Family Jet Lag – Facts and Solutions

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Family Jet Lag – Facts and Solutions

I cannot stand jet lag – it seems such a waste of time and energy.

I am currently in the throes of jet lag and can’t wait for it to end so that I can begin to think and act like a normal adult and not a hangry toddler.

I used to think that jet lag was all in the mind and something you could just snap out of or just distract yourself from, but it turns out I am wrong. There are a whole bunch of biological factors that contribute to jet lag with your brain being in control of the discomfort you experience.

Below is a set of facts that I have sourced from all over the place which give a good understanding of where jet lag stems from and what it entails.


(I’m not making these up – all facts have been sourced*)

  1. Jet lag is caused when your circadian rhythms are disrupted and are different to the external daylight and darkness cycles.
  2. Your circadian rhythms make up the 24 hour clock of your body, they are the biochemical, physiological, and behavioural cycles in your body generated in the part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).
  3. Jet lag is also known as time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis.
  4. Jet lag will be even worse if you also travel between different hemispheres.
  5. The more time zones you cross, beyond one or two time zones, the worse your jet lag will be.
  6. Jet lag is worse when traveling east.
  7. Jet lag isn’t just being exhausted during the day and awake at night. Symptoms of jet lag include stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea (excellent), mood changes, and difficulty concentrating.
  8. The older you get the worse your jet lag is. Sorry mom and dad, I think that’s you! However, the converse is also true – children should be able to get over their jet lag much quicker than adults and the symptoms should be milder.

“Physicists using a mathematical model have said that it’ll take more than 4 days for people traveling east to recover from a flight that crosses three time zones, and 8 days to recover from crossing six time zones.” – Science Alert


While the facts above are clearly sourced and have been researched and experimented against, I do have to disagree with the finding regarding the effect of jet lag on children.

Having travelled internationally with both kids and flown long distances (we haven’t flown for more than 24 hours yet and I don’t plan to anytime soon) we have experienced jet lag as parents, which is far worse than jet lag as an individual. The little ones just seem to suffer at the hands of jet lag and at that age they’re unable to understand or process what is going on, which I think, makes it even worse. While the research indicates that jet lag shouldn’t be as bad for kids, I find that this isn’t true for toddlers.

From about 10 months to 3 years they seem to suffer from it far worse than kids 4 years plus. I have no scientific facts to back this up – it’s is purely our experience. I remember flying from New York to Johannesburg and for weeks after we got back our 11 month old would just stand in his cot and cry. It was awful.


  1. Lying on the floor next to your child’s cot in the graveyard of toys that have been thrown out of the cot. “Throwing your toys out of the cot” just got literal.
  2. Being forced awake at 11 am with burning eyes and nausea because it feels like 2 am.
  3. Trying to hide in your bedroom in the middle of the day so you can fall asleep if no one finds you.
  4. Wondering if it’s too late to start a movie or a new Netflix series at 10 pm.
  5. Letting children eat whatever they want, just so they eat at normal times.
  6. When you think you’ve sent someone a text message and you think you’ve received a detailed response but you’ve actually imagined the whole exchange.
  7. Craving cake at 2 am, unsure whether you’re awake or asleep.

Our children have been awake since we got home and it has not been fun. Especially since my husband had to go back to work and the kids started at a new daycare.

While our kids haven’t been sleeping well at all, I think it could have been a whole lot worse if we hadn’t taken steps to limit the jet lag.


  1. Got the kids out into the sun as much as possible during the day. Light is the main thing that affects your circadian rhythms because the SCN controls your brain’s development of melatonin (the chemical that makes you sleepy) and due to its proximity to your optic nerve when there is less light your optic nerve tells your SCN to tell your brain to make more melatonin.
  2. Sent the kids to nap and bed at their normal sleep times.
  3. Ate at the appropriate meal times.


  1. Water. We should have drunk more water on the plane and encouraged the kids to do the same.
  2. Not slept. We caved and fell asleep during the daytime on the second and third day. We just couldn’t keep awake (NHS UK says not to nap if you can avoid it, rather get back into your normal sleeping routine).
  3. Earlier bedtime. NHS UK suggests you do the following before you travel, “if you’re traveling east, try going to bed an hour earlier than your usual time, and if you’re traveling west, try to go to bed an hour later; the idea is to “prime” your sleeping routine with your destination in mind.”
  4. Allow a bit of caffeine in your diet. The Mayo Clinic suggests having a bit of caffeine before midday when you are hit with the daytime fatigue.
  5. Done the calculations. We should have looked into the various Apps available which help you calculate how best to prepare yourself for the time change or put in our details on the website Jet Lag Rooster.
  6. Changed our watches. The Sleep Foundation says the simple act of changing your watch when you board the plane could help reduce jet lag.
  7. We should have slept when the kids slept, but there seems to be so much to do when they want to nap during the day.


  1. Break up long distance flights with a few days half way between. As soon as you land adapt to that time zone.
  2. Decide whether you do want to adapt to local times at your destination. I’ve found a few stories online about families who were traveling to places where they could keep their “home” routine because the place they were staying was open all night and their trip was not as long.


In an attempt to survive the jet lag I did a lot of research to see if there was anything else I could be doing to limit the effects. I came across a plethora of ideas and thoughts, but I didn’t include above are because they have not been scientifically proven or have actually been disproven. Below is a list of those things and the extent to which they may be valid.

  1. Eating right. There is no evidence to suggest that eating certain foods will help change your circadian rhythms which go to the heart of the cause of jet lag.
  2. Exercising. While getting out and exercising is good if it exposes you to more light and helps you return to your routine, exercise in itself will not stop your jet lag. Research indicates that only the level of fitness that is achieved by a professional athlete will be sufficient to limit the jet lag.
  3. Melatonin. There are plenty of advocates for taking Melatonin tablets and a lot of people who have used Melatonin swear by it. It also makes sense because of the function of the SCN, but there is insufficient medical research at this juncture to prove that it does have an effect.
  4. Dosing your children. Many a desperate parent has used paracetamol or ibuprofen or even strong medication to induce sleep, but the makers of these products and various National Health Institutions warn against it. It is not safe and children may even have adverse reactions to the medication causing them to be hyperactive.

And so, that is all I have to offer you and I hope that it helps and your jet lag is far better than ours. May you have a peaceful sleep soon.


List of Sources:

Science Alert
Medical News Today
The US National Institute of General Medical Sciences
The Mayo Clinic
The Sleep Foundation
The Journal of Biological Rhythms and

About The Author
Michal Johnson
Michal Johnson
Michal is a wife and SAHM of two - a little boy and a little girl. Before becoming a SAHM she practiced as a lawyer in South Africa – now she gets to use those skills on her children and husband! Michal's family moved to Sydney in 2015 and she writes for her blog,, when she's not child wrangling.
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