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How to Prevent Jet Lag Like a Pro

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After a long-haul flight across several time zones do you ever have a terrible headache, and feel all-around lousy? Well chances are you’re experiencing travel fatigue, or jet lag.

Travel fatigue can affect the most seasoned frequent flyers. Even pilots and flight attendants can experience it’s symptoms.

Some people can recover from travel fatigue within a couple of days. For others, it can take as long as 5 days to a week trying to get over their symptoms.

It can get frustrating if you have business meetings or fun vacation plans on the first few days of your trip.

So if you don’t want to waste precious days trying to recover while on vacation, read up and prepare.

This article will teach you how to prevent jet lag so you can keep traveling like a pro.

First let’s learn a little bit more about the science behind travel fatigue.

The Causes and Symptoms of Jet Lag

The key to overcoming jet lag quickly lies in understanding what happens to your body. When you cross several time zones you can disrupt your internal body clock.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the science behind this.

Your internal body clock, or circadian rhythm runs on a 24-hour cycle. Crossing time zones disrupts that cycle.

Your circadian rhythm is in charge of triggering:

  • hormones
  • sleepiness or activeness
  • bowel movements /urination
  • hunger and of feeling full

Disrupting your circadian rhythm can cause:

  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • dehydration
  • constipation
  • dizziness.

And these symptoms are not limited to long-haul flights. Some people experience these effects when they take a domestic plane ride in the same time zone.

How’s that possible?

The brightness in the plane cabin can inhibit melatonin production. Melatonin production causes you to feel sleepy.

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Throughout the day, your melatonin levels rise and fall to match your current time zone. Your levels have to be adjusted later to match the time zone of your travel destination

No melatonin means no sleep, and that leaves you feeling tired and irritable when you land.

These symptoms can get ugly. But you don’t have to take this lying down. There are ways to lessen the symptoms.

Now that you know what it can do to your travel-weary body, let’s take a look at the top tried and tested cures.

How to Prevent Jet Lag and Relieve Your Symptoms

I’m sure you’ve heard people claim some strange cures and remedies – such as shining a light on the back of your knees or taking Viagra pills.

Doesn’t sound too promising does it?

But trust us, it’s not hopeless.

Instead of following these far-fetched remedies, plan ahead and make little changes in your routine. Making adjustments before, during, and after your trip can better prepare you for dealing with travel fatigue.

Here are our tips on how to prevent and overcome even the most daunting travel fatigue:

BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT

Choose an Appropriate Flight Schedule.

Select a flight that will land at your destination during early evening. This schedule works best because you can get your needed rest while your body properly adjusts to the new time zone.

Avoid booking overnight flights if you can. Also try and get an aisle seat in the center section.

Yes, you’ll be disturbed occasionally when those beside you need to get out, but it’s far better to have the freedom to get up and move around.

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It also makes it much easier to get access to the overhead compartment when you need something out of your bag.

If you get to know the people beside you well enough, you can politely ask them to use the restrooms if you’re going to try and sleep during your flight.

Not always possible, but that can reduce the number of times they disturb you after that.

Travel Tip: Use a Jet Lag Calculator

These are tools designed to help your body clock adjust after crossing several time zones. Here’s how it works:

  1. Enter your trip details (your destination, departure and arrival times, etc.)
  2. Follow your customized travel plan
  3. Sit back, relax and enjoy your trip

Also adjust your travel itinerary. Don’t plan to attend business meetings or fun vacation outings for the first day of your trip.

Try to free up half of the day to allow your body to adjust to the new time zone.

Adjust your sleep schedule three days before your trip.

Instead of struggling to adjust once you arrive at your destination, try to get your body used to the change days before you leave.

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If you’re traveling east, wake up and go to bed earlier than usual. If you are going west, do it much later than normal.

Introduce these 1 to 2-hour changes at least three days before the flight for your body to be prepared for the time zone change.

It might disrupt your current schedule and activities but it’s better to prepare and adjust early. Don’t waste precious days of your trip trying to recover. A few simple changes to your normal routine is worth it.

Rest and Eat Light Before Your Flight.

Make sure you are well rested before your flight.

You’ll put yourself at a disadvantage if you begin your trip without the proper amount of sleep. Doctors recommend a full 7-8 hours of sleep.

If you’re traveling west, we suggest trying to go to bed a little later. For those of you traveling east, you should try and get to bed a bit earlier than normal. This will help you adjust to the schedule of your destination’s time zone.

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Also avoid having a heavy meal before your flight. High-fat meals are hard to digest and can lead to difficulty sleeping.

Eat balanced meals composed of protein, complex carbohydrates, and vegetables. We recommend trying the Argonne Anti-Jet Lag Diet.

The diet alternates between days of feasting on lost pf protein and carbs and light fasting days.  While it might be extreme for some, we suggest at least testing it out.

You’ll need to watch what you eat for a few days until you’re settled in at your destination.

DURING YOUR FLIGHT

Adjust Your Watch to the New Time Zone.

Once you step onto the plane, adjust your watch. Start thinking of your activities in accordance with the new time zone.

Envisioning your activities will prepare you psychologically.

Depending on where you’re traveling, you might have to sleep or fight off sleep during your trip to match your destination’s time zone.

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Fight the urge to sleep outside of the normal sleeping hours in the local time of your destination.

Do this by keeping your mind engaged in stimulating activity and banish any thoughts of sleeping.

Pack items in your carry-on that will help you say awake. Things like books, magazines, or even just chatting with your fellow passengers will help you fight off your drowsiness.

