and less likely to wake with feelings of hunger during the night.
As for you, consider taking a melatonin supplement – Research published in Pharmacy and Therapeutics found that taking 5 mg of melatonin per day starting three days before a flight and four days post-flight resulted in adult subjects experiencing significantly fewer severe jet lag symptoms. Consult with a doctor before giving melatonin to children or taking it yourself.
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