Fight Jet Lag
Even seasoned travelers sometimes get hit with a case of dreaded jet lag. You know the feeling, you spend all day wondering around like the walking dead but as soon as you crawl into your hotel bed you just can't fall asleep. Finally you get to sleep just to wake up at 3:30 am without an alarm. After lying awake for a few hours you pull yourself out of bed to start your day, even though nothing is open yet, just to crash again at noon when your jet lag rears its ugly head.
When I first started traveling it took me days to adjust to a new time zone, which always frustrated me because I felt like I was wasting my precious vacation time. As I travel more and more frequently I've picked up a few tricks to avoid feeling the wrath of dreaded jet lag, and I thought I would share them with you, so you don't waste a minute of your vacation feeling like crap.
What is Jet Lag
Jet lag is caused when your natural sleep pattern is disrupted. We all have something called a circadian rhythm, which is essentially an internal clock that tells our body when it's time to sleep, based on the time of day. When you fly across time zones either east-west or west-east, your body's internal clock can't adjust or sync quickly enough to your new time zone. The actual medical term is desynchronosis, and the symptoms are fatigue, insomnia, and general confusion, but don't bother looking it up on WebMD, you won't die from it you'll just feel terrible for a few days. Flying west-east is usually where people feel the worst jet lag because you lose time. Without getting into some time space continuum shit, crossing date lines makes you feel like you're doing a bit of time travel, which can do a number on your insides. Flying north-south (or vise-versa) doesn't typically create as much havoc on your body, but you'll likely still feel a bit of discomfort from being couped up on a plane.
Before You Leave
So you know you're going on a big trip, maybe you're leaving from New York and traveling to Tokyo for a few weeks to work, and do a little shopping. The first thing you need to do is figure out your time difference. Tokyo is a whopping 13 hours ahead of New York, and this steep time difference means that when it's midnight in Tokyo it's only 11 am in New York, so you're going to really feel the effects of jet lag if you don't take some steps to avoid it.
Adjust your schedule ahead of time
You can begin fighting jet lag before you even step foot on a plane. If you know you're sensitive to sleep deprivation you'll want to start adjusting your sleep patterns at least a week before you make your journey. Try going to sleep early and waking up later to get your body adjusted to your future time zone. Now, I'm not suggesting that you try and match Tokyo's time zone from New York, that's not exactly realistic especially if you're working a 9-5. The idea here isn't to mimic Tokyo time exactly, it's more to shake up your routine so your body can get use to a new way of doing things, that way the 13 hour Tokyo time difference won't be such a shock. In general it's said that people who have a ridged sleep schedules tend to have a tougher time with jet lag than those who change up their hours frequently, so if you're a transient type who never adheres to a schedule you won't have much trouble adjusting.
Note: If you're going on a work trip you can try speaking with your employer and explain that you'd like to adjust your schedule to get in sync with your destinations time zone, in order to maintain maximum productivity while you're away of course, (they eat that stuff up). This will allow you to come into work later in the day, and maybe stay a bit later in the evening. Although in my experience people who travel for work tend to already work over time hours, so this might just be a good excuse to come into work late for a week.
The Day of Your Flight
Using my fictional trip from New York to Tokyo, let's say you're flight leaves from New York at noon, that means you'll want to try and sleep right away on your flight (as it's already 1 am in Tokyo). If you can actually force yourself to sleep for a few hours at the beginning of your flight, you'll arrive feeling more rested than if you try and stay awake at the beginning, and sleep closer to the end of the flight. This tends to be really hard for most people, falling asleep in the middle of the day on a noisy flight can be tough. If you've started to adjust your internal body clock as mentioned above, you'll find this much easier.
Wake up early
In this case you're flying at noon, so it would be a good idea to force yourself to wake up very early the morning the day of your flight, perhaps at 3 am, that way by the time you're boarding your flight at noon you're already tired from a busy 7 hour day. Waking up early gives you the added benefit of extra time, which you can use to finish up any last minute details like packing.
With all the extra time you gain you should put it to good use. Try doing a full workout the day you're flying to help wear out your body, making you feel like you need to sleep by the time you settle into your seat.
Eat and drink properly
This one is important, studies show that when you eat light, avoid alcohol and caffeine, the day you fly your body remains nourished and hydrated which better sets it up to cope with a stressful time change. We all want to indulge in greasy food and a few drinks at the start of a vacation before a long flight, but those are actually the worst things you can do. If you want to avoid jet lag, which already feels a bit like a hangover, you certainly don't want to be nursing an actual hangover while you're trying to shake it. Instead eat a meal full of protein and veggies, drink a ton of water, and don't over do the caffeine. Keep in mind once you get to your destination you'll likely be indulging plenty, so one day of eating healthy won't kill you.
