The bane of international travelers is jet lag. One long flight can turn your mind upside down and create something of an internal vertigo. There are ways to lessen the impact, though, and this post will point out some prevention and coping mechanisms that you can use on your next trip.
Preventing jet lag from happening in the first place
- Try to get your schedule in sync with your destination before you leave. This may be difficult or impossible if you are working or if you are traveling to a destination that has a drastically different timezone, but if you have the flexibility try to gradually adjust your meal and sleep times over the course of a week.
- Once you’re on the plane, behave as if you are already at your destination. Set your watch to the local time there and eat and sleep accordingly. If it is night time at your destination, go to sleep. If it is dinner time, eat (you can pack some snacks for this purpose).
- Can’t get to sleep on the plane? Consider drugging yourself. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Many people take melatonin (a human hormone) for this purpose, but it is still unclear how this hormone works (both how effective it is, how much should be taken and when). A simpler route is to take something like benadryl or dramamine, which will make you drowsy and more in the mood for sleep. One dose is not going to do you any harm. You can also use an eye shield and noise-canceling headphones to provide some additional assistance to your body. Finally, wear comfortable clothes and be prepared for different temperatures on the plane.
- Stay hydrated! Water is truly the nectar of life and staying hydrated will help your body stay on top of things. This is doubly important on an airplane where the cabin air is dry and it’s much easier to get dehydrated. By the same token, you should try to avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages, which can dehydrate you in addition to tinkering with your energy levels.
- Once you arrive at your destination, stay up until a reasonable (local) hour for sleep. In other words, as much as you may want to, don’t go to bed at 5PM. This will make it very difficult for you to adjust later on. Instead, try to stay up until at least 9PM and have a serious rest. This is probably the number one tip offered by travelers when it comes to jet lag and personally, I also find it to be the most important.
No matter how much effort you put into prevention, you may still find yourself on the miserable end of jet lag. Maybe you went to sleep too early, maybe you thought you would just take a short nap. If that happens and jet lag takes control of your body and mind, check out these tips.
Getting over jet lag
- Use natural light to resync your body. Don’t hole yourself up in your hotel room during the day. Try to get out in the sunshine. Go sit in the park on an uncomfortable bench and watch the world go by. Reading may put you to sleep, so keep yourself occupied (and awake) by drinking lots of water or perhaps a fruit smoothie, chewing gum, and doing some brisk walking.
- If you are truly miserable from sleep deprivation, take a short nap. I’m talking 30 minutes tops. Set 5 alarms in different parts of your room, because it almost certainly will be hard to get up. After waking, throw yourself into a cold shower to get the blood flowing and then get yourself back out into the sunshine.
- Drink more water. Can’t be said enough.
- If you find yourself with a bit of insomnia when everyone else at your destination is hitting the hay, you can always drug yourself once more. Take a benadryl with a glass of water and see if you don’t feel sleepy. Again, forcing yourself to be out and about during the day will help you sync up with the new schedule.
- Eat on schedule and don’t stuff your face. You may find that you are not hungry at the right times and your body is craving food in the middle of the night. To help remedy this, force yourself to eat something at meal times. Light meals are good because they are less taxing on your body. Think salads or fresh fruit or perhaps a smoothie. All of these will provide you with an energy boost from complex carbohydrates and unprocessed sugar and they won’t have the crash effect that occurs when you consume refined sugar or caffeine.
Ok. I’m feeling a bit more alert just writing this! Hopefully, you learned a new thing or two about getting over jet lag. If you have any of your own tips for dealing with jet lag, please share them in the comments below.
*UPDATE* – This is a cool site that can help you sync your sleeping habits to limit the amount of jet lag you will have when you arrive: Jet Lag Rooster. We highly recommend checking it out and giving it a shot before your next trip.
Photo credit: flicker users salz and emwing