Ah, jet lag, that pesky side effect of long-haul flights. Known medically as “desynchronosis,” jet lag happens when our bodies’ circadian rhythms fall out of sync with the cycle of the day. If you’ve ever traveled through two or more time zones, you’re already familiar with the signs: exhaustion and grogginess, loss of appetite, trouble focusing, memory issues. Though there’s no one magic cure for this disorder, you can overcome the worst of it by following a few simple steps. Read on to learn how you can minimize the impact of jet lag and start your adventure feeling fresh rather than fatigued.
Before the flight
Shift your schedule ahead of time
Even before you head to the airport, it’s wise to start shifting your body-clock. By moving your bedtime earlier or later ― depending on which direction you’ll be flying ― you can dramatically reduce the effects of jet lag. The more you align your circadian rhythm (or, your body’s routine of sleeping and eating) with the time zone in your destination, the easier it will be to fully adjust once you arrive. As a rule of thumb, go to sleep earlier in the days before you fly east, or move your bedtime later if flying west. To help you adjust your schedule, consider downloading an anti-jet lag app or using an online tool. In addition to shifting your schedule, always be sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before you fly, which will help you cope with any jet lag you may experience.
If possible, book a flight that arrives during the day
Over the course of millions of years of evolution, our circadian rhythms have synced up with the solar day, which means that our bodies can be powerfully influenced by sunlight. So, depending on where you’re traveling to, it’s a good idea to finagle your flights so that you arrive in/at your new time zone during the day. When you arrive, try to get outside and go for a walk first thing — the sunlight and fresh air will help to “reset” your body clock and get you acclimated faster.
Add a stopover
If your itinerary has any flexibility, consider adding a stopover somewhere en route to break up a long-haul flight and reduce the impact of jet lag. It’s a great way to adapt your routine slowly ― and add an extra destination to your adventure! You can find and book a stopover using Skyscanner’s multi-city flight search tool, and some airlines even offer stopovers at no extra charge.
Tempting as it is to kick off your vacation with a celebratory drink, try to steer clear of booze before you fly. That gin and tonic at the airport may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it will actually make the effects of jet lag worse: the alcohol will leave you feeling fatigued and dehydrated, both of which will work against you and make it harder for your body to acclimate. So, opt for water instead!
During the flight
Speaking of hydration, drinking lots of water is a vital step in mitigating the effects of jet lag. Your body functions best when it is healthy and hydrated, so you will be well equipped to adjust to your destination if you drink water early and often throughout your travels. Pack a reusable water bottle (avoiding liquid restrictions by leaving it empty as you go through security), and be sure to bring it with you in your carry-on to sip throughout the flight. Though you may have to get up to use the lavatory more often, it’s far less inconvenient than the effects of jet lag.
Keep your body moving
To continue off of our last point, moving around is actually beneficial when on a long-haul flight. It will get your blood flowing and help combat jet lag by improving your circulation. Additionally, standing up and moving around during your flight will reduce your risk of getting deep vein thrombosis (DVT) ― also known as economy class syndrome ― which can be a real danger of flying for extended periods. Stretching your legs is also your best defense against the general body stiffness and soreness that comes from sitting in uncomfortable airplane seats. So, remember to get up and move!
Know When to Sleep and Stay Awake
Even if you are the kind of traveler who sleeps on long flights, sometimes it’s better not to. If it’s daytime in your destination, try to avoid sleeping on your flight so that you can get in sync with that time zone. Instead, use the time to read, watch a movie, or get some work done. Though it may be slightly boring staying awake on the plane for hours, your body will thank you for it later. On the other hand, if you’re flying when people would normally be sleeping in your destination, it’s best to get some shut-eye, as this will get you into your new rhythm.
After the flight
Eat in line with your new time zone
In addition to sleeping, eating according to mealtimes in your destination’s time zone can help you acclimate and beat jet lag quicker. In a diet trialed by the U.S. National Guard, personnel alternated feasting and fasting in the days before traveling long distances and reported a decrease in the effects of jet lag. The good news is: it’s easy to adapt this diet to your travel plans! Just fast immediately before and during your flight (while still staying hydrated), then eat at the first mealtime after you arrive. This method ― or any variation ― will reset your internal clock and get you off on the right foot.
Get some exercise
Once you arrive, you’ll no doubt be fatigued from traveling, and will probably want to check into your accommodation for a nap. Try to fight this urge and opt for some cardio or a brisk walk instead. Studies have shown that exercising the first day or two after arriving in a new location has a huge impact on your body’s ability to adjust to time changes. Not only will the natural light aid in resetting your circadian rhythm, but the burst of exercise will improve circulation, lift your mood, boost your energy level, and promote a healthy sleep pattern. What more could you ask for?
Take (short) naps
Finally, if you’re really struggling to keep your eyes open, take a short nap (30 to 60 minutes). This amount of sleep is ideal, as it will increase your energy to get through the rest of the day while still leaving you tired enough for a good night’s sleep. Once you make it through the first day of your trip, you’ll be ready to have an “anchor sleep” ― more than four hours ― which will anchor your body in your new routine and help to reset your circadian rhythm.
Now you’re ready to jet-set with confidence! But don’t forget: if you feel a little off at the start of your adventure, just stay hydrated, eat well, and get some exercise. You’ll feel back to normal in no time.
Curious how you can maintain wellness while traveling? Click here!