Prep yourself for bed before you board
I'm sure not everyone would bother with this step, but for me it really helps me feel like I'm ready to sleep. I remove makeup, wash my face and brush my teeth before I board the plane. I find that following some sort of normal bed time routine helps me feel like it's time to sleep, even though it may only be lunch time.
What To Do On Your Flight
Now you're on your flight, you've woken early, worked out, eaten right all day, and you're fully ready to settle in and catch some z's. Here are a few things that can help you get comfortable.
This does not mean wear your pajamas—I just can't condone that—but don't wear high heals, overly tight clothing, or anything extremely formal and uncomfortable either. Find a balance between comfort and style so you feel, and look good. Also avoid materials that wrinkly easily so you don't look like a disheveled mess when you arrive, there's nothing worse when you feel tired than looking like a disaster to boot. Try to dress in light layers so that you can create a sleeping temperature that's right for you. Planes can get a little cold so you'll want to be able to cover up if you get chilly. Wear flat shoes that you can slip on and off easily, or change into travel slippers if you have them.
Don't forget the water
Staying hydrated on a flight is really important to fight jet lag. When your body is hydrated everything naturally works and feels better. Keep a bottle of water at your seat so you don't have to get up or call a flight attendant each time you feel thirsty.
Pack a flight kit
I like to bring along a small kit inside my carry-on that contains essentials items I might need when I fly. Mine contains the following items, but of course you can substitute in what you need.
- A facemask that fits properly! There is nothing more uncomfortable than wearing a facemask that is too tight or that continues to fall off your face each time you move. Make sure you have one that also blocks out the light, mine has a small bridge over the nose so you can get maximum darkness even in bright light.
- A pillow, I use a inflatable pillow simply because it takes up less space. Find a pillow that will support your head and neck and is comfortable enough that you will actually use it. I never use the pillows the airline supplies, they don't offer any support, and to be honest I don't feel like they're super clean.
- Lip balm, moisturizer, and antibacterial wipes. Again I like to feel clean so I always have antibacterial wipes when I fly to clean off any area of my little flight zone, since I will be spending the next 10 plus hours there. Typically your skin dries out when you fly, so having the moisturizer and lip balm will help keep your skin hydrated.
- Music and headphones. I just use my phone and noise cancelling headphones that are comfortable to wear for long periods. I don't usually listen to music with lyrics as I find that distracting, instead something soothing that will help drown out the noise on the plane.
Take a natural sleep aid
I write the word 'natural' because I'm not suggesting sleeping pills here. Sleeping pills, in my experience, have a tenancy to make you feel disorientated, exactly what you're trying to avoid. Instead try something natural like melatonin, a natural hormone in your body that helps you sleep. If you don't regularly take melatonin on a daily bases, taking it during a flight can help you naturally fall asleep and won't make you feel disorientated when you wake. Most people say drinking chamomile or valerian root tea can also help you reach a natural sleep, although that never works for me.
Move around the plane
Unless you're flying in first class you'll likely not be comfortable enough to sleep the entire time, and honestly you really don't want to. Each time you wake up take that opportunity to get up for a few minutes and move around the plane. Walk around a bit, bend your knees and stretch. Keeping your blood flowing and your muscles from cramping up might not help avoid jet lag directly but it goes a long way to ensure you don't feel achy and stiff when you get off the plane.
What To Do When You Arrive At Your Destination
You made it to your destination and you don't feel half bad. There are a few more things you should try to make sure your jet lag doesn't catch up with you.
After you pass customs head to the restroom and clean yourself up. Wash your face, brush your teeth and comb your hair—even if you are heading straight to your hotel washing up will help shake your grogginess and wake you up. If you've got to hit the ground running for work, change your clothes so you feel pulled together.
Get out in the sun!
Light exposure is a major component in helping you adjust to a new time zone, so get outside and soak in some rays! Fresh air and sunlight will instantly help you feel, well…normal again. There are studies that show how light exposure can help reset your inner clock. The sun and fresh air in any circumstance releases serotonin in your brain, making you feel good. This ill give you that second wind you need to get through your first day.
Don't over do it your first day
Give yourself a break and take it easy your first day in a new time zone. Try to eat at regular meal times, and again, don't over do the caffeine even if you're exhausted, it will only make it harder for you to sleep later that evening.
I know, I know the last thing you want to do is exercise when you're already exhausted from a long flight, but if you can get in a workout before you go to bed you'll likely sleep all night without waking up at 3 am with no place to go.
All of these little things have helped me avoid nasty jet lag, and I hope a few of them can help you too. If you have any fool proof tricks that help you shake jet lag tweet me and let me know!