It’s hard to think anything could put a damper on travel, but jet lag is definitely one of them. Jet lag can cause headaches, insomnia and overall irritability and is caused when you travel across multiple time zones. The more time zones you hop over, the more severe your jet lag will likely be.
The reason traveling across time zones effects your body so much is because it messes with your circadian rhythm, which is essentially your body’s clock. The circadian rhythms are driven by your biological clock which is set by things like the light and dark cycle of night and day. Our bodies get used to being in a schedule. It’s used to when you sleep, wake up, eat, etc. and when we screw that up by traveling, our clock needs to be reset. Which in turn, causes jet lag.
There’s nothing worse than finally reaching your destination and being super eager to explore but instead, you are struggling to feel like anything more than a zombie. Although jet lag is impossible to entirely beat, there are some things you can do to help combat it and prevent it from being dragged out longer than it’s welcome.
1) Don’t sleep when you arrive
This is one of the most important things you can do to help beat jet lag. No matter how exhausted you are, fight the urge to go to bed as soon as you arrive. If this seems next to impossible or if you’re someone who can’t fight fatigue no matter how badly you know you need too, try booking flights so you arrive at night in your new destination. This way you’re going to bed at a regular hour versus going to bed in the middle of the day.
The reason for not going straight to bed and catching up on sleep is because you want to get your body into a regular routine which matches the new time zone you’re in. You need to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night, no matter how challenging that may feel. Eating meals at normal local hours is important too. However, you don’t need to over exert yourself and jam your schedule in the first few days, just do what you need to do to stay awake during the daytime hours.
2) Take Melatonin
For the most part I’d advise against drugging yourself to get to sleep, but melatonin can be a more natural, less aggressive way to help you sleep and adjust to a time change. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your circadian rhythm. It naturally occurs in our brain, but supplements are commonly used for jet lag or for those that have challenges with sleeping.
Use melatonin 20-30 minutes before bedtime or your target bedtime at your new destination. It’s usually suggested you only take it when traveling east versus west but if you still can’t adjust or sleep, it can be helpful. Make sure you read the dosage and instructions on the label.
3) Don’t compare time zones
It’s natural when you are hoping time zones to think about what time it would be back home. I used to find myself constantly saying: “It may only be 7pm here but it’s actually 2am back home.” I used this as an excuse to go to bed earlier or to help me justify how tired I was. But lets face it, dwelling on what time your body actually “thinks” it is DOES NOT HELP! As soon as I stopped thinking about the time back home and just hopped right into the new time zone without looking back, the easier it was to face.
4) Drink lots of water
The one thing that travel can really do to you is completely dehydrate your body, especially while traveling on planes for long periods of time, breathing in recycled air. Drinking lots of water before, during and after travel can help relieve jet lag symptoms. I suggest bringing a big bottle of water on the plane with you since the little cups they come around with periodically are never enough.
It’s also advisable to avoid alcohol and caffeine because both of these things can not only dehydrate you more, but also interfere with your sleep.
5) Pay attention to what you’re eating
Airplane food sucks and it’s unfortunate that it also influences your jet lag. How? Carbohydrate-rich food like rice, potatoes, pasta, etc. can make you feel super heavy and exhausted. These foods will increase your need for sleep which can be helpful if you’re flying east. However, if you’re flying west and don’t need to sleep upon arrival or while on the plane, you should choose a lighter, more protein-rich food to help you stay awake like meat, fish or eggs. These foods will help you stay awake and will give you energy. Since you can’t always control the meal you’re getting on the plane, bring healthy snacks with you.
Jet lag can be a real drag when traveling, and there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re not at your best when away from home. Try following some of these tips to get you through the dreaded jet lag on your next trip and share some of your tips in the comments below!