If you travel quickly across multiple time zones, you will likely suffer from the temporary condition known as jet lag. Your body’s internal clock (that tells you when to sleep and when to wake) needs time to get synched to a new schedule. In the meantime it isn’t uncommon to experience daytime exhaustion, gastrointestinal upset, and a general feeling of being unwell. The good news is that you can follow a few tried and true travel tips to minimize the symptoms of jet lag.
Here are the best ideas we’ve discovered:
Shift your routine before you take your trip. Gradually move your meals and bedtimes closer to the times of your destination. Go to bed early a few days before you fly east, and later if you plan to fly west. Incidentally, studies say that flying east is harder (losing hours) than flying west (gaining hours).
Keep hydrated. Mild dehydration is common as a result of travel because of dry cabin air (less than 20% humidity) and poor travel habits. Dehydration worsens the symptoms of jet lag. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your flight. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. For every hour you are in the air, try to consume 6 – 8 ounce glasses of water. Some travel clinics even recommend and offer “IV hydration therapy” just before you fly to your destination and shortly after returning. These drips often also contain valuable vitamins and minerals that boost immunity and energy. It isn’t free (treatments are around $100) and it requires about 45 minutes of your time, but if you need to be on your feet ASAP after getting home or upon arrival, you might be willing to spend the money and time.
Choose nutritious foods that promote digestion. With so much food news out there, we should be aware that meals and snacks that are high in carbs and sugar contribute to lethargy. So, when the flight attendant asks, “Would you like the pasta and bread, or the chicken with veggies?” choose the chicken, even if you prefer pasta. Or, better yet, consider packing your own nutritious meal.
Adjust quickly after arrival! Set your watch to the local time. Try to stay up until bedtime at your new destination and force yourself awake in the morning. Short naps can make up the difference in the early days after arrival. Try to keep your heart and mind where you are – avoid thinking about what the schedule and time would be if you were at home.
Arrive a day early. Even for seasoned travelers with good habits, it is pretty tough to fly internationally and hit a full day of activity upon arrival. We recommend planning for an extra night or two at a hotel prior to starting a tour so you can recover and flip your routine. You don’t want to be dragging (or sleeping) during those exciting excursions you paid good money for.
Stick to an exercise routine. Science tells us that a scheduled exercise time will modify your molecular clock in your tissues and muscles. It also serves to distract you from the dark hotel room and cozy bed calling your name. h
Get in the sun. Time in the sun will awaken your body and promote recovery. Sunlight is not only beneficial psychologically, but also biologically. Light dictates the production of melatonin levels in your body (the hormone that helps synchronize cells in your body). Daylight will suppress the release of melatonin and reset your internal clock.
*Tip: If you are stuck in an airport, sit near an outside window where the sun streams in.
Take a nap on the long flight. Not everyone can do this, but if you have the gift that allows you to sleep anywhere, take advantage of it! Refuse to be lured by the endless stream of movies. Bring your noise canceling earphones and tune out the endless announcements. Make sure your arms and legs are well positioned away from the aisle so you aren’t bumped. Pull your hoodie up over your head… whatever it takes, grab a few hours. Those few hours can help pull you through if you need to stay awake on arrival to adjust to a new schedule.