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9 Tried and True Tips for Beating Jet Lag

11/6/17 by Doug O'Neill

It was a flight home for the holidays that Martin MacDonald won’t forget anytime soon. "It was the 23rd of December and I was ecstatic to be flying back east to rural Vermont to spend Christmas with my family," said the San Diego-based consultant. In the weeks before, MacDonald had attended several holiday events plus pulled an all-nighter in order to meet a deadline. He figured he would be able to catch up with a few hours of sleep on the plane.

"Fast-forward eleven hours, which included a flight delay and a prolonged stop-over, and I hadn’t slept a wink by the time the plane touched down in Vermont. I was a wreck," said MacDonald. “I was so groggy and heavy-headed.”

Although MacDonald had physically arrived in Vermont, his internal body clock was still synced to his California schedule. He hadn’t taken preventive measures to stave off the effects of jet lag: headaches, insomnia, tummy issues, loss of appetite, heavy-headedness, and, he admits, a certain degree of post-flight grumpiness.

Circadian cycles (our internal body clocks), which tell us when to sleep and wake up, are thrown off when air travel transports people across multiple time zones – which MacDonald did by flying from California to Vermont. However, the side effects of jet lag, like those mentioned above, don’t have to be part of air travel.

Here are nine sure-fire strategies to prevent and fight jet lag the next time you travel.

Traveling across time zones throws off our internal clocks.
    Matthew Smith
Traveling across time zones throws off our internal clocks. Matthew Smith

1. Drink lots of fluids – but avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Dehydration is already common in air travel and can worsen the physical symptoms of jet lag. This is why it’s really important to drink fluids before, during, and after a flight. Avoid caffeine (which will make you more dehydrated) and alcohol. The American Sleep Association reports that alcohol can have a much stronger effect when you’re in the air, and can disrupt sleep patterns.

2. Bring healthy snacks.

When hunger strikes during travel, many of us grab whatever we can find at the airport or on the plane, and that usually means junk food. Snacks like nuts, fruit, granola bars, or crackers won’t bother your stomach and will keep you going vs. burn you out like junk food can.

3. Change your watch.

Once you get on the plane, adjust your watch to the timezone of your destination. Many phones and laptops will sync automatically once you land, but if your watch says it’s bedtime, this could signal your brain to get ready to sleep.

4. Be mindful when flying west to east.

MacDonald faced a double jet lag whammy (in addition to the length of his flight) by traveling from California to Vermont. A study released by the University of Maryland in 2016 found that it takes longer for a traveler’s circadian rhythms to recover when flying west to east because you lose hours. MacDonald’s arrival day was cut short by three hours – shortening his recovery time from jet lag.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests moving your bedtime an hour earlier for the three nights leading up to your trip to help your body adjust. If that isn’t possible, even 15 minutes earlier can help.

Try to make sleeping on the plane as comfortable as possible.
    Suhyeon Choi
Try to make sleeping on the plane as comfortable as possible. Suhyeon Choi

5. Get comfy on the plane.

Noise-cancelling headphones, an eye mask, and warm, comfortable clothing, like ExOfficio’s Kelowna Hoody or Harwood 1/4 Zip, can help create the ideal conditions for much-needed sleep on a plane.

6. Don’t go to bed too early once you get there.

Avoid going to bed early on the night of arrival. Try going for a walk, spending time in places with bright daylight to remind your body that it’s daytime. Eat dinner at the same time as the locals.

Transitioning your body to local time is key.

Know the difference between jet lag and travel fatigue.
    Michał Grosicki
Know the difference between jet lag and travel fatigue. Michał Grosicki

7. Consider using a natural supplement.

The Mayo Clinic lists the natural hormone melatonin, which is created by the pineal gland and regulates the sleep-wake cycle, as an effective jet lag treatment. Our bodies create more melatonin when it’s dark and less when it’s light, so you’ll want to take it at the local bedtime each night until your body has reset to the local time. You can find melatonin in tablet or liquid form in most health food stores and pharmacies.

8. Make your room as dark as possible.

When you get to your hotel or Airbnb, turn off all your screens—whether it’s the ever-glowing smartphone or blinking light on the big screen TV—and close the curtains. Cutting down on bright lights can help you sleep more soundly.

9. Keep up your exercise routine.

Our bodies like routine, which is part of the reason why traveling across time zones messes up our systems. Exercising makes us feel better in general and can also help shake the effects of jet lag. While getting in that run at any time of day will help, sticking to when you usually go at home is even better. For example, if you run at 7 a.m. at home, get out there at 7 a.m. at your destination.

While we can’t guarantee that you won’t get jet lag, following these tips will greatly decrease the negative side effects of it. The bottom line is if you want to enjoy your destination once you get there, get ahead of the game and do your best to hydrate, eat well, and get lots of rest before your plane even takes off!

Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.