In a nutshell, jet lag sucks. But what is it exactly and how do you prevent jet lag? Well, according to Medical News Today, “jet lag, also known as time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis, occurs when people travel rapidly across time zones or when their sleep is disrupted, for example, because of shift work. It is a physiological condition that results from a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythms, also known as the body clock. It is seen as a circadian rhythm disorder. Symptoms tend to be more severe when traveling eastward compared with westward.”
Whether you’re a road warrior or preparing for a much-needed annual family vacation, jet lag can really break your trip, leaving you feeling exhausted, cranky and unable to function. If you’re traveling for business, the last thing you want is to get off a plane and rush to a meeting feeling disoriented from lack of sleep. And in some cases, jet lag can take days to fully recover from, leaving you feeling extremely tired, sluggish and irritable.
As founding father Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ so your best bet is to try strategies that will prevent jet lag before it even happens! Here are some helpful tips to help you prevent jet lag once and for all!
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
Get on local time
Before you leave for your trip, try to get on local time by gradually adjusting your waking and sleeping hours to align with the time in your new destination. The saying goes, “West is best, east is a beast,” and it really rings true where jet lag is concerned. If you’re headed eastward, start going to bed earlier and if you’re headed westward, make bedtime later. For instance, if you live in California and are traveling to New York, try going to bed around 8pm, which is 11pm on the east coast and waking at 4am, which is 7am in New York. Give yourself a few days to ease into these new times and you’ll have less trouble adjusting once you arrive. This strategy is particularly effective for children so consider bumping bedtime to help ease the transition.
Know your planes
If possible, book a flight on an Airbus A350 or a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. These aircrafts are specially designed to help travelers combat the effects of jet lag with superior humidification and air purification systems, larger windows (on the 787, you can adjust the tint of your window with the push of a button) and higher ceilings, all of which help passengers feel more rested when they deplane.
Book a flight that arrives in the early evening
To prevent jet lag, try to book a flight that arrives in the early evening. This way, you can head to bed soon after arriving, which will help you rest and reset after a long day of travel. Hopefully you will wake up in the morning on local time and start to feel acclimated to your new time zone.
Utilize online tools and apps
There are tools out there that can help you prevent jet lag so take advantage of them. For example, British Airways has a ‘Jet Lag Advisor’. With the advice of the UK’s leading sleep expert, Dr. Chris Idzikowski, this online tool is designed to minimize jet lag. Simply answer a few questions and you’ll be given suggestions specific to your situation about seeking light, avoiding light, meals and exercise. The app Timeshifter gives you a personalized plan to help prevent and cope with jet lag. The app is broken into categories (for business, for sport and for vacation), depending on the kind of travel you’re doing. If you’re traveling for business, Timeshifter is designed to not only help you eliminate jet lag but to ensure that you’re performing at your optimal level.
UP IN THE AIR
The easiest and healthiest thing you can do for your body while you’re flying is to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine as both of these can be disruptive to your sleep schedule and make you feel groggy and irritable.
Adjust your watch
Resetting your body clock may be a challenge but resetting your watch is an easy strategy. When you board the plane, change the time on your watch to the time in your new destination and behave accordingly. If it’s nighttime where you’re headed, try to get some sleep on the plane. This is a psychological strategy more than anything, but it can help to start to shift your mindset to the place you’re headed.
Ear plugs and eye masks
If you plan on sleeping on your flight, don’t forget to bring a pair of noise-cancelling earphones or ear plugs and an eye mask to minimize noise and light, which can disrupt your sleep.
Many frequent fliers swear by sleep aids like melatonin or even sleeping pills but approach any sleep aid with caution. If your jet lag is so severe that you require assistance, consult with a doctor to find the best thing for you and never take a new medication for the first time on an airplane. You don’t want to have an unexpected reaction while you’re up in the air.
ONCE YOU’VE ARRIVED
Keep an easy schedule
If possible, don’t make any major plans for your first day on the ground. Instead, keep an easy and flexible schedule that allows you some time to adjust. If you can travel in a day ahead of a big meeting to give yourself time to prepare, you’ll be in much better shape than if you have to give a presentation or attend a conference straight off of a long flight. If you’re traveling with children, give them time to adjust to a new time zone to make the transition easier for everyone in the family. Experts say that it can take one day for every hour difference to truly recover from the feeling of jet lag.
Once you’ve arrived in your new destination, get outside and give yourself some sunshine therapy! The sun is an excellent regulator for your body’s internal clock and will help you reset to your new time zone.
Resist that nap
If you’ve arrived in the morning or afternoon, the call of your hotel bed may be difficult to resist. But do your best to avoid a midday nap. Go outside for some of that (free!) sunshine therapy and do everything that you can to stay awake until local bedtime. While this strategy can be effective for children as well, it’s important to be flexible with their schedules and bend the rules as needed. If they need a nap, absolutely let them sleep and give them time to adjust.
Natalie DiScala is a writer, editor and digital content creator. With 15 years’ experience working at Canada’s leading design magazine, she now dedicates her time to her travel + style blog Oh! Travelissima, where she documents her travels and shares her tips and tricks for traveling smarter and more stylishly. Natalie and her husband Johnny Jet have traveled to 65 countries (and counting!) as a couple and when they’re not up in the air, they call LA home.