The Jet Lag Survival Guide

Tips & Tricks

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Nothing ruins a perfectly good day of vacation faster than falling asleep in the middle of your meal or waking up hours past sunrise. Jet lag is a problem that plagues even the most experienced of travelers, but there are ways to fight against it and keep your body feeling fresh and ready to go no matter what time zone you’re in. Here's a few tips to surviving the plight of jet lag.

What Causes Jet Lag?

Man asleep on a hotel bed in daytime clothes and shoes
Credit: bernardbodo/ iStock

We’ve all heard weary travelers mutter about what time their body thinks it is when they stumble off of a long flight. In essence, that’s exactly what jet lag is — your body’s confusion about what time of day it actually is. Skipping over time zones messes with your circadian rhythm, which in turn leads to feelings of grogginess, exhaustion, and even anxiety.

Jet lag is considered a temporary sleep disorder and isn’t a serious condition, but it can be seriously inconvenient or uncomfortable especially while traveling. The human body isn’t built to travel such long distances so quickly, so it needs time to make the proper adjustments to simple biological timekeepers.

Have you ever noticed how your pets seem to know exactly when it’s time to eat or go to bed even though they can’t read a clock? Your body has the same abilities, and it gets more than a little confused when you go jetting off halfway around the world and tinkering with its ability to govern itself. Luckily, there are a few little tips and tricks you can use to keep the symptoms at bay.

Fight the Pillow

White bed with pillows next to a nightstand and a sign that says "Stay Weird"
Credit: Charlota Blunarova/ Unsplash

No, this doesn’t mean having a pillow fight. It means resisting the urge to go to bed at an irregular time after landing in a new location. Sure, your body might think that 6 p.m. sounds like a great bedtime, but if you give in and go to sleep, you’ll have an even more difficult time adjusting the next day. Try to ignore the urge and keep yourself awake until a normal bedtime. If you can’t fight the need for a nap, set a timer to make sure it’s only 45 minutes at most.

Some experts even recommend prepping your body for the change in time zones by slowly shifting your schedule in the days before departure. This could mean going to bed earlier or taking doses of melatonin at what will be your new bedtime. There are several apps, such as Jet Lag Rooster and Timeshifter that can help you plan out the new schedule.

The general rule of thumb is that for each time zone you skip, your body will take one day to adjust. So, if you travel through eight time zones, you should expect an eight-day recovery time. This can, of course, change based on factors such as your age, previous sleeping patterns (and tendency towards insomnia), and how effectively you take measures to combat the jet lag. It’s also generally said that traveling east is more taxing on your body than traveling west.

Hydrate and Keep the Blood Flowing

Man walking on a mountain ridge at sunrise with clouds in the background
Credit: Jad Limcaco/ Unsplash

It should come as no surprise that airplane travel is a dehydrating experience, but did you know that dehydration affects more than just your thirst levels and skin appearance? Dehydration can increase the effects of jet lag since the high altitude of the pressurized cabin lowers oxygen levels in the blood. This makes it even more difficult for your circadian rhythm to make the adjustment. Staying hydrated keeps the blood flowing at an even pace and smooths out the transition.

Exercising is also great for kick-starting your system into adjusting to the new morning schedule. If you wake up incredibly groggy from jet lag, doing some light movements to get your blood moving will help remind your body that daytime has arrived. On the flip side, try to avoid working out at night if you find that you naturally have more energy. It could lead to feeling even more awake and increased difficulty falling asleep.

Embrace Natural Light

Woman stretching in front of a window, wearing PJs
Credit: Jad Limcaco/ Unsplash

Part of the way that our body knows to wake up in the morning or feel tired at night is due to the presence of sunlight. Upon arriving in your new destination, keep those blackout curtains pulled wide open during daylight hours to give your body a reminder of daytime that’s impossible to ignore. It’s also a good idea to invest in a nice eye mask for the flight that can create a nighttime environment even if you're flying through sunny skies.

If natural light is the best way to wake up in the morning, then artificial blue light is the best way to accidentally stay awake at night. As a growing health trend in everyday life as well, the avoidance of blue light in the evening or near bedtime can be particularly helpful when it comes to fighting jet lag. Wearing blue light glasses or avoiding the use of technology near bedtime is helpful when trying to lull your body to sleep at a time when it thinks it should be awake. Leave your friends in other time zones behind for a while and let your mind meld with the one you’re in.

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