Jet lag’s the worst. And because so many factors affect its severity, you never know how bad you’ll get it. Some travelers will claim not to be affected hardly at all by the change in schedule, while others will admit to being steamrolled by it for days or even weeks after arrival in a new time zone, but certainly no one can deny that it’s unpleasant, to say the least.
Widely studied by the medical community world-wide, jet lag’s defined in the New England Journal of Medicine as “a disorder” resulting from “crossing time zones too rapidly for the circadian clock to keep pace.” Circadian rhythm is our brain’s way of telling us, by administering chemicals, when we should be awake or asleep, usually tied in with the rising and setting of the sun.
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Unfortunately for long-haul travelers, the body’s natural clock is not quick to reset, certainly not as quick as a plane travels, and when multiple time zones are crossed it gets confused and cranky.
Things that may make your jet lag worse:
- Number of time zones crossed: The farther you travel eastward or westward, the harder it’ll be to adjust to local time.
- Direction of travel: Going west is easier on people’s internal clocks than going east. Remember when it comes to jetlag: West is best, east is beast.
- Sleep loss during travel: This is especially problematic with overnight flights, so take an eye mask and a neck pillor and skip the movie.
- Personal tolerance: Of course everyone’s bodies and cycles are different. Specifically studies have shown that children and adults over 60 have a harder time adjusting to time changes.
7 Tips for Beating Jet lag
1. Adjust your sleep schedule
Probably the best way to minimize jet lag is to change your sleep schedule before you go, at least 1 or 2 hours toward the destination. After you arrive gradually adjust your schedule until you’re more or less on local time.
2. Drink lots of liquids
Be sure to hydrate—as much as you can. Drink. And then drink some more. Water, not coffee or alcohol–they can dehydrate you and make your jet lag worse.
3. Consider a sleeping pill
Sleeping pills can be your best friend if you have a long-flight or think you won’t be able to get any rest because of your jet lag. But you’ll need to talk to your doctor, and you can’t mix them with alcohol.
4. Take a nap
But keep it short (20-30 minutes). You don’t want to get your sleep schedule any further out of whack–too long of a nap might give you insomnia when it’s time for bed.
5. Try Melatonin
A natural hormone your body administers to help regulate sleep, Melatonin is a popular natural sleep aid, and some travelers also use it to counteract jet lag. Doses must be correctly timed to get the best results, so you may want to consult a homeopathic practicioner for advice. Melatonin can be purchased in the US as a nutritional supplement but hasn’t been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, so please use with caution.
6. Stay active
Moving around and getting plenty of exercise at destination will help your body adjust more quickly, and help keep you awake, especially if you do so outdoors in natural daylight. Some studies have shown that it might be helpful to get your exercise in at the same time locally as you would at home, so if you train at 6pm every evening in New York, try to train at 6pm local time at destination, too.
Recent studies have shown that eating normally the day before your flights, and then fasting immediately before and during your flight for 14 hours or more and then eating as close to local meal time as possible upon arrival may reduce jet lag symptoms.