3 Practical Tips for Dealing with Toddler Jet Lag

We’ve all been there – navigating the maze of travel, only to be met with the pesky nemesis, toddler jet lag. It isn’t exclusive to adults, and in many cases, our tiny tots bear the brunt of this disorienting condition. Toddlers, with their sleep patterns still in the development stage, are particularly vulnerable to disruptions in their circadian rhythms.

Understanding Jet Lag in Toddlers

So, before we get to the ‘how-to-fix-it’ part, it’s essential to understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’. Our toddler’s internal body clock, governed by cues like sunlight and meal times, faces a whirlwind when we hop across time zones, giving rise to the phenomenon we know as jet lag. This sudden change can be especially disorienting, and at times, quite overwhelming for our little ones who are still in the process of figuring out their body rhythms.

How does jet lag affect toddlers?

Try visualizing waking up one day, finding the world has completely twisted its schedule – breakfast at bedtime, lunch when the moon is high, and sleep? It’s as unpredictable as a roll of the dice. That’s pretty much the chaos our kids go through when toddler jet lag strikes. This disarray sparks an array of symptoms such as inconsistent sleep, mood swings, changes in appetite, and sometimes, even gastrointestinal issues.

I still vividly remember when my little one had his first brush with jet lag after our memorable trip to Europe. Despite the adults barely keeping their eyes open, he was bursting with energy. But as the night drew closer, bedtime became a carnival of activity, as if his internal day-night timer had completely inverted. This was our wake-up call on the impact of jet lag on toddlers.

Interestingly, our experience echoes a study published in “Pediatrics” in 2011. The research found that toddlers who journeyed across multiple time zones were more prone to jet lag symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, and disturbed sleep than those who stayed put. The severity of the symptoms also intensified with the number of time zones crossed. This, in a way, reaffirms our real-life experiences and underscores the need for practical strategies to help our toddlers adjust during travels. Here’s the link to the study for your reference.

Symptoms of Jet Lag in Toddlers

Navigating through the maze of parenthood, we quickly become tuned into our little ones’ needs, don’t we? One day they might be grumpy because they missed their afternoon nap, and another day they might be overjoyed at the sight of their favorite stuffed animal. The same goes for identifying symptoms of jet lag in toddlers. It’s all about spotting the signs that are out of their usual behavior patterns.

Common Signs and Effects of Jet Lag on Toddlers

Here’s a list of the most common signs and effects of jet lag in toddlers. Remember, not all kids will experience all of these symptoms, and the intensity can vary greatly. And as I learned from our Europe trip, it’s all a bit unpredictable.

  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: Perhaps the most obvious sign of jet lag is a disruption in your toddler’s sleep schedule. Instead of following their usual sleep routine, your toddler may wake up multiple times at night, cry, or struggle to fall asleep. The challenge isn’t limited to night either – they may demand naps more frequently during the day, find it harder to settle down for their usual nap, or even completely skip naptime. These fluctuations in sleep patterns can be disruptive for the entire family and are a clear indication of their body’s attempt to adjust to a new time zone.
  • Changes in Appetite: Jet lag can also cause a shift in your toddler’s eating habits. Your little one may suddenly turn into a picky eater, refusing their favorite foods or showing a decreased interest in food altogether. On the flip side, they might become ravenous, asking for snacks or meals at odd hours. This was something we experienced first-hand – our son, who’s usually not a big eater, surprised us by asking for snacks every hour during our first night back home. Such changes in appetite are a body’s response to its disrupted internal clock.
  • Mood Swings: Toddlers are well-known for their temper tantrums and mood swings, but jet lag can take these to another level. Your typically cheerful toddler may become more volatile, exhibiting sudden bouts of crying or fussiness. They may also become clingier than usual, seeking comfort as they grapple with the unsettling feelings of jet lag. If these mood swings become more frequent or intense, it could be a sign that your toddler is struggling to adjust to the time change.
  • General Irritability: Jet lag can make your toddler feel uncomfortable and out of sorts, leading to general irritability. Your usually happy and playful tot might become grumpy, showing a persistent irritable mood that isn’t related to any obvious discomfort or need. Unusual crying episodes, like our little one’s tears because his favorite blanket was “too soft,” might baffle you, but remember, they are also trying to cope with their disrupted body rhythms in their own way.
  • Excessive Energy at Night: A burst of energy when it’s bedtime can be another sign of jet lag. While everyone else is winding down, your toddler might become hyperactive, finding it difficult to settle down for the night. It’s as if they’ve consumed a double shot of espresso right before bedtime. This happens because their body clock is still aligned with the old time zone, signaling them that it’s time to play and be active when it’s actually bedtime in the new time zone.
  • Lethargy During the Day: Contrary to the nighttime hyperactivity, your toddler might seem unusually tired and unenthusiastic during the day. They might show less interest in activities they typically enjoy, preferring to sit quietly or even showing a desire to sleep. This is because, in their body’s timeline, it’s nighttime. This lethargy during the day can be challenging when you’re trying to explore a new place or keep up with your travel itinerary.

