Traveling to a new place is adventurous, exhilarating, fun, and a little bit exhausting. At some point every traveler has fallen victim to jet lag and it can be a real drag when you come back from vacation feeling tired, irritable, and stressed. Jet lag can strike whenever you travel across two or more time zones quickly due to circadian rhythm (your biological clock) being thrown off. Different cues such as light exposure, social activities, and mealtime can confuse your body as to what time it actually is. Instead of spending the days after a trip feeling worse for the wear, take control of your jet lag and kick it to the curb.
Before you leave:
Before you even board the plane, you can start to prep your body for the time shock it is about to go through. If you are going to be traveling east, start moving your bedtime a half hour earlier a few nights before you leave. If traveling west, do the opposite and move your bedtime later.
By making small adjustments, you won’t throw off your schedule completely in the new time zone—and you will be more prepared to adjust to your new destination sleep schedule.
During the flight:
When your flight takes off, disregard the time zone you left and keep your sleep schedule on the plane in tune with where you will land. Change your watch to the new time zone immediately so you can follow your new schedule. If you need to sleep on your flight, follow the same rules as you would at home to get a good night’s rest. No electronic screens, no caffeine, and no alcohol.
Also, drink lots of water! Fying can be very dehydrating and the symptoms of dehydration can make jet lag much more severe. If you are a nervous flyer swap a cocktail for chamomile tea or use lavender essential oils to help soothe your nerves and ease you off to dreamland.
Traveling is tiring, but as hard as it may be you have to try and stay awake until an appropriate bedtime at your new location. Hit the hay a bit earlier than you usually would, but if you try to nap upon arrival, you will likely struggle to go to bed at an appropriate time. If you are really wiped out, stay active to avoid falling asleep sooner than desired. Go on a walk, run errands, exercise, sightsee, or go out for a good meal. Whatever you do, don’t get in bed to watch a movie or read a book—you will risk falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the night!
If you have the opposite problem of being wide awake at night in your new location, try taking a long hot bath to help your body and mind relax. The drop in your body temperature when you get out of a bath can also help you feel tired. Don’t do anything too stimulating and try to stay relaxed. If you put too much pressure on yourself to fall asleep, you will never be able to.
Image: Harper’s Bazaar
The days following:
No matter what, it will take your body a little time to adjust to being in a new time zone. The best thing you can do is give yourself cushion time before any major events. Don’t schedule a day of guided tours on your first day of vacation or any important business meetings on your first day back home. Stress will aggravate how tired you are during the day and keep you awake when you should be sleeping at night.
To trick your body into adapting, expose your body to light and darkness at the appropriate times. In the days following travel, go outside and get a little extra sun. In the evenings keep the lights low so your body knows it is time to go to sleep soon.
For an extra burst of energy in the morning, squeeze in a quick exercise session but steer clear of physical activity at night. Exercise will give you an adrenaline rush, making it harder for you to sleep. And as tempting as it will be to load up on caffeine during the day and a glass of wine at night to help drift off, avoid stimulants that can mess with your body’s ability to adapt to your new schedule.
Do your best to stick to your morning and evening routine! Whether being in a new location is throwing you off or life is more chaotic than normal upon returning home, try to keep your morning and night routine consistent. This will signal your body that it is time to wake up and start your day or wind down and go to bed.
A little extra help:
If you really can’t shake the jet lag, it might be time to throw a little money at the problem. For those looking to avoid sleep medications, try taking a melatonin capsule or drinking some tart cherry juice, which is a natural source of the sleep-wake cycle hormone melatonin, to drift off to dreamland at an appropriate time.
For frequent time zone hoppers, it might be worth investing in a light therapy device such as Litebook Edge ($179). Not only can light therapy help your body wake up in the morning, if you are falling asleep too early it can be used to tell your body it is not time for bed yet.
Most celebs are travel experts and are no strangers to jet lag. Celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike all rave about The Organic Pharmacy’s homeopathic Arnica/Cocculus Jet Lag pills ($19). The pills are designed to fight symptoms of the mental fuzziness and sluggishness you feel when your circadian rhythm is thrown off by travel.