Yuck, jet lag. We all know the name, but do we know what it actually is? Well the technical name is desynchronosis and it is a temporary sleeping disorder commonly associated with being generally very miserable. Your sleep is off, you feel like crap, and it can really put a damper on your trip! The change in timezones throws off your circadian rhythms, which basically keep your body’s daily routine: when to wake up, when to be alert, etc. The good new is, there are methods to avoid it! Here are 11 strategies:
Set your clock for the time of your destination at the beginning of your trip:
Setting your clock will allow you to schedule out when you should be sleeping, or at least resting, much better. As soon as you take off, try and keep on the schedule of the place you are going, no matter what everyone else on the plane is doing. If it is night there, go to sleep. If it is day there, stay awake! This goes for meals too. I know that most international airlines pass out gourmet creations that make your mouth water and keep you dreaming for months after the trip, but if it isn’t dinnertime in the new place, don’t eat it. It will help to plan ahead for this, but really—are you that upset about passing up that foil wrapped chicken surprise? Better to bring food that you eat when it is the new appropriate time.
Start adjusting early:
The success of this and the use of this tip may depend on how dedicated you are to your trip, but you don’t have to be incredibly intense about it. A little before your trip, look at your destination’s time difference and sleep schedules, and try and slowly acclimate yours. For example, if you are going to a time zone a few hours behind, try and go to sleep a half hour earlier every night.
Hydrate really well:
This also includes avoiding dehydration. Put the bottle down! I know that you probably already suspected this, but airplanes DO dehydrate you. The cabin you are being transported in is not only very dry in itself, but it also is pressurized to a fairly high altitude, and what do we know about high altitude? Right! You dehydrate much more quickly the higher you are.
Plan for the time you land:
This can take a little bit more planning, but really though. If you are getting to your destination in the morning, sleep on the plane. I have heard that turning to sleep aids for long distance flights can really help this (just make sure that you aren’t in a seat that is blocking 5 passengers from going to the bathroom, you might wake up with bruises from when they all hit you in the face while trying to climb over you). In turn, don’t sleep the entire flight if you are landing anywhere near the time you are going to need to sleep. Chug coffee. Listen to heavy metal. Whatever you do, try to adjust to your new sleep schedule.
Bring a mask and earplugs:
International flights generally contain a ton of people, all of whom are trying to deal with their flight experience in their own unique way. Sometimes those ways can be detrimental to your sleep schedule, or very helpful to your lack thereof. To achieve the greatest rest you can on your flight, it might not be a bad investment to invest in some items to block the world out.
When I go to new places, the first thing I want to do is eat everything. Isn’t new cuisine one of the most exciting things about a new destination? Or did I just publicly admit that I’m a glutton? Anyways, eating large fatty meals in a new time zone can not only disrupt sleep, but can also promote indigestion and diarrhea.
Don’t try something new on the plane:
If you are going to use a sleeping aid on the plane to try and achieve a normal sleeping pattern for your destination, PLEASE read about proper dosage. Not getting the proper amount of sleep can lead a very groggy and grumpy you when you finally step out of the airport. Not to mention (and I hope that this isn’t a surprise) it may not be the BEST idea to try a new medication when you are on a plane starting a trip. Stick to what you know.
Stay awake till bedtime:
RESIST the urge to go to sleep when you land (unless it is at a normal time) TRUST ME. When you get to a new place and you haven’t slept for 48 hours because you’ve put everything that you need to have completed for the trip until about 5 hours before takeoff, it might be a little tempting to just take a little nap-a-roo. That nap will inevitably turn into a coma that will last longer than you want, and throw off your sleep schedule possibly for days. To help stay awake, try a little light exercise and if completely necessary, break out some caffeine.
Know your sleeping habits and plan accordingly:
If you know that you can’t sleep on an airplane, that the slightest turbulence jolts you into a frenzy, or that you can’t resist drinking heavily on the plane, plan to arrive in the new place close to the time that you would be going to sleep so that you can reset straight away.
Don’t sit still:
It’s okay to be “that person”—the one walking around the aisles during long flights. Getting your blood moving is not only healthier for you, but will help your muscles relax and allow your body to adjust better to the transition. By all means, (unless a flight attendant is telling you otherwise) move around a bit. Stretch. It isn’t normal for people to sit stiff in seats for 10+ hours at a time.
Get out in the sun:
If it is daytime when you arrive at your new destination, don’t act like a vampire—get out in the sun! It will help set your body’s rhythm to the new time zone, and the exercise will help you stay awake. This tip is more helpful if you are going to a sunny destination.