A typical travel scenario: You hop on the plane for the 6-hour flight to your destination. Perhaps you nap a bit, or maybe you stay awake and chat with your travel partner or read. When you arrive at your destination, your body tells you it’s time for dinner, but the light in the sky tells you breakfast is on the menu. Or maybe you’re ready to hit the streets and start exploring … but it’s already 10:00 p.m. in your new destination.
Jumping across time zones when you travel by plane can do all sorts of things to screw up our circadian rhythm—the natural clock by which our bodies run. This condition is called jet lag, and it doesn’t only affect first-time travelers or those who travel infrequently. Even seasoned flyers like flight attendants and pilots fall prey to the effects of jet lag.
You’ll know if you’ve got jet lag if you display any of these common signs: Disorientation, irritability, fatigue, headaches and cold-like symptoms. And studies have shown that if you’re traveling west, you are more likely to suffer from jet lag than if you’re heading east.
My secret? I travel regularly (though I wouldn’t say frequently), and I rarely suffer from jet lag. This is because I force my body to act like the time of day it’s supposed to be. If the flight attendants turn the lights down, I try to sleep even if I’m not tired. If it’s time to eat breakfast, I eat breakfast. Regardless of where I am, I force my body to act like the time of day it is, and so far that method has worked for me. I know it’s not so easy for many people, so I’ve culled these 5 tips from other resources to help you start your vacation in a new time zone jet-lag free:
1. Prepare your body for the trip. Exercise, stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to your departure. If your body is in good shape for the flight and your trip, it will cope better to the new time adjustment.
2. Adjust for the time difference pre-trip. In the three or four days leading up to your trip, start treating your body as if you were already at your destination if possible. If you are traveling east, get up and go to bed earlier than you normally would. If you are traveling west, get up and go to bed later.
3. Avoid alcohol before and during the flight. I know that alcohol helps some people sleep, but being hungover on a flight or dehydrated when you arrive are not ways you want to start your trip.
4. Take care of your body on the flight. Drink plenty of water and take the time to get up, stretch and walk around. Dress in comfortable clothing. Brush your teeth or wash your face mid-flight. Pack a blanket, sleeping mask and ear plugs for a sound sleep on red-eye flights.
5. Avoid excessive caffeine. Drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages can cause dehydration. Caffeine also throws off sleep schedules by making it difficult to sleep when you should.
If you do get hit with jet lag, here are a few things you can do to recover:
1. Some people say that you should consider a 1:1 rule. That is, for every hour in time difference you experience, you should give yourself one full day to recover. I think this might be a bit excessive, but I do think it’s important not to jump a bunch of time zones just to move on a day or two later.
2. Check your accommodations for comfort. If you feel uncomfortable (too hot, too cold, etc.) or unsafe in your accommodations, you won’t sleep well when you need to. If your lodging isn’t satisfactory, find somewhere else to stay early in your trip.
3. I reiterate: Adapt to the local schedule. Though it may be tempting to stay up all night or eat dinner instead of breakfast because your body tells you to, it is best to adjust to the local schedule as quickly as possible. Eat the correct meals when they should be eaten. Go to bed at night, wake up in the morning and stay awake throughout the day.
Now it’s your turn to sound off: How do you fight jet lag when you travel?