A Paediatrician’s Guide on Beating Jet Lag in Kids

A Paediatrician’s Guide on Beating Jet Lag in Kids
20th November 2023 Health

It’s the holiday season now, with many families travelling abroad. One of the most common questions asked is about jet lag, especially how to prevent it.

What is Jet Lag?

Jet lag is a problem of the modern world — we travel faster than our body clocks can adjust. Since every cell in the body has a daily rhythm, jet lag affects everyone, child and adult regardless. It is not just about being tired, but a combination of being too awake or too tired, often with a general feeling of being unwell.

Jet lag is a common issue when travelling out of Singapore, and is typically much worse when you are heading east than west.

How Do We Recover From Jet Lag?

Usually, recovery from jet lag takes one day for every hour of change in the time zone, therefore, travel to Europe or the USA can potentially disrupt sleep for more than a week until our bodies adjust.

However, children may often take much less time to adjust, especially children less than 3 months old (as most of them wake every few hours to feed) and children below the age of 2 years (as many of them are poor sleepers and wake often at that phase).

How to Beat Jet Lag?

There is some good science in helping our bodies adjust more quickly to or avoid jet lag entirely.

a) Sunlight appears to be the best way to adjust our body clock.

Light acts to delay your body’s release of melatonin,which helps to promote sleep. So afternoon sun helps more when you fly west. When coming home from the east, morning sun may help.

b) Timing your flight

Timing your flight can help you to arrive in the late afternoon or evening. This is particularly helpful if you have a child who just won’t sleep on flights.

Some people recommend overnight/red-eye flights so that the travel itself may be easier with a child sleeping through the flight. But if you have a poor sleeper, many times the noise and dry air of a plane only makes it harder for your child to sleep, giving you a grumpy and overtired child.

c) Adjust your sleeping hours

Try to wake up in the morning and stay up until evening, but for children, keep nap times as close to what they were in your home country (e.g. an 11AM nap in Singapore should still try to be as close to 11AM local time of your destination country).

While there is also the advice to adjust bedtime and waking times by 30 minutes a night prior to travel until you match your destination country, it is not really practical for time zones 8-12 hours apart from Singapore.

Do Medications Help with Jet Lag?

Some medications may help, but it’s controversial. It is also generally not recommended to give children any sedating medications on a flight. Common antihistamines like Chlormine, Benadryl, or Phenergan are used to make children drowsy, but they sometimes make children hyperactive instead.

Melatonin does seem to be both helpful and safe. It may help your child adjust more quickly for big time zone shifts, and it appears safe. Parents can try giving their child 0.5-1mg of melatonin 30 minutes to 2 hours before bed. It’s better to try it before travel to make sure there are no side effects – none are expected to be serious, but some children may paradoxically have their sleep disrupted rather than helped by melatonin. Overall there are some things that can be done to lessen jet lag and therefore make travel easier for children. Not all work for everyone, so much of this is trial and error to determine what works best for your child. If you need some help preparing your child for travel, simply make an appointment with us.

About Author
About Author

This article is written by Dr Leo Hamilton, who is a US board-certified Paediatrician since 2003. Dr Leo relocated to Singapore in 2011, caring for expat and Singaporean children from newborns at delivery to teenagers. Beyond his background in Hematology/Oncology, he has an interest in asthma, behavioural issues (primarily ADHD), teen health, and modern management of routine childhood illnesses such as ear infections, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia.