Jet lag. You may suffer from it or you may not. If you do, hopefully this post will help. Jet lag is considered a temporary sleep disorder which happens when you travel quickly across several times zones. According to the Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center, crossing time zones disrupts your circadian rhythms. Think of this way, your internal clock is set to a different time than the clock of your destination.
Jet lag can range from mild to severe – from extra yawns to extreme fatigue. My experiences with jet lag have been just that – from mild weariness to flat out uselessness because I was too tired to walk, let alone think. In fact, I lost an entire day in Japan after a flight from Bangkok. It was awful; I could barely stand, had difficulty stringing thoughts together, and was near collapse. After a solid 10 hours of sleep, I was right as rain. These days, I ensure that I arrive at my international destination at least a day before I have to function as a human.
After 6 continents and countless hours in the air, here are my top tips for lessening the effects of jet lag.
- Eat lightly – Too much heavy food can disrupt your regular sleep pattern. When you gorge on yummy carbohydrates or fatty foods, you can fall into a stupor which may put you into a fitful sleep only to keep you awake later. Consider abstaining from a heavy meal just before or during your multi-time zone flight. I tend to nibble on fruit and nuts during the flight and have my heaviest meal early in the day.
- Move around – It is always a good idea to engage in movement, both during a flight and once you land. In addition to lowering the risk of DVT, moving and stretching can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms which can help you adjust to the new local time. I always try to take a walk around my hotel once I land and get settled.
- Avoid alcohol – Despite the fact that a little buzz from alcohol can put you to sleep, it is never restful sleep. Even worse, alcohol is dehydrating which, combined with dry airplane air, is a double whammy to your well-being. Have a glass of wine but don’t drink more than that if you are prone to jet lag. After all these years, I have never had a drink in the air….but I’ve more than made up for it on terra firma. =)
- Follow the sun – Try your best to stay awake during daylight hours. It can severely throw you off a schedule when you sleep during daylight. It may be a challenge, but if you can remain upright and awake until the sun sets, you will negate a lot of jet lag symptoms. When I arrived in Australia it was 5:30 AM and all I wanted to do was sleep. Since my hotel didn’t allow check-ins until 11 I was forced to stay awake by . As a result, not only did I get to enjoy the Royal Botanical Gardens without a single person in sight, but I managed to stay awake the rest of the day, ensuring a great night of sleep.
- Stay hydrated – I know…this appears on EVERY list I post but that is because is it SO DAMN important! Our bodies are about 60% water and, with the brain and heart each being more than 70%,it is vital to the proper functioning of everything that you not get dehydrated. Here is a rule of thumb that everyone can follow, even though I am loathe to mention it in polite company: If your urine is clear, pale or straw-colored, you are properly hydrated. Any darker and you need to drink more!
- Add a day – If you seriously suffer from jet lag, consider adding an extra day at the start of your trip. You can use this day to get your body adjusted to local time, sleep, and walk around during daylight to acclimate your internal clock. For me, this is an absolute must for any flights longer than 4 hours.
- Take a pill – I am not a proponent of medication for most things, but if you do find yourself struggling with sleep in your new destination, consider using something like melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by our pineal gland and it regulates our waking/sleeping cycles. Unlike chemical compounds, melatonin doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been hit with a rhino tranquilizer.
If you do plan to take a sleep supplement, be sure to test out how it affects you well before your travels. My supplement of choice are generic 10mg melatonin quick dissolve tablets from Walkgreen’s. One of these about 2 hours before I want to fall asleep and I am off to the land of nod without issue, no matter how much my mind is racing with travel plans, story ideas, or location photo ideas. Even better? It doesn’t make me sluggish or stupid the next morning.
There you have it – tips to avoid or lessen the effects of jet lag. What do you think? Did I list your favorite tip? Is there a tip that you swear by? Let me know in the comments!