What is the secret to avoiding jet lag? Do you just have to suffer through it after a long-haul flight? How do you cure jet jag when you get home and have to get back to work?
Jet lag sucks. It is the bane of all multi time zone travelers.
My first experience with jet lag was during my first trip to Europe. I found out jet lag is annoying! Jet lag can also be quite debilitating for some people.
Learn all about surviving long haul flights and reducing or eliminating jet lag on your next trip.
What are the symptoms of Jet Lag?
Jet lag symptoms include the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Sadness/mild depression
- Stomach upset
You may experience some or all of these symptoms but it’s best to try an avoid getting the evil jet lag in the first place.
One of my friends told me the best cure for jet lag is to book a fantastic hotel room. She insists her jet lag melts away when she has the perfect place to stay!
My sleep patterns were disrupted and occasionally I had the sensation of still being on the plane – a bit like mild turbulence – but I was standing on the ground. It felt very strange.
I have learned how to cope with jet lag and more importantly how to reduce the chances of experiencing jet lag because waking up at 4 am is not my idea of the perfect morning.
What causes Jet Lag?
Rapid travel in either an east-west or west-east direction which upsets the body’s circadian rhythm causes jet lag. Circadian rhythm is our internal body clock – which tells us when to eat, sleep, etc.
The duration of the flight is not as important as the number of time zone changes. For instance flying south from Dallas Texas to São Paulo Brazil my flight took 9 hours but it was only a 1 hour time change so I did not experience jet lag.
Travel across multiple time zones and the fact that daylight or nighttime are not coinciding with our regular home base brings on the dreaded jet lag.
How to avoid jet lag
Here is what works best for me to avoid experiencing jet lag
Change your watch to match your destination time zone
I haven’t worn a watch in over fifteen years but I do change my travel alarm clock to match the destination time zone and I keep it in my carry-on bag so I can check the time.
Setting the time on my travel alarm to my destination time zone helps me get psyched for the time change.
Avoid jet lag by eating meals at destination meal times
Eat according to the destination time zone. For example when flying to Europe from North America on an overnight flight arriving at the destination early in the morning – I have a meal before boarding the plane because the in-flight meal is served at what would be the middle of the night at the destination.
I also bring healthy snack foods so I am not limited to the airline food which can be hideous at times. I like to bring pumpkin seeds, dates, an apple, and rice crackers. Beef jerky is another easy snack that I can also use while I’m hiking so it’s something I pack as a travel snack.
There is no conclusive evidence that shifting meals to the destination time zone will help to reduce jet lag but I swear it helps! After I added this to my annihilation of jet lag arsenal my jet lag has been minimal.
Sleep during the flight to reduce jet lag
This is especially important if you will be arriving at your destination early in the morning.
To aid in my ability to fall asleep I use the Lewis N Clark comfort eye mask, along with my Bose noise cancelling headphones, and an inflatable pillow by Lewis N Clark.
I probably look like a bit of a freak with all this gear but I don’t care. A bit of sleep on a long-haul flight is such a blessing. I also pack a pair of socks in my carry-on bag so I can take off my footwear and keep my feet warm.
Your feet will probably swell during the flight so make sure your footwear is either adjustable or big enough for your newly fat feet during the flight.
Avoid alcohol to keep jet lag away
I almost never drink alcohol during a flight anymore. Although when American Airlines upgraded me to business class from coach on a London to Chicago flight I found myself saying yes please to the champagne at 10:00 am! Alcohol dehydrates so it is not a good choice if you are trying to avoid getting jet lag.
If you insist on drinking while flying then you may want to try a little hair of the dog to get rid of your jet lag. I’m not trying to say you should drink more. But maybe just a wee dram wouldn’t hurt, eh?
Avoid caffeine to avoid jet lag
If I’m arriving at my destination in the morning hours when I would normally be drinking caffeine then I will definitely have a cup of tea or coffee in the morning. The rest of the flight I abstain completely.
Drink plenty of water to avoid jet lag
I always order 2 waters with no ice when the flight attendants come around with the beverage service. I also buy a bottle of water at the airport so I have it available before the flight crew serves drinks.
I sometimes fall asleep before the first visit from the flight attendants so having my own water supply is important to me.
A stainless steel water bottle is something I recently added to my travel gear because it is great while in transit as well as during day trips at my destination.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Healthy people recover from jet lag quicker and are less affected by jet lag. I do yoga every morning and swim 3 times per week for an hour each session.
At home I get 7 to 8 hours sleep each night (when traveling it’s a different story altogether). I eat healthy foods.
I believe diet, exercise, and adequate sleep are the 3 major factors to a healthy lifestyle. Hereditary of course trumps all.
Other suggestions for avoiding jet lag
These are some suggestions that I have not used (or it hasn’t worked for me) but I have either read about or heard from other travelers who found it beneficial in avoiding jet lag.
Melatonin to help with sleep
In the US melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement. Quality may vary substantially between brands because melatonin is unregulated.
The body naturally produces melatonin and rates normally rise in the evening and decrease in the morning. Some people swear by this stuff but I find it does nothing for me.
Some people use sleep medication, travel sickness medication, or anti-histamine which causes drowsiness – obviously consult with your doctor and pharmacist especially if you have any medical conditions.
I took some Valium during overnight bus trips in Thailand and it knocked me out but I felt so groggy in the morning it felt as if I had not slept at all. Perhaps I self-medicated with too strong a dosage?
When on long haul flights I will take one Dramamine (travel sickness medicine) and that seems to work just fine.
Shift eating/sleeping cycle to new time zone
Try shifting your bedtime and mealtimes to the time zone you will be traveling to. I have never successfully been able to do this. My internal clock is quite adamant that it doesn’t like being messed with!
Light therapy to help avoid jet lag
I’ve never tried this but it makes sense to me. Adjusting one’s exposure to light in order to help shift sleep cycles seems logical. I manage jet lag with my current regime but I would try light therapy if I experienced severe jet lag.
Essentially light therapy would start several days before traveling with more light exposure in the morning if traveling eastward – to help induce an earlier bedtime.
More exposure to light during evening hours for westward travel should help delay bedtime.
Best ways to deal with jet lag after flying
A good night’s sleep will help immensely – sleep medication or melatonin may help.
Eat at regular meal times to help your body adjust to the new time zone after a long haul flight.
There is some talk of adjusting exposure to sunlight but I would find this way too difficult to follow. It’s just too restrictive for me and my spontaneous plan making self.
What measures do you take to avoid or deal with jet lag?
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