Anyone who’s ever traveled overseas or hopped a few time zones knows that jet lag is a real drag. Jet lag affects most travelers, and includes symptoms like sleepiness during the day, insomnia at night, poor concentration, irritability, headaches, and hunger at off hours. I've found that as a general rule of thumb, for each hour of time difference, it takes that many full days to get your schedule back on track. So, if you are flying somewhere that is three hours ahead, it will take three full days for you to feel normal again. But, when you’re making a quick turnaround or dealing with a several-hour difference, who has all that time to adjust? Luckily, there are a few things you can do to fight jet lag or at least make it less intense.
Whether you’re planning a European vacation or 48 hours on the opposite coast, these tips will help you adapt to the time difference and enjoy your travels like a local.
Jet lag hits those with rigid sleep schedules the hardest. So, if you have a trip coming up, try to gradually adjust your bedtime by going to sleep earlier or later for at least four days before you travel. If it helps prepare you mentally, you can also add your destination to your world clock on your phone and check it frequently to remind yourself of the new local time.
If you’re traveling somewhere that is a few hours ahead, it will be a lot harder to fall asleep at night. If solutions like drinking chamomile tea or unplugging earlier don't work for you, try taking an over-the-counter melatonin supplement — a natural hormone that your body produces to regulate your circadian rhythm — to help you get to sleep those first couple of nights. If you’ve never taken melatonin before, definitely consult your doctor.
If you’re traveling somewhere that is a few hours behind your local time, it’s important that you keep yourself awake until a normal hour that first night after you land. No matter how exhausted you are, make a concerted effort to stay awake until at least 9 or 10 p.m. But be sure to avoid caffeine so that when you do fall asleep, you’ll snooze soundly. If you can manage to stay awake until bedtime, you’ll hopefully sleep deeply and wake up feeling refreshed at a normal hour.
Need help keeping all these tips straight? Apps like Jet Lag Genie or Jet Lag Rescue make things easy by creating a schedule of when to eat, sleep, nap, and take melatonin in order to adjust to the new time zone seamlessly. (Click here to see more of our favorite iPhone apps you might want to download before traveling!).
Many of jet lag’s symptoms (headache, irritability, upset stomach) can be further irritated by dehydration. So, while drinking plenty of water won’t cure your jet lag woes, it can prevent them from getting even worse. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol and caffeine for those first couple of days since both substances can dehydrate you.
Sunlight is a powerful stimulant when it comes to regulating your biological clock. Spend as much time outdoors as you can on your first day in a new time zone. And, when it comes time to go to bed, use a sleep mask or blackout shades so that you can snooze uninterrupted.
Do you have any big spring or summer trips planned? Share your own travel plans and jet lag tips in the comments!
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