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Changing Time Zones with a Baby

By Amalah

smackdown_sleep_baby.jpgDear Amalah,

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

Published March 10, 2010. Last updated March 12, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Natalie

    March 10, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I just got back from hawaii with my eight-month old (Sleep note is halfway in this post: )and it really wasn’t too bad. We didn’t do anything to prepare apart from crossing our fingers and it worked out just fine. I think Amy’s Spend Time Outside plan is your best bet for an easy transition. And you’ll be in hawaii, so it has to be great!!

  • Stephanie

    March 10, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Great post. I, too, am going to Hawaii with pur baby, but not until July when she’ll be 13 months old. However, we did just take our 8 month old on a business trip to DC (we waved in your general direction, whatever direction that might have been, we waved!). The three hour time change wasn’t too bad, but what was bad was having her in the hotel room with us all the time. She refused to settle down like she normally does (and I’m talking about a great sleeper here) because she knew we were right there. And although she never went to sleep any earlier than her California time zone (7PM here 10PM there), she woke up much, much earlier. And she cried out at night, probably because things were unfamiliar. Hmm… I may have to take your advice and bring more stuff that she’s comfortable with…but there’s so much stuff already!!

  • cagey

    March 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I have traveled a lot with my kids, coast-to-coast, and I have to say that my #1 piece of advice for traveling with kids is to relax and try to give your baby first priority when it comes to scheduling (when possible! Obviously, a wedding cannot be moved around 🙂 But seriously, every single time I got stressed out or tried to push my baby’s schedule to someone else’s whim, we ALL ended up being weepy messes.
    Also, if possible, I found that it helped to arrive at least a day before a big event was to happen. My kids are almost always a bit of a mess for the first day as we get into our new vacation grooves. I have also found that arriving morning/day helped. I did a few trips where we arrived in the evening and it took longer to scoot into a groove.

  • Calee

    March 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Way to think ahead. Last spring we took our 2 year old literally halfway around the world. 15 hour time difference and I never considered the possibility that jet lag would be a huge problem. I think Amalah’s advice is prime here. And, invest in a small dvd player so you have something special to entertain the little one at 4am. Seriously. You may see a lot of Hawaiian sunrises.

  • Kristen

    March 10, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Yup, took my baby at 12 months to Hawaii. The really awful part was coming home, he was miserable for a few days before we got him straight. Good luck!

  • stacy in europe

    March 11, 2010 at 7:44 am

    I’m coming from Europe to the US in May with our then 14-month old. It is 7 hours BACK from our time zone, so I’m also quite worried that my kid will be sleeping from the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning. At least Wal-Mart is open 24 hours??
    We arrive at 6pm the first day, and with the day time flight and naps along the way – I am hoping she will be tired enough to settle for a good few hours and we can all get some sleep — but I predict strange house with strange smells and sounds plus entirely new bed and general “this is not right-ness” will mean we’ll all be up by 3-4am.
    So, then what? Try to put her back to sleep? Stay up? Go for a nap around 7? No nap? I just don’t know what to do from there.

  • Roary

    March 11, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Big wave to Amalah, long time reader and very shy commenter…
    I am Canadian, husband is Australian, we live in the UK. You can see right away the kind of international travel/time changes we live with! Our daughter has been to Australia twice, Singapore once, and Canada once, not to mention shorter European hops.
    I think Amalah is dead on except for the naps. I think that you start as you mean to go forward with jet lag, and that includes putting your child down to sleep at 10am local if that’s the time she sleeps at home, and maybe giving a leeeetle longer if you can.
    The best plan is to aim to arrive in the late afternoon, so you can have supper and go to bed as usual.
    Breastfed babies who are not yet on solids are brilliant to travel with and adjust much more quickly than adults – they are kind of 24 hr beings anyway. Don’t forget that napping naturally means that they are on a different sleep pattern from adults and will adjust quicker. (ADULTS: golden rule of jet lag: no naps, not ever).

  • Ms. K

    March 11, 2010 at 10:15 am

    “…sharing a hotel room with you guys might (you’re RIGHT THERE. Why should he sleep AT ALL?).” – Amalah
    Wow. I had no idea kids that slept in their own rooms can’t sleep with their parents around… That’s a benefit of co-sleeping I neer realized before. My kid sleeps with us (bedtime) or without us (naps).

  • New dad

    April 18, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Going from London to Miami tomorrow morning. Then on to North Carolina 2 days later. Then back to Miami for the weekend, and back to London on Sunday. My beautiful daughter is 3 months old and it’s her first overseas trip. I can’t believe we now have to carry 3 passports! 

    My opinion? For what it’s worth, baby needs to get used to travelling – we live in London, my immediate family are based in New Zealand, Singapore, Cyprus and USA. Not many people get the chance to travel that extensively – the world would be a better place if kids had an understanding of other cultures from an early age.

    Of course I want my daughter to be happy, and she will be, but until she’s old enough to have an opinion she fits in with mum and dad, not the other way round.

    No doubt there will be some tantrums but I’d be interested to hear what y’all think…