Changing Time Zones with a Baby
First, I am a big fan of your blog, as my fiance can attest to the number of times I have interrupted him doing whatever he was doing to tell him the funny story about your kids, I found it when I was pregnant and I am addicted. My baby is 10 months old this week and I am so spoiled to have the one of the easiest babies in the world. He started sleeping through the night on his own at 3.5 months and he’s just an angel, I am the first to admit I am never allowed to complain. He goes to bed between 6 or 7pm, gets up between 5 and 6am, and takes 2 naps of about an hour and a half each (thank you for the post about the 2-3-4 schedule). This is not a bad system, but we are going to Hawaii for a friends wedding in a few months and with the time change (we are in CA) I fear he is just going to go to bed at 3 in the afternoon and get up at 3am. We went to the east coast when he was 5 months old and his schedule worked great because it was shifted later with the time change, going to bed at 9 or 10pm getting up at 7 or 8am, so I didn’t have to try to shift it. I have tried to shift it here at home before, sometimes trying to get him to cat nap in the late afternoon so he is up later and can have dinner with us and spend some time with Daddy after work, but even if he does get up later the next morning, his naps will invariably be shorter and we go back to where we started. Is there any sort of secret to getting him to shift his schedule while in a different time zone, or is it as simple as just adding another nap in the late afternoon while we are there?
Not complaining I swear.
Babies do get jet lagged…and easily disoriented by new schedules and environments…so no matter what you do ahead of time, it’s best to just ready yourself for a bit of an adjustment period right after you arrive. If the time change doesn’t bother him, a new crib might, or sharing a hotel room with you guys might (you’re RIGHT THERE. Why should he sleep AT ALL?).
Every time I’ve traveled with a baby, time change or not, the first night has generally pretty much sucked, even though I’ve also been blessed with two pretty amazing sleepers. (Sorry, everybody. ‘Tis true.) But after that first 12-24 hours, they start adjusting pretty well on their own.
Of course, if you’ve got something fairly important to do within the first 12 or 24 hours (like a wedding), this isn’t super helpful. So what else can you do to ease a baby into a new time zone?
1) Hold your horses, for now. You say the trip isn’t for a few more months. Stop messing with his schedule. It’s too soon, and he’ll still feel just as out-of-whack once you get there because he’ll sense the changes in sunrise/sunset/mealtimes just like we do. For now, let him continue to sleep and nap on the schedule that works for him.
2) Shift bedtime gradually a few days before you leave. About 10 to 20 minutes a night, regardless of when he naps (or wakes up from his naps) during the day.
3) Don’t mess with naps unless he lets you. If he’s tired, let him nap, without fretting over time zone conversion charts in your head. Nighttime is the big significant chunk of sleep that counts. Once he gets used to going to bed earlier, his naps will start lining up more or less on their own (especially since they aren’t affected by the sun’s schedule). I wouldn’t expect them to be nearly as predictable in timing or length as at home, but other than POSSIBLY waking him up 20 minutes earlier from his afternoon nap, messing with the day sleep will cause more misery than good.
4) Once you’re there, get strict about the New Bedtime/Mealtime World Order. If you arrive in the morning and he falls asleep in the middle of the afternoon, treat it like another nap. Wake him up after his usual nap length. Feed him dinner even if it’s technically his fourth meal of the day. (Make it something he really likes, so he’ll be tempted to eat a little even if he’s not particularly hungry.) And keep him up until the time zone’s appointed bedtime.
5) Spend as much time outside as possible. It’s tougher (even on adults) to get over jet lag and adjust your internal clock when you spend all your time inside a hotel. Get out and let him pick up on nature’s cues with lots and lots of sunshine and outdoor activities.
6) Routine, routine, routine. Honestly, I’ve taken a ton of trips WITHOUT a time change and found them to still be perfectly miserable. Ezra in particular is a total routine junkie, down to his preference for familiar crib sheets. Bring loveys, familiar books and crib blankets, the same bath soap you use at home. Chances are family members and friends will want to give him all sorts of new toys and gifts. That’s great! Just don’t overwhelm him with lots of “new” things right away in an already new environment.
When you return, you won’t have the benefit of any gradual shift at bedtime, so many parents find that their babies’ sleep schedules are even more difficult to regulate once the trip is over. (Though like you said, moving east across time zones tends to be a little easier.) Once again, spend as much time as possible outside in the sun. Focus on gradually getting bedtime back to an acceptable hour and be flexible during the day to prevent him from getting overtired and skipping naps outright. I’ve (personally) found that being a stickler for the new mealtimes helps a little bit…but this probably depends on the baby. (Ezra would eat 17 times a day and does not care about any distinction between breakfast, lunch, dinner, second dinner, snack, fourth snack, brunch, pre-brunch, etc. So while he has no problem getting put in the high chair for a meal at an “off” time, I’m not sure it really sets any kind of routine for him. HE JUST EATS ALL THE TIME.)
Photo by Kekka