How to avoid jet lag. It’s a question we’ve all asked.
Regardless of if you’re traveling the world for free, living as a digital nomad, or just crisscrossing the Atlantic to visit that special someone you’re dating from another country, jet lag is an unfortunate reality that most people who live to travel, or travels to live, experiences. But just because most people experience it doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of hacks to get around it.
Hence the ultimate guide on how to avoid jet lag while traveling; every way to arm yourself against unwanted drowsiness, fatigue, and wasted mornings that even coffee can’t save you from.
Just because you fly doesn’t mean jet lag has to conquer you
What is jet lag?
Before jumping into how to avoid jet lag (our invisible enemy), it’s important to understand what it is. Simply put, jet lag, also known as time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis, is a temporary sleep disorder that occurs whenever people travel rapidly across time zones in either direction (east to west or west to east). So, if you travel down from, say, Toronto, Canada to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, you won’t experience any jet lag since they’re in the same time zone. Rapidly traveling across time zones disrupts what’s known as our circadian rhythm, which is our biological clock that lets us know when to go to sleep and when to wake up.
According to Allison T. Siebern, a fellow in the Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center, “Cues such as light exposure, mealtimes, social engagement, and activities regulate our circadian rhythm. When you cross time zones, it disrupts those, and your internal clock and the external time are desynchronized. Your body needs to get on the rhythm of the new time zone.”
The worst part is that jet lag doesn’t just affect your sleep! It can also lead to headaches, depression, loss of appetite, irritability, confusion and more. Instead of coming back from Bali refreshed, you could return tired and aggravated. No one wants that.
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting – Sun Tzu
Drowsiness, irritability, and depression are all-too-common side effects of jet lag
Who does jet lag affect?
Unfortunately, jet lag affects everyone who travels from west to east or east to west. But, it does affect people in different ways; not all jet lags are created equally. Typically, jet lag has more severe effects for older people, while young children overcome it fairly quickly.
However, if you’re someone who travels often (pilots, stewardesses, international businessmen/women, secret agents, etc.), jet lag may become an unfortunate way of life given the fact that you never give your body enough time to become used to one-time zone before hopping off to the next.
How to avoid jet lag while traveling
It can take days to get over jet lag; in some cases six to nine or even more. Note that going from west to east takes a larger toll on your body since you’re trying to sleep during the hours when your body is usually awake.
How long it takes you to get over jet lag depends on how many time zones you cross during your travels. Lifehacker says, “According to Dr. Smith L. Johnston, chief of the fatigue management