Okay, okay. You don’t necessarily have to give birth to rid yourself of jet lag, but stick with me.
Back in my carefree twenties, before I had children and when my job entailed extensive travel, I always had terrible jet lag. Almost a week would pass before I could get out of bed before 10 am without feeling like I might die. That changed after we had kids.
We were halfway through Sweetpea’s first trip with us to Italy when one day I stopped and thought, “Huh. I don’t seem to have jet lag this time.” I chalked it up to the sheer exhaustion of motherhood. We went back to Italy after multiplying, and this time Sweetpea and Monkey were there with us. Again, no jet lag. Yes, I was exhausted, because taking care of a toddler and a preschooler is hard work whether you’re traveling or not. But I thought that it probably had to do with more than just being tired. I realized that being responsible for Sweetpea and Monkey’s well-being, both at home and abroad, actually forced me into doing what experts recommend for battling the mind-numbing state of being that can come with travel. Now I wish I'd had the discipline in my pre-child days to actually do some of these things, because it's pretty sweet to not spend half your trip feeling like crap-ola. Luckily, you don’t have to go through childbirth or take care of small children to implement this before your next trip.
It basically boils down to body rhythms, in-flight activity, schedules, and distraction.
When flying east (like, to Italy from the US), experts recommend that you shift your bedtime earlier. The kids go to bed early, and since that means they also get up pretty early, I try to go to bed earlier as well. There have been nights where I’ve even gone to bed at 8:30 (did I mention that taking care of small children is exhausting?).
In addition to going to bed earlier, I was also getting up at least once during the night between 1 and 3 am - or morning time in Italy - to tend to a fussy baby.
So my body was already somewhat on a schedule that would make a transition to Italian time easier.
While you may not be able to stomach setting an alarm for yourself at 2 am so that you can get up for 20 minutes, going to bed on the earlier side for a week or two before your depart could be a good option. If you're flying west rather than east to Italy, go to bed later.
In my pre-child days, I spent the flight watching movies, drinking alcohol, eating...all things you either shouldn’t do or should do in moderation if you want to avoid jet lag. The blue light from devices and seat-back screens disturbs your circadian rhythms. Drinking alcohol dehydrates you, disturbs your sleep patterns, and can make you groggier than normal once you land. Eating a lot - especially at your normal dinner time - just anchors you in your home time zone.
Forget watching anything or eating much with a fussy 15-month-old in your lap. While alcohol was definitely something I wanted, I didn’t want to be buzzed while trying to manage the kids, so I didn’t have any of that either. And forget juice or anything else with staining properties that can be grabbed and dumped in the nanosecond that I divert my attention. So I drink water the entire flight, because at least I won’t arrive in Florence with stains all down my front. Juice stains, anyway.
If you have small children or are around them, you know that "the schedule" is paramount. Or at least it is at chez Dukic. And while traveling, it’s doubly important if we want to do something other than be in constant meltdown-avoidance mode. So once we arrived, we kept the kids to their schedule. Aside from their catnaps on the connecting flight and in the car ride from the airport, we didn’t let them sleep that first day until bedtime in Italy. The next day they got up relatively at a reasonable morning hour, and we stuck to their schedule. We didn’t have time to be jet lagged, or to even think about it, really. The takeaway: get yourself onto the Italian rhythm as soon as you land. Avoid taking a nap during the day, and try to stay up until 9 pm or so. Usually our first day routine includes unpacking and organizing, grocery shopping, a nice long walk, and an early (by Italian standards) homemade dinner.
Pre-children, I was pretty focused on myself and how horrible I felt, and what the jet lag was doing to me. Now, I have no time to even think about it - nada, niente, rien. The kids don’t give a nit that I’m exhausted. When it’s morning, they want to eat their cereal, get dressed, and play, and they have no problem telling me over and over what they want and don’t want, and how quickly they want it.
Keeping yourself busy and distracted from how tired you are will help you push through the first couple of days, when trying to be on Italian time feels like running with your feet tied to cinder blocks. You don’t necessarily have to hire someone to follow you around with a cattle prod. Spending the morning and afternoon walking in the sunlight is an excellent way to distract yourself - plus being in the sun helps reset your inner clock. When you need a breather, grab a gelato and people watch for a bit, or look at the local newspaper. Just keep moving as much as you can. You probably won’t notice how tired you are until dinner, when you wake up with your face in your soup.
So what about you? Do you have any weird tricks for combatting jet lag? Spill it in the comments section.