So let’s say it’s the opposite and you’re having trouble sleeping on your flight. Pack items like a travel pillow, noise canceling headphones, and eye masks to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine.

It will be tempting to down a cup of coffee to keep you awake.

Don’t do it. It will only make your symptoms worse.

Drink water instead and plenty of it. Doctors recommend drinking 1 liter or 8 glasses of water a day.

Your body may not show signs of dehydration so drink even if you’re not thirsty.

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The cabin’s low humidity is similar to a place with a dry climate, making it more likely to become dehydrated.

Dehydration only increases your symptoms.

If you ask around, you might have heard that drinking alcohol will help you sleep and overcome travel fatigue.

Wrong.

Alcohol also runs the risk of dehydrating you. Instead of preventing jet lag, you’ll experience travel fatigue AND a mean hangover.

Exercise and Keep Active.

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Sitting for a long time in one position contributes hugely to travel fatigue. Doing some light exercises on the plane can help lessen the effects.

Take the time to walk up and down the aisle. If you’re a little more daring, you can perform some simple stretches all from the comfort of your seat. 

Check out some modified yoga poses that you can do while on the plane too.

Recommended: 5 Airplane Yoga Poses

  1.  Neck roll:As you exhale, move your right ear towards your right shoulder looking down toward your chest. Then inhale and move your left ear towards your left shoulder and look up. Repeat the other direction.
  2. Neck stretches:Inhale looking straight ahead. Then, as you exhale, turn your head and look right. Repeat this process on the other side.
  3. Shoulder lift. As you inhale, raise your shoulders toward your ears. Then exhale and release your shoulders.
  4. Seated Cat-Cow: Place your hands flat on your thighs. As you inhale, look up and draw your chest forward and your shoulders back. As you exhale, look down, rounding your spine and drawing your shoulders forward. Repeat this exercise several times.
  5. Seated twist. Place your right hand on your left knee or left armrest. As you inhale, lengthen your spine. Then exhale and twist to your left, drawing your left shoulder back.  Look back over your left shoulder.  Repeat on the other side.

These stretches, paired by taking a stroll around the cabin, can help alleviate any physical discomforts caused by sitting too long.

Take Medication with Caution.

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If you’re look for a quick fix when it comes to your sleep trouble, you might consider taking some medication.

There are two types of medication out there. The first kind helps promote better sleeping but take note that this does not help in reducing the symptoms of jet lag during the day.

Some popular names include Ambien and Sonata. Melatonin pills (yes, the hormone in its synthetic form) are also sold as a form of food supplement to help aid in sleeping.

The other kind of medication promotes wakefulness such as Nuvigil and Provigil. These drugs help keep travelers awake and alert.

Travel Tip: Pack Lavender Oil for a Natural Jet Lag Remedy

Lavender Essential Oil is a great natural sleep enhancer for anyone who has trouble falling asleep on a plane or adjusting to a new sleep schedule. Shake a few drops onto your travel or hotel pillow and let the lovely aroma lull you into a deep sleep.

We’d recommend to not depend on these methods because it doesn’t let your body naturally adjust to a new sleep pattern.

There isn’t a magic pill out there that’s going to cure jet lag. Actively prepping and planning is your best bet.

AFTER YOU’VE LANDED

Match Your Sleep Cycle.

If you’ve followed our flight schedule tip, you’ll get to your destination early in the night.

But instead of crashing right away stay up a little to make sure you go to sleep at the traditional sleep time for your destination.

For example, if your flight lands at 7PM, do your best to stay up until 10PM. Fatigue from the flight will surely prompt you to go to bed early, but resist the urge to sleep and wait until 10PM.

If you cannot schedule your flight so you’ll land in the early evening hours, control your sleeping time during the day.

If you need to sleep, take a short nap, no longer than 2 hours. Sleep with the lights on to prevent disorientation. Do not oversleep the next day because this will affect your ability to sleep well at night.

Engage in light exercises during the day to help you stay alert, however, avoid exercising at night because this can disrupt your sleep cycle.

Stay Outdoors and Get Some Sun.

Fresh air can do your exhausted body some good. Exposure to the sun can also aid your body in adjusting to your new time zone.

If you’ve traveled west and arrived during the daytime, get more morning light and avoid the afternoon light to help your biological clock adjust to a later time.

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Spending some time soaking up the sun once you’ve arrived at your destination will help your body adjust to the new time zone.

The opposite holds true when you travel east. Go outside in the afternoon to help signal your body to move towards sleeping time.

If you’re staying out and cannot be in a dim-lit room, bring your trusted sunglasses with you.

But if you do plan to stay out in the sun, don’t forget to pack some sunscreen. Look for SPF that rangers between 30-50 and that UVA and UVB protection.

Just remember not to pack more than 3.4 fluid ounces of sunscreen in your carry-on to match TSA requirements.

Final Thoughts

For anyone that’s ever experienced the symptoms of jet lag, you know how horrible it can be. It even has the potential to ruin your entire trip.

But don’t let it.

If you make the necessary preparations, it won’t be long before your body adjusts to the new time zone.

Be sure to:

  • Adjust to a new sleep schedule days before your flight
  • Depending on your destination, you’ll have to try and catch a nap or fight off drowsy on your departure and arrival time
  • Follow the schedule of your destination (sleep during normal sleeping hours, etc.)
  • Get some sun to help your body switch to your destinations time zone

Take the time to follow these steps and you’ll find that they’re worth the effort.

Are we missing a tip on how to avoid travel fatigue? Share your tip in the comments below.

Meghan Ward

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