I don’t know how it’s taken me this long to write a blog post about this subject!! I get questions every week from clients on how to deal with time zone changes during travel. To make this easy, let’s break down the two most common issues families experience.
Traveling west to east
Most of my clients live in the US and are often traveling from the west coast to the east coast. Assuming your child is on a 7 am to 7 pm schedule, attempt to keep them on their west coast schedule for as long as possible when going east. As an example, if your LA based baby goes to bed at 7 pm, when they arrive in NYC, put them to bed around 10 pm east coast time. Accordingly, you’d likely see your baby waking closer to 9 am or 10 am east coast time. Continue keeping them on the later east coast time bedtime (of 9 or 10 pm) until they start to wake on their own closer to 7 am east coast time. Once that occurs, switch them to a 7 am – 7 pm east coast time schedule. Be aware that for most babies this shift generally occurs within about 3-5 days of arriving on the east coast, so don’t expect for them to stay on a 10 pm – 10 am schedule for a long (though, bonus if it does!). Babies and toddlers are so extremely sensitive to sunlight that unless the room they’re sleeping in completely pitch black, the sunlight entering the room starting at 6 or 7 am is going to cause their body to want to wake and start their day at that time, despite the later bedtime.
Traveling east to west
If you are east coast based and traveling west, or, if you are returning home to the west coast after a trip to the east coast, here’s how to adjust. If your child is going to bed at 7 pm east coast time, when they arrive on the west coast you’ll start to notice them appear very tired for bed quite early, around 4 or 5 pm. It’s very important to work as *hard* as you can to keep your kiddo up until as close to 7 pm west coast time as possible, as soon as you arrive to the west coast. However late you manage to be able to put them down, do not start their day until 12 hours after that time. For those who have trained using the Baby Sleep Trainer method, the “no checks after 4 am guideline” will be especially helpful to implement during this transition. It takes slightly longer for kid’s to adjust going east to west than the other way around.
Be aware that these guidelines work for time changes that are greater than 3 hours. If your time zone change exceeds 5 or 6 hours, I would refer to this blog post that explains how to adjust for much longer time changes (say, if you are traveling from Los Angeles to Singapore, for example). During the transitional periods, time naps based on whatever time your child starts their day, so a 7 am to 7 pm toddler who naps at 10 am and 2:30 pm, might nap at 11 am and 3:30 pm on the day he wakes at 8 am instead of 7 am.