Oh… jet lag… In my opinion, it’s the only boring thing about travelling. And it is so boring because, for me, jet lag is worse when I get back home; I usually feel great when I get to my destination. Since it’s already boring to get back home, it is excruciating with jet lag.
Jet lag can occur any time you travel quickly across two or more time zones. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to be sleepy and sluggish — and the longer and more intense the symptoms are likely to be. Jet lag is caused by our internal clock (it’s called circadian rhythms) that is desynchronized with the external time. You can recognise the symptoms: disturbed sleep, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating and functioning, and even stomach problems. Jet lag is generally worse when you “lose time” traveling west to east. And if you’re an older adult, jet lag may hit you harder and recovery may take longer. While even infants experience jet lag, they recover very quickly, because kids in general tend to have a more flexible internal clock.
The fact that long flights are tiring and stressful can aggravate the problem. They involve inevitable worry, discomfort, dehydration and bad sleep. Tackle each of those separate issues, one by one, and you can minimise them. (Read my article 14 Tips to have the best flight of your life to learn how.)
Here’s how to prevent or ease jet lag:
- Simulate your new schedule before you leave: Move your bedtime and meal time half-hour earlier or later (depending if you are traveling east or west) for several days before you leave.
- Adapt to your new schedule while in flight: Change your watch when you get on the plane; rest or try to sleep if it’s night time where you’re going.
- Arrive early: If you need to be in top shape at your destination for an event, like a wedding, try to arrive a few days early, so you can adjust.
- Stay hydrated: Drink before, during and after your flight to counteract dehydration. Avoid alcohol and caffeine a few hours before you plan to sleep.
- Eat like you’re already there: Avoid eating airplane food, since it’s generally served on a schedule that’s consistent with the time zone you’re leaving, not the one you’re going to. If you’re hungry, snack lightly until you arrive at your destination, and eat during what would be mealtimes there.
- Move around: Try to move as much as you can on your flight, and when you get to your destination. Avoid heavy exercise near bedtime, as it can delay sleep.
- Expose yourself to sunlight: Exposure to sunlight helps regulate our internal clock.
- Eat sensibly: Don’t eat too much on the day you travel, since digesting a big meal can disrupt sleep. But have a protein-rich breakfast the morning after you arrive. It’ll help with alertness.
- Daytime naps are OK to take after you arrive, but keep them to 30 minutes or less so they don’t interfere with your night time sleep.
- Take a hot bath before bedtime: A bath can ease sore muscles from travel and help you relax and wind down. The drop in your body temperature when you get out of a bath may also make you sleepy.
- Minimize sleep distractions: An eye mask and earplugs can help you sleep better on the plane and at your destination.
- Consider medication: It’s usually not necessary to get treatment for jet lag, but if these strategies don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe or suggest medications to take temporarily to help you sleep or stay alert when necessary. Or consider melatonin: Melatonin naturally secreted in our bodies helps regulate our internal clock so we can sleep at night. A supplement could help you find sleep easier. Be careful not to go overboard and take too much melatonin, or you may suffer a hangover and feel confused the following day. But taken in small quantities, clinical tests have shown melatonin to be nonaddictive, nontoxic, and safe, and it causes very few side effects. If you want to try melatonin, check with your doctor first.
Those advices will help you cope with jet lag easily. As for myself, when I arrive at my destination, I go to my hotel room, leave my luggage there, and then go for a walk. I go to bed early the first night, and sleep for 10 or more hours. By the next day, I already feel better. When I come back home, I sleep as much as I can on the flight, so I’m not sleep deprived, and I adjust much better to my routine.