Dealing With Jet Lag
In the last dozen or two years we have made a number of international trips. There have been times when we hardly experienced jet lag at all, but a few trips took days to recover. Our experience has taught us a few things including what causes the worst jet lag. It seems that traveling east causes more problems with jet lag than traveling west. We also believe that what time the flight starts can have a big impact on how serious jet lag will be. Generally late evening flights are the better than morning flights especially on long trips. Our biggest issue is usually insomnia with the worst being a Singapore to Florida trip that literally took a few days to readjust from.
The most serious issue is flying across time zones where your body times evening becomes the destinations morning (or other way round). In addition to insomnia there is often gastrointestinal issues, and difficulty concentrating.
Instead of just letting it happen you can reduce jet lag by preparing for your flight and making sure during your flight you get as much sleep as possible. After the flight spend as much time as you can out in the sunshine to quickly adjust to the local time.
Here’s what the experts suggest:
Before Your Flight
Adjust Your Schedule
A few days before the trip adjust sleeping and eating schedule. Depending on the trip start a couple of days to up to a week before the flight. Traveling east, go to bed between one and two hours earlier each night. Traveling west, go to bed one or two hours later in the days before the flight. This gives your body a chance to adjust to new time zones ahead of time.
The same applies to your eating a few days before your flight. Change meal times closer to when people eat at the destination so your body gets used to the new meal times. If dinner time is several hours behind in your destination, have your dinner an hour or two earlier than usual.
To reduce stress on your system avoid coffee and alcohol a day before your flight. Studies have shown that drinking coffee and alcohol before you fly can make your jet lag worse. Try to stay away from coffee and alcohol before you are set to fly. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water leading up to your flight.
Carry a water bottle and fill it in the departure area. You can also have the bottle filled on the plane so you can stay hydrated while in the air.
Book Flights At The Right Times
Whenever possible book an overnight flight. This allows you to have dinner at a normal time in the evening making it easier to sleep on the flight during the night. Depending on your destination, you then arrive in the morning after an overnight flight having gotten some sleep. This makes adjusting to the new time zone once you land much easier. Try to avoid long flights where you land in the evening as these can aggravate jet lag.
Change your watch to the timezone of your destination when you board your flight. If you wear a watch, change the time so it matches the timezone of your destination. You can also adjust the clock on your cellphone. Doing this will help you get accustomed to the new timezone and ready for a new sleeping and eating schedule.
Get Rest During Your Flight
Airlines seem to want to distract passengers during a flight and often provide food, snacks and drinks and often show movies in flight. Even if it’s a movie you wanted to see, is it worth suffering serious jet lag for a day or two afterwords? Travel with a pillow and eye mask. It’s really important that you get some sleep on the plane. You could also pack headphones or earplugs to block out noise or distractions on the flight.
Taking Sleeping Pills
Only take sleeping pills during the flight if you are used to using them. If you are not used to them or taking too many can make you feel groggy when you land, and could end up making your jet lag even worse. Discuss this with your doctor before taking a sleeping pill during your flight.
Try and Get Some Exercise
Get out of your seat some and walk in the aisle of the plane, especially during a long flight. Doing light exercise and moving your body can help improve your blood circulation on the flight. It can also help you get to sleep more easily.
Avoiding Jet Lag Once You Land
Get Outside Once You Reach Your Destination*
It’s important to get some exposure to natural sunlight. Light exposure regulates your body’s circadian rhythm and helps you adjust to your new location. If you traveled westward, go outside in the evening so your system realizes it’s late. If you traveled eastward, in the morning get exposed to sunlight early in the day.
*Avoid going outside if you’ve traveled more than eight time zones. If you’ve traveled more than eight time zones to the east, wear sunglasses and stay away from bright light in the morning. Then, try to get as much sunlight as possible in the afternoon.
If you traveled more than eight time zones to the west, avoid outdoor light a few hours before dark for the first few days so you system can adjust to the local time.
Eat At The Local Time
Once at your destination, try to have meals at the local time so your system can adjust. If you land at night, for example, have dinner at the local time. If you land in the morning, have breakfast at the local time.
If you find yourself getting hungry between meals times, have snacks to keep you satisfied. Only have large meals at the local time so you can adjust better to the new time. Keep hydrated. Make sure you have a lot of water with your meals. Dehydration can make your jet lag much worse.
Adjust Your Sleep Schedule.
You should sleep based on the local time and stick to a “normal” sleep schedule. This will make your jet lag less intense and help your body better adjust to the new time zone. If you land in the early evening, stay awake until the late evening so you can go to sleep at the new appropriate time. If you get in early in the day, stay awake until the evening so again your sleep time matches the local time.
Take Melatonin To Help You Sleep
If you struggle with going to sleep in the new time zone, consider taking melatonin. Melatonin is a nonprescription drug that has been shown to help set your internal clock and make going to sleep much easier. Having 3 milligrams of melatonin before bed for several days after arrival can help regulate your sleep schedule. Again talk to your doctor about taking melatonin before you go on your trip.