Traveling through time zones is something that’s easy to calculate – 3 hour ahead, 12 hours behind. For the body, however, it’s not & it’s call Jet Lag! You leave your country at sunrise then you arrive 12 hours later also at sunrise. You’re perfectly aware of what’s happening, but your body’s going to be like, “It’s 6 p.m. why is the sun rising. I need to go to sleep but I had just slept in that high-pressure tube what’s going on?????”
Unfortunately for us travelers, jet lag is something we can’t avoid. We are so lucky to experience it twice – when we arrive in a new time zone and when we return home. Often, the jet lag from a new time zone is easier to manage because of adrenaline. But, when we return home to face our routines, chores, and catching up, jet lag can hit us pretty hard.
So, in my moment of jet lag, I’ve decided to write some tips on how to overcome it.
BUT FIRST, WHAT IS JET LAG?
According to the American Academy of Sleep, jet lag happens when a person travels across at least two time zones too fast. The body takes some time to adjust to a new schedule, so it acts confused for quite some time. When the outside factors are not in line with the body’s internal clock – jet lag.
The jet lag is worse when traveling eastward. The reasoning behind this is that the body naturally functions longer than 24 hours, but it somehow needs 24-hours to make a day work. When traveling east, the day is shortened significantly and the body has trouble coping.
However, when traveling west, hours are added into the day, which can be closer to the body’s natural day-hours.
HOW DO I KNOW I HAVE JET LAG?
You don’t actually have to scrutinize your body if you’re experiencing jet lag, because you’ll just feel it. If you:
You are most likely experiencing jet lag.
UNDERSTANDING THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
The circadian rhythm is the natural clock of an organism’s body. Notice how dogs seemingly know the exact time you hand out their dinner even without the capability to read clocks? It’s because the routine is coded into their body’s internal clock. Humans have it, too, and we rely on it more than what we think.
The circadian rhythm can be affected by external factors, such as sunlight and temperature. Simply having an understanding of what circadian rhythm means can help you be more logical in managing it while traveling across time zones.
10 TIPS TO COMBAT JET LAG
While there’s no pill that can prepare our bodies or take away our symptoms magically, we can take some steps to avoid jet lag or lessen it.
START ADJUSTING YOUR BODY CLOCK A FEW DAYS BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT
The American Academy of Sleep suggests to start preparing for your flight to a new time zone by adjusting your sleep and wake schedule. If flying eastward, start waking up an hour early each day for three days before your trip. If that’s not feasible, try to at least get to bed 15 minutes early and avoid sunlight an hour before the sun sets. That way, you’re slowly conditioning your body to live in the time zone of your destination.
Likewise, if you’re traveling west, go to bed later than usual. Start your day late, too, by sleeping in 30 to 60 minutes longer. You can wear sunglasses to lessen your exposure to sunlight in the morning. Remember, the circadian rhythm takes on outside cues to determine when it’s time to sleep or to wake up.
DON’T DRINK COCKTAILS AND COFFEE
Alcohol can mess up our regular sleep and wake cycle. Moreover, a hangover plus jet lag doesn’t sound too good an equation. Coffee is also not preferred. While it may help us stay awake when we need to, the crash a few hours after taking it is also not something you want to mix with jet lag.
SLEEP ON THE PLANE (OR DON’T)
If your plane is landing at night, try to be awake throughout your flight and if you’re arriving at noon, get as much sleep as you can. However, if your flight takes 20 plus hours, proceed to the next item.
You can stay awake by watching movies or binge-watching a series. Indulge in a thriller book. (Jack Reacher’s my insomnia). Or talk to your neighbor about your life, your love life, your dog, or whatever. Like you, flight attendants are trying to pass the time – ask them about their travel adventures and maybe you will score a few destination tips! You can walk down the aisle to keep the blood circulating. Keep yourself awake however you can, just not by drinking coffee.
LIVE IN THE TIME ZONE
As soon as your plane takes off, start adjusting your watches and the clock on your devices to the new time zone. If it’s evening there, wear some shades and get some sleep. If it’s the afternoon, you can sneak in a little afternoon nap if you must. Leave behind the time zone at home, it will only worsen the jet lag by constantly thinking about it.
LANDED! NOW DON’T SLEEP RIGHT AWAY (until local bedtime)
Yes, your five-star hotel bed feels nice and comfy, but crash when it’s actually time to sleep. While we may get seduced by the dreamy bed after not being able to sleep a wink in that airplane seat, it will do no help if you sleep immediately after landing.
Furthermore, you’ll probably go back to bad when it’s actually time to wake up and go exploring. Fight the urge to rest and get up and get moving. The natural light will help you adjust more quickly anyways. Walk the streets of this new lovely place, eat some local food, go shopping, visit the museum, or just chill at the park! Surely, a new place won’t fall short of new adventures.
GET EXPOSED TO LIGHT (or don’t)
As discussed earlier, light affects our sleep and wake cycle (which is why they want you to stay off the screens of your laptop and phones at least an hour before bedtime). One way of conditioning the body is to control the light it gets. If it’s supposed to be morning there and it’s night outside your airplane window, use light to your advantage. If it’s night there, and sunny outside the airplane window, then better use or eye mask or maybe wear sunglasses while flipping through a magazine.
TRY MELATONIN, TYLENOL PM OR PRESCRIPTION PILLS
While I don’t encourage taking medications regularly, if it’s what works for you, then go for it (with your doctor’s approval, of course). Melatonin is naturally occurring inside our body and if taken, it’s believed to help regulate our sleep and wake cycle.
Tylenol PM, or any other PM, on the other hand helps us to fall asleep, even if in a cramped space as an economy seat. However, medications have side effects. Make sure you know what you’re getting into. If you plan to work after landing, this option is probably not your first choice. Try the other tips first!
Prescription sleeping pills are also an option. If you think they are right for you, then set boundaries. I will only take a pill if the flight is 7 hours or longer. No drinking!
Dehydration worsens the symptoms of jet lag so make sure you drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your flight. Three days before your flight, drink an extra liter of water. During these three days, include one glass of water with EmergenC vitamin packet.
Two hours before your flight, use an EmergenC vitamit packet. Then drink often on your flight.
DON’T EAT! REALLY, DON’T EAT!
This article from the NY Times says that starvation may reset our body clock. (warning: not tested on humans!) By subjecting ourselves to a no-food torture for about 16 hours and then eating as soon as the plane lands is enough for our body to adjust to the new time zone.
It’s worth a try! It worked for me!
WHEN NOT TO ADJUST!
On three-day vacations or business trips, it’s may be wiser to stay on your country’s time zone. Scientists say that it’s not worth it to adjust to a new time zone for just a three-day stay. After your body fully adjusts to the new time zone, it will then be time to leave and your body will have to begin adjusting again.
Jet lag is certainly not a wonderful experience, but it can be a reminder that we’ve gone to a new destination where we made new memories and gained new insight to the world. Simply having a positive outlook can help too!