Vacation with a Toddler: Our Experience with a 5 Hour Time Zone Change

img_5527You took your week off from work.  The baby/toddler essentials are packed.  You & your wife are excited about spending a week in paradise as a family.   But, then it hits you.  How does your little one handle a 5 hour time change from Chicago to Hawaii?  Dealing with the effects of a time zone change is something to consider when traveling with your toddler or baby.

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There are numerous websites that provide tips on how to prepare your little one for a big time zone change.  Many of them suggest gradually shifting their sleep times by a half hour a day to start matching up to your vacation destination.  If we were facing a 1 to 2 hour difference, I would have considered attempting this.  But, with a 5 hour time difference and a grand total of about zero level of patience for these type of things, I decided… “let’s just see how it goes and deal with it.”  Bad move.

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Our 14 month old, Tyler, typically goes to bed around 8pm and wakes up around 6:30 AM to 7 AM at home. That would equate to falling asleep at 3 PM and waking up at 2 AM on our trip to Maui, Hawaii.  This is how each night went without us doing any bedtime shifting leading up to our vacation.
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Night 1: Tyler fell asleep around 5pm, woke up at 7pm, slept again at 9pm and woke up around 2:30 am, went back to sleep at 5:30am and woke up again at 7:30am

Night 2: fell asleep around 8pm, woke up around 3:30am

Night 3: fell asleep around 8pm, woke up around 3:45am

Night 4: fell asleep around 9:00pm, woke up around 4am

Night 5: fell asleep around 8:30pm, woke up around 4:45 am

Night 6: fell asleep around 8:30 pm, woke up around 5:30am

Night 7: fell asleep around 9pm, woke up around 6am

So overall, he was sleeping less each night and it took about the whole week for his sleep cycle to adjust.  But, by the time it had adjusted, the trip was over and we had to fly back!

The downside, for us as parents, was waking up at the butt crack of the AM hours of the night.  But, when life gives you lemons, make some lemonade.  Being in Maui obviously makes the lemonade sweeter and tastier.

I was able to watch some beautiful sunrises.   Tyler and I went to the beach at the resort and had the entire beach to ourselves.  I was able to take him to other beaches on Maui and felt like we were on a private deserted beach to enjoy for ourselves.  We beat out the crowds at popular breakfast spots.  We made the most of the sleep cycle change as we could.
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Here’s what happened when we got back home to the Chicago area.

Night 1: fell asleep at 11:15pm, woke up at 8:30am

Night 2: fell asleep at 11pm, woke up at 10am

Night 3: fell asleep at 10:30pm, woke up at 9:30am

Night 4: fell asleep at 10:40pm, woke up at 8:30am

Night 5: fell asleep at 10pm, woke up at 8am

Night 6: fell asleep at 9pm, woke up at 8am

Night 7: fell asleep at 8:30pm, woke up at 7:30am

Again, it took about a week for his sleep cycle to get back on track.  Although having him sleep in during the mornings was a nice perk, which allowed Helen to sleep in a little more.  It was tiring to have to play with Tyler and keep him occupied after work until 11pm vs having him sleep at his usual 8pm and getting time to relax, rejuvenate and have quiet time with my wife for a few hours before going to bed.

If I had to do it over again.  I would probably opt to start shifting his bedtime gradually as many other blogs have suggested.  Even if it wasn’t shifted the full 5 hours, even shifting it part way would have helped him adapt a few days into the trip, vs having him adapt by the time we had to leave and then screw up his schedule all over again!

Well you live and learn.  Hopefully you can learn from our real life experience of just saying “screw it” and dealing with a drastic time zone change on the fly.

You can decide how you want to handle vacationing with your little one and dealing with a significant time zone change.  Let us know if you have any tips or suggestions that we can try on our next trip.

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