Air travel can be stressful enough as it is, without the added symptoms of jet lag. Crossing two or more time zones disrupts the circadian rhythm governing our daily eating and sleeping patterns, and jet lag is there to remind us that our internal clocks do not like to be messed with. Doing so can have unpleasant consequences on the human body including exhaustion, nausea, insomnia, visual disturbances, stress, constipation and even diarrhea. Not fun.
The key insight when dealing with jet lag is to remember that it’s often caused by the flight’s direction, not its length, and to realize that the body’s sleep cycle naturally responds to certain environmental cues. Taking advantage of these cues can help you adapt more easily when travelling long distances. Here are 5 easy tips to beat jet lag the right way:
Before you go
With everything going on before a trip, one of the best ways to minimize the effects of jet lag is to be as stress-free and as well-rested as possible prior to flying so your airport adventure is as smooth as possible. This includes shifting your sleep cycle a couple of days before by going to bed earlier if you are travelling west, and later if going east, and not leaving all your packing to the very last minute.
Get good seats.
Seat selection is crucial in assuring that you are as comfortable as possible once you’re actually on the flight. It’s always preferable to upgrade to first or business class for long-haul flights if you can, but if not, consider reserving bulkhead or exit row seating for the extra legroom. Also, avoid choosing seats in heavy traffic areas such as galleys and lavatories where constant motion can be a nuisance.
During your flight
A common mistake many people make when flying is forgetting to stay hydrated. As tempting as it is, avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages before and during your flight. With long half-lives, coffee and alcohol can stay in the system several hours after consumption and will only further disrupt your sleeping patterns. Hydration is key.
Being cooped up in a plane is uncomfortable, so make it easier on your body. While it may not always be in your best interest depending on the time of day you’re arriving at your destination, napping on the plane can help ease the effects of jet lag. Have earplugs and eyeshades handy to reduce any disruptions, and while not for everyone, sleeping aids may be worth considering. Prescription medications such as Ambien, over-the-counter supplements like melatonin, and even herbal fixes such as lavender essential oils are the most common, but make sure to consult with your doctor first on which to use.
When you arrive
The body can take several days to adjust to a new time zone but there are certain factors that can speed up the process. For longer trips, the sooner your body adapts to the new time zone, the better. Try not to compare your time zone to the one you just left and instead force your body’s internal clock to adjust by tweaking exposure to daylight. When you’re traveling west, get more morning sunlight, avoiding light in the afternoon, and vice versa when travelling east. This can easily be done by going for a walk outside or by wearing sunglasses. Also, try and get as much sleep in a 24-hour period as you normally would, with a minimum 4-hour ‘anchor sleep’ on your first night.
For short trips (3-4 days), adjusting to the new time zone may actually be counterproductive. If practical, eat and sleep according to your ‘home’ schedule to make your return much easier.
There is no magical cure for jet lag, well not yet anyway, but following these tips can help manage it. Remember to give yourself at least half a day in your new surroundings before attempting your more important tasks, and if jet lag really persists, embrace it! Sometimes the most interesting travel experiences happen when you are a bit loopy from sleep deprivation!