Jet lag has the potential to cast a shadow on any trip, whether that’s an important business trip or the vacation of a lifetime. And once you’re home again, adjusting to your usual schedule can take longer than you bargained for.
What is jetlag, anyway? Put simply, it’s when your body clock gets confused in a different time zone.
“Cues such as light exposure, mealtimes, social engagement, and activities regulate our circadian rhythm,” Allison Siebern, Ph.D., told WebMD. “When you cross time zones, it disrupts those, and your internal clock and the external time are desynchronized. Your body needs to get into the rhythm of the new time zone.”
Shift your schedule before you leave.
You can gradually move your bedtime earlier or later by 15-minute chunks for a few days before you leave, to help you adjust once you’re traveling. “Most people sleep best in their bed, and therefore it is best to gradually shift at home,” Lisa Medalie, Psy.D., a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, told Forbes. “If flying east, passengers should gradually advance (i.e., move bedtime earlier), and if flying west they should gradually delay (i.e., move bedtime later).” Another idea is to start eating your meals around when you’ll be eating at your destination.
As soon as you get on the plane, change the clocks on your watch and phone to the time at your final destination.
This will help your brain get used to the new time zone before you’ve even arrived.
If it’s nighttime at your final destination, get some sleep. If not, try to stay awake throughout the flight.
If you have trouble falling asleep on planes, come prepared with earplugs and an eye mask. If you have space in your carry-on luggage, cozy socks and a warm travel blanket can make a huge difference, too.
If you’re trying to sleep at a truly wacky time, like on a morning flight, you may find that a melatonin supplement will help you nod off — but test this at home first to see how your body reacts. Finally, don’t rely on booze to help you fall asleep. While a glass of wine may ease you to sleep, overdoing it will leave you dehydrated and even more tired than usual.
Get some sunlight.
Once you arrive at your destination, get outside. “Getting into the sunlight can help sync up your internal clock with the new time zone—but the time of day that you get outdoors is important,” the National Sleep Foundation website advises. “If you travel eastward, you’ll want to soak up the sun in the morning. But if you fly west to get to your destination, get outside later in the day or in the early evening if the sun is still out.”
Try to avoid napping the day away.
After an exhausting overnight flight, crashing for several hours can be very appealing. If you can power through without napping, you’re more likely to fall asleep at an appropriate time that night. If you must nap, do so before 4 PM, and don’t sleep longer than one hour.
Stick to light meals.
Try not to eat heavy foods that will make you feel tired and sluggish afterward. Keep your energy up by enjoying lighter foods and staying as active as possible.
When it’s time to return home, try to get back to your normal routine as soon as possible.
If you’re really struggling with jetlag, give yourself a few days to get “back to normal.” It can be tough to overcome but know that it will eventually pass.
[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.]
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