My husband and I thought our three month old was sick when she spent every night for the first two weeks in Amman, Jordan screaming. We finally figured out there was nothing wrong with her at all; she simply needed time to adjust to the new time zone. Now at almost one year old, we’ve figured out that she needs about a week to adjust to the new time zone and catch up on rest. We’ve also learned that it’s best to let baby sleep when she needs to and gently and slowly help her adjust.
We’re into day three right now of adjusting to central standard time after spending almost three months in Jordan and South Africa, eight hours ahead of CST. Our babe typically sleeps for 12 hours solid from 7pm to 7am. For the past three nights, we’ve been woken by our happily cooing babe at 3am pinching our noses and loudly declaring, “Bababa” (E.g. “Wake up, mom and dad; it’s time to play with me”). She’s been wide awake and ready to play, and has also been hungry as she is used to getting a meal and snack in already at that time in South Africa. She gets really cranky during the day time by 2 or 3pm, when she typically is already fast asleep in South Africa.
To help her adjust, we encourage as much sleeping and napping as possible, day and night. We resist the urge to keep her awake, because the end result in this experiment that we’ve attempted several times is always a very unhappy, cranky, crying baby. We accept the fact that for about a week we’re going to be up at odd hours, and if possible we try to get in naps along with baby during the day time so we don’t also become sleep deprived and so that we have energy to be up and play with her and feed her in the middle of the night.
To gently encourage sleep during new night time hours, there are a few things that we do. First, when she does wake up in the middle of the night wide-eyed, we try to either keep the lights off and talk to her in whispers, or turn on a dim light and do quiet play, like reading books or playing gently with soft stuffed animals. We turn on soothing, quiet lullabies and keep reminding her that “it’s sleepy time.” Often after an hour or so of quiet play she’s ready to go back to sleep for a few more hours until she wakes up at a more reasonable time.
To gently encourage wakefulness during new day time hours, we also employ a few other tricks. If she is still sleeping late into the morning, we do resist the urge to wake her, but we’ll open curtains and let natural day light into the room. We make sure to feed her right away when she wakes up to give her some energy. Although we usually do bath time at night before bed, we change it up and give her a refreshing bath in the morning to help wake her up and start the day. We get her dressed right away and go for a walk outside in the morning to get some fresh air. If she does become tired we do let her sleep, but encourage lots of activity and play. During the daytime if we are out and about and baby is ready to “sleep for the night” we let her crash comfortably in the baby wrap, and it often provides us with great time to enjoy an outing or meal while baby is sleeping.
If you are going on a short vacation to a different time zone and want baby adjusted to enjoy the trip, it might be a good idea to try and help baby slowly transition a week beforehand, if possible (E.g. each day for a week, try waking up and going to sleep an hour earlier and later. When I have traveled to Paraguay or New York City with baby where there was only a minimal change in time zone, so it wasn’t as much an issue beyond baby being tired from travel and interrupted sleep. She pretty much just stuck to her usual sleeping times as if she were at home.
Adjusting to a new time zone is a much slower process for little ones that it is for adults. Babies just don’t adjust as quickly as we do to the time change. Give baby a break- the internal clock is being screwed with.