Navigating toddler jet lag can be challenging. It’s heartbreaking seeing our little ones struggle with these symptoms. But rest assured, jet lag doesn’t last forever. With understanding, patience, and some smart strategies, we can help them adjust to their new schedule faster.

toddler sitting on luggage in the airport being entertained to avoid toddler jet lag

Practical Tips to Help Your Toddler Adjust to Jet Lag

After delving into the causes and effects of toddler jet lag, it’s time to explore some tested strategies to soften the blow. These have proven to be my trusty tools on our family trips and have undoubtedly eased our parenting journey.

1. Adjusting Your Toddler’s Schedule

  • Pre-Trip Preparation: One preventive measure against jet lag lies in subtly tweaking your toddler’s schedule prior to the trip. Gradually adjust their bedtime, naptime, and mealtimes to mirror the routine of your destination. This process can be as subtle as shifting the routine by 15 minutes each day, but trust me, this minor adaptation can be incredibly beneficial for their transition. We put this theory to test before our last voyage to Japan and, despite a few hiccups, it decidedly eased the shift.
  • Post-Arrival Adjustment: Upon landing, swiftly acclimatize to the local time. Wake your toddler at the normal time of the new time zone, despite some potential morning grumpiness. Sticking to regular mealtimes, naps, and bedtimes helps adjust their internal clock. Perseverance, my friends, is the key!

2. Promoting Physical Activity

  • Allowing Active Play: Keeping your toddler physically active can help reset their internal body clock. Encourage them to play, run, and exhaust that excess energy, particularly during the afternoon to keep early sleepiness at bay.
  • Outdoor Exploration: Allocate ample time for outdoor activities, primarily in the morning. Exposure to sunlight aids in aligning their circadian rhythm. In our travel experiences, we’ve prioritized morning visits to parks and playgrounds. A study published in “Sleep Medicine” in 2014 validates this approach, indicating that toddlers exposed to bright light in the mornings are more adaptable to a new time zone, as it helps reset the body’s internal clock. Check out the study here.
  • Finding Kid-Friendly Places: Look up kid-friendly locations at your destination to enable your toddler to remain active and enjoy the trip. A delightful journey eases the stress of adjustment.

3. Ensuring Proper Hydration

  • Drinking Sufficient Water: Hydration is crucial when battling jet lag. Ensure your toddler stays well-hydrated throughout the day. We always tote a water bottle, making it effortless to hydrate on the move.
  • Offering Healthy Snacks: Offer healthy, hydrating snacks as an additional source of fluid. Opt for fruits like watermelons and oranges. Surprisingly, our son is quite fond of cucumber slices!
  • Avoiding Sugary Drinks and Caffeine: Finally, steer clear of sugary drinks and caffeinated beverages for your toddler. While they might offer an energy spike, they can disrupt their sleep pattern and exacerbate jet lag symptoms.

Interestingly, a 2017 study published in “Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease” found that melatonin supplements could help alleviate toddler jet lag symptoms. Toddlers who took melatonin supplements before bedtime experienced improved sleep quality. Refer to the study here. However, always consult with a healthcare provider before introducing any supplements to your child’s routine.

Remember, each child is a unique being and these strategies might yield different results for each. However, with patience, affection, and a little forward planning, we can smooth the path for our young adventurers.

Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

Traveling with toddlers can be an adventure in itself. I’ve covered this topic in depth in our article, Expert Tips for Traveling with Toddlers, which you might find helpful. In the meantime, here are a few quick tips to remember:

mother and 2 toddlers sightseeing in a European city
  • Packing Light: Packing light might seem counterintuitive when traveling with a toddler (considering all the “just in case” items we think we need), but it can make your journey a lot easier. Try to limit your luggage to essentials only. For example, instead of packing a week’s worth of diapers, bring enough for the journey and buy the rest at your destination. Less baggage means less to worry about, especially when you’re chasing a toddler through the airport.
  • Bringing Distractions: Distractions are a parent’s best friend during long flights or road trips. Pack your toddler’s favorite books, small toys, or load up a tablet with their favorite shows or games. But don’t forget the headphones! Our lifesaver was a coloring book and some washable crayons. I’ve put together more info on activities for toddlers on airplanes here.
  • Maintaining Flexibility: While it’s important to try and stick to your toddler’s routine, a bit of flexibility can go a long way when you’re traveling. Don’t stress if nap time is a little late or if dinner is not at the usual time. Instead, try to go with the flow as much as possible. Trust me, your flexibility will help keep everyone’s stress levels down and ensure a more enjoyable trip for all.

Remember, travel is all about creating memorable experiences. The joy of seeing your toddler’s wonder as they discover new places makes all the preparation, jet lag struggles, and the occasional on-the-road tantrum worth it. And remember, you’re not alone in this journey. There are millions of parents around the world navigating the same challenges and joys.

