Traveling through time zones? Amazing. Kicking off your vacay with jet lag? Not so amazing. While traveling and seeing the world has tons of perks, nothing can put a damper on your trip like the dreaded jet lag. Struggling to stay awake or fall asleep, feeling exhausted and cranky, and having digestive problems—who wants to deal with that while on vacation? While some adjustment period is expected when you change time zones, jet lag doesn’t have to ruin your trip, so we spoke with health and nutrition experts for their best tips and tricks to prevent and manage jet lag. Bon voyage!
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What is jet lag?
Sometimes called jet lag disorder, it’s defined by the Mayo Clinic as, “a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who travels quickly across multiple time zones.”
The symptoms can include:
- waking up too early
- feeling extremely fatigued
- having difficulty concentrating or functioning
- constipation or diarrhea
- a thrown-off appetite
- general feelings of not being well
- mood changes
Symptoms can vary in intensity but tend to get worse the farther from home you travel. Adjusting to a destination that’s an hour or two off, for example, is different than hopping across continents where the clock jumps half a day ahead. Thankfully, you don’t have to simply struggle through. No matter how far away your destination is, there are a few things you can do to prevent and manage jet lag.
How to prevent jet lag
Before the flight
To ward off jet lag, you can try to prepare your circadian rhythm by adjusting your bedtimes a few days before your trip. “Everyone has their own internal circadian clock that instinctually tells you it’s time to eat or sleep,” said Ani Baran, a licensed acupuncturist and owner of NJ Acupuncture Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. When your typical schedule is thrown off, that’s when problems can happen.
Ahead of your flight, try going to bed an hour earlier or later (depending on whether your destination’s time zone is ahead or behind your current one) than you usually would to prep your body for the change. For a mental cue, set your watch to the new time before you leave.
Baran also stresses the importance of eating and drinking healthfully prior to your travels. This ensures your body is equipped with plenty of vitamins and minerals to help it adjust to the time change.
If you’re into acupuncture, that can also help prevent and treat the side effects, Baran said. According to traditional Chinese medicine, sleep is dependent on the balance of your qi, or energy. Acupuncture can help ensure the flow of qi is balanced before, during, and after flying, keeping your circadian rhythm in check, Baran explained.
During the flight
While you’re in flight, drink plenty of water and limit caffeine. Some coffee is OK, but “you don’t need to get jacked up on caffeine to keep up,” said Vanessa Rissetto, registered dietitian and co-founder of Culina Health. That’s a surefire way to crash and burn. Instead, she stressed the importance of hydration, which can help decrease the bloating that often comes along with travel and help fend off constipation—a common side effect of crossing time zones.
Listening to your body is also key. If your flight is overnight, it’s generally not a good idea to stay awake in hopes of already being adjusted when you land. Fighting through extreme fatigue will only make things worse, so sleep if you feel tired.
After the flight
The Mayo Clinic recommends that you try to start operating on the local schedule as quickly as possible when you land. If it’s daytime at your destination, resist the urge to nap, and instead, go outside in the natural light. If you landed in the evening, go to bed when the locals do.
To manage jet lag symptoms, you’ll also want to keep sugar to a minimum. Especially if you are already sensitive to it, sugar can disrupt your sleep, Rissetto explained. You may experience a “sugar crash” that leaves you feeling sleepy, but once you fall asleep, “your body will try to metabolize all the sugar you ate, and it could keep you up,” she said. So keep the sweets to a minimum while you hydrate.
“If you’re already jet-lagged, try to focus on nutrient-dense foods to ensure your body is getting what it needs,” Rissetto said. “Think veggie-loaded soups, protein, healthy fats, and limiting alcohol.” In other words, go easy on your body while it’s adjusting!
And—as if you needed an excuse—Baran recommended massage therapy as a way to ease the body back to its natural rhythm. “Massages help by stimulating acupuncture points manually but gently, which can help reset the internal circadian clock,” she said. Massage therapists can also focus on different body parts to stimulate blood and lymph flow and relax tense muscles after travel.
And if you’ve tried everything to no avail, patience is your last resort. Rissetto and Baran agree that although everyone is different, most people will naturally adjust within about two days.