10 tips to beat jet lag

Chances are, if you’ve flown in an airplane over two or more time zones, you’ve no doubt experienced a disruption in your circadian rhythms, commonly known as jet lag.

But what really is jet lag?

Jet lag is a temporary feeling that occurs when your body’s circadian rhythm lags behind your external environment, such as when you rapidly cross multiple time zones: your internal clock is out of sync with the new location. Common symptoms of jet lag can include:

  • Sleep problems, making it difficult to fall asleep or waking up at the ‘wrong’ time
  • Daytime fatigue or sluggishness
  • Inability to focus or function at your normal level
  • GI disturbances such as nausea, constipation or just lack of appetite; and
  • Mood changes (I know I’m grumpy when I’m tired…)

The level of jet lag may depend on your age (it gets worse as you get older) and/or the number of time zones you cross. A difference of two time zones may not take much adjustment, but six or eight or more surely will.

Experts suggest that you try to adjust your sleep schedule several days before traveling: if traveling east, try to get up earlier and go to bed earlier each day. And if heading west, stay up later each night and sleep later in the morning for several days.

I find that in reality, adjusting my sleep schedule does little to help prepare, largely because the travel, itself, is tiring. You’re also likely to be on a long and/or overnight flight and may not get enough – or good – sleep on the plane and arrive exhausted.

So how do you deal with jet lag from an international flight?

Ten Critical tips to overcome jet lag

  • First, get plenty of rest before you leave home. Get your chores done in advance and have packing done. Don’t leave last-minute errands, laundry, or further prep for the day of departure. This will help you feel well rested and ready for the long jaunt ahead.
  • Try to sleep on the plane. This may mean bringing along an eye mask, pillow and blanket and noise canceling headphones. Movies are great on a long flight, but the light from the monitor can also prevent good rest. Consider watching a movie or two, then turn it off and allow yourself to drift off.
  • Stay hydrated! This means drinking plenty of water on the flight and avoiding alcohol and caffeine, both of which can dehydrate you and ruin your sleep. That glass of wine with dinner? Ok, maybe one to celebrate your vacation, but then stop and stick with water or juice.
  • Plan a stopover. A number of airlines have options to stay a day or two, usually in their hub city; some even pay for hotel stays. Barring that, if you have a really long journey, plan your trip with a stay somewhere half between home and the final destination. I took a trip to New Zealand and booked a few days in Bora Bora to break it up. (Rough, I know!)
  • Rely on your smart devices to tell you the time, rather than your body. Hit the ground with the new time in mind and stop thinking about what time it is back home! As much as possible, reset your internal clock to eat and sleep on the new time schedule. This is probably the best advice I use for myself!
  • Give in to a nap if you must, but do it strategically! Experts suggest not sleeping longer than 30 minutes, so you don’t ruin the sleep schedule you’re trying to accomplish. And avoid taking the nap too close to the new bedtime, or you’ll find yourself awake at midnight, unable to fall back asleep.
  • In the new location, use light and dark to help adjust to the new time. Light exposure, especially natural light, is a prime influence on your circadian rhythm. Get up with the sun and caffeinate (if that’s your thing) and retire for the evening with the dark.
  • Consider taking Melatonin (1 or 2 mg), a chemical naturally produced by the body as light drops in the evening. Melatonin may help trick your body into thinking it’s time for sleep, and it’s available over the counter. Always check with your physician if you have questions, especially if taking other medications that may be affected by its use.
  • Don’t overschedule your first days! Perhaps you need to hit the ground running due to schedules or time constraints, but if at all possible, give yourself a “down” day after you arrive, or the day after you arrive home. Anticipate that you’ll be tired and build in a day to relax. I often try to arrive to my destination a day early no matter what, just in case I have flight problems or delays that would ruin the start of my trip.
  • But, do stay active! Go for breakfast, even if you’re tired, go for a walk, do yoga, or window shop. Take advantage of the natural daylight to help you get acclimated.

Duration and recovery

Finally, don’t expect to be back to “normal” right away. Rule of thumb is that for every time zone you cross, it will take a day for your body to adjust. So for a trip to Europe, expect about a week, and for a trip to Asia, expect about two weeks.

I usually find that my body adjusts more quickly when I’m starting my trip than ending. That’s probably due to the excitement of the trip and the need to be ready for activities. Plus, there’s often a bit of a let-down fatigue in going home.

Enjoy the journey and give your body the rest that it needs so you’ll be at your best and ready for the next trip!

Save this for later! Also……………….Need tips for a long-haul flight? Click on the image.

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