Wrapping Up the Adventure: Conquering Toddler Jet Lag

As we draw this discussion to a close, it’s important to remember that each child is unique and will react differently to jet lag. The strategies we discussed – adjusting your toddler’s schedule both pre-trip and post-arrival, promoting physical activity, ensuring proper hydration, packing light, bringing distractions, and maintaining flexibility – are not one-size-fits-all solutions. They’re tools in your parenting kit, and it’s up to you to figure out which ones work best for your little explorer.

However, there is one universal truth when dealing with toddler jet lag – the importance of patience and understanding during the adjustment period. It’s not easy seeing our kiddos struggling with changes in their sleep patterns, mood, or appetite. But remember, this too shall pass. It’s a temporary phase and before you know it, your toddler will be back to their usual self, with a bunch of new experiences and memories to boot!

In the end, travel is an adventure – and not just the destinations but the journey itself. As we navigate through delayed flights, lost luggage, and yes, even toddler jet lag, we’re creating shared memories with our kids. We’re teaching them to be adaptable, flexible, and patient. And who knows, maybe someday, they’ll be recounting their own stories of traveling with toddlers, armed with the wisdom we’ve passed down to them.

So keep exploring, keep discovering, and remember to enjoy the ride! As always, safe travels, my friends.


The duration of jet lag in babies can vary, but it typically lasts a few days to a week as their little bodies adjust to the new time zone.
Toddlers may experience jet lag for a similar duration as babies, typically a few days to a week. However, each child is different, and it's important to be patient during the adjustment period.
To help your baby recover from jet lag, establish a consistent sleep routine, expose them to natural light during the day, and ensure they stay well-hydrated. Gradually adjust their schedule to align with the local time zone.
Fixing jet lag in toddlers requires adjusting their sleep and meal schedules to match the new time zone. Promote physical activity during the day, expose them to natural light, and maintain a calm and consistent bedtime routine.
The time it takes for a toddler to get over jet lag can vary, but on average, it may take a few days to a week for them to fully adjust to the new time zone.
Jet lag can affect toddlers in various ways, including disrupted sleep patterns, changes in appetite, irritability, and general discomfort. Their internal body clock gets thrown off balance, leading to temporary challenges in adjusting to the new time zone.
If your baby has jet lag, create a consistent sleep routine, expose them to natural light, and offer comfort and reassurance during this adjustment period. It's also important to ensure they stay hydrated and provide a calm and soothing environment.
Babies typically take a few days to a week to adjust to jet lag. By gradually shifting their schedule, exposing them to natural light, and maintaining a consistent routine, you can help them adapt more smoothly.
It's always best to consult with your child's pediatrician before giving them any medication, including melatonin. The appropriate use of melatonin for jet lag in toddlers should be determined by a healthcare professional.
Yes, toddlers can experience jet lag with an 8-hour time difference. The greater the time difference, the more challenging it can be for them to adjust. Patience and consistent strategies will help them acclimate to the new time zone.
Common symptoms of jet lag include sleep disturbances, irritability, changes in appetite, general discomfort, and a temporary disruption in overall mood and energy levels.
It's generally recommended to focus on natural remedies and strategies to help a child with jet lag. These include adjusting their schedule gradually, exposing them to natural light, promoting physical activity, and ensuring proper hydration. Consult with your child's pediatrician for specific recommendations.
To get your baby back on schedule after traveling, establish a consistent routine that aligns with the local time zone. Gradually adjust their sleep and meal times, expose them to natural light during the day, and provide a calm and soothing environment for sleep.
Yes, jet lag can disrupt sleep patterns and cause individuals, including babies and toddlers, to wake up in the middle of the night. It takes time for their bodies to adjust to the new time zone and establish a regular sleep-wake cycle.
Signs that your baby may have jet lag include disrupted sleep patterns, changes in appetite, increased fussiness or irritability, and general restlessness. These symptoms usually occur after traveling across multiple time zones.
Yes, even young infants can experience jet lag. While their sleep patterns and adjustment may differ from older children, it's possible for a 5-month-old to be affected by the time zone changes and exhibit symptoms of jet lag.
There's no instant cure for jet lag, but there are strategies to help minimize its effects. These include gradually adjusting sleep schedules, exposure to natural light, staying well-hydrated, and promoting physical activity. Give your child time to adjust naturally to the new time zone.
When returning home from a trip, jet lag can last a few days to a week as your child readjusts to their home time zone. Implementing similar strategies as when traveling, such as gradually adjusting sleep schedules and maintaining routines, can help ease the transition.
It's always best to consult with your child's pediatrician before giving them any medication, including Benadryl, for jet lag. The appropriate use of medication should be determined by a healthcare professional based on your child's specific needs.
Jet lag in children can last for a few days to a week, depending on various factors such as the number of time zones crossed, individual adaptability, and the strategies implemented to help them adjust.
Photo of author


Marianne, a mom of four, shares her journey from cloth diapers to parenting young adults on SharpMom.com. She offers practical advice, personal stories, and a supportive community. Join in as we navigate the beautiful wave of motherhood together!