Fancy a trip to Italy? Or a vacation to check out the Great Wall of China? While you’re sure to remember to pack your clothes and camera and other necessities, one thing you might not consider is jet lag.
However, on longer-distance trips, sleepiness and trouble adjusting to a new schedule may conspire steal a day of your trip or dampen festivities. To make the most of your time abroad, and recover quickly upon your return home, try planning ahead to conquer your jet lag symptoms.
What is Jet Lag?
Jet lag is a common sleep disorder brought on by a rapid change of time zones by traveling a significant distance to either the east or west. The circadian rhythms in your body regulate sleep. They function on cues based on your normal 24-hour routine. So, if you travel somewhere outside your own time zone, your body needs to get in sync with the new daylight/nighttime, sleep/wake cycle.
The more time zones you cross on the way to your destination, the longer-lasting and more severe the symptoms are as your circadian rhythm tries to catch up. Westward travel is normally less taxing than eastward travel, as it requires one’s internal clock to move later rather than earlier.
Knowing a bit about how jet lag works, it is possible to reduce the symptoms and impact on your routine. Here are 11 helpful tips for resetting your sleep clock post jet lag.
Before you Leave:
Selecting a Flight – Headed on a long trip? If possible, select a flight that arrives early in the evening. This will make it the easiest to go to sleep at a regular, local bedtime after you arrive at your hotel. Alternatively, you might want a night flight so you can snooze on the plane on the way.
Start Adjusting Before You Leave – Try waking up and going to bed earlier in the days leading up to your trip if you are heading eastward, or later if you are going westward. This proves most helpful for long trips or moves.
Be Well Rested – Make sure you are well rested before getting on the plane. Recovering from jetlag feels much more difficult if you have to make up for lost hours of sleep as well as adjusting to a new sleep cycle.
On the Plane:
Change Your Watch – Once you board the plane, change your watch to the destination’s time zone. This will get you in the mindset of your destination location.
Avoid the Booze and Coffee – If you are preparing for your new bedtime, having alcohol and caffeine 3 to 4 hours beforehand will negatively affect your sleep. Keep hydrated by drinking ample water instead. If you are flying at daytime when it’s night time in your destination, consider sporting sunglasses.
Stay Awake till Bedtime – Try to stay awake until a regular bedtime at the destination. If you managed to snag a flight that lands in the early evening, this will work perfectly. When you arrive earlier in the day, try to postpone sleeping until the evening. If you absolutely need to nap, set an alarm so you sleep less than 2 hours. This will make it easier to fall asleep at a normal time the first night.
Get Out in Sunlight – If you have a little time to kill before bedtime, try getting out in the sunlight. Sun helps your circadian cycle adjust to the new day/night schedule more quickly.
Or, Hit the Nightlife – If you are just going away for a day or two, consider remaining on your current sleep schedule. This means you will be out of whack with day/night cycle of the destination country of course. But in some countries, such as Spain, night time is a prime time to be out and about!
At Your Destination:
Light Exercise –Something as simple as going for a walk outside for an hour when you arrive (or the next morning if you have arrived in the evening) can do wonders for combatting the sluggish feeling you get from jetlag. Plus, it will give you a chance to get acquainted with the area and check out the sights.
Use earplugs and eye mask – Unfamiliar sounds and city light can wake you up during the night. To get the best sleep possible, block out any potential sleep disturbances before you go to bed. Try requesting a room in a quiet section of the hotel. Or, use a fan or white noise to cut down street traffic. Soft music in headphones can also do wonders for winding down your mind in preparation for sleep. Drawing blinds, wearing an eye mask, and avoiding electronics late at night can also support healthy habits.
Bring familiar elements – When sleeping in a new or unfamiliar environment, it may help you relax if you bring familiar items from home. Think of what brings you comfort. Perhaps pictures of family, a favorite pillow, or a favorite bath soak or scent.
Do you have helpful strategies you use to sleep better during travel? What do you find best for defeating jet lag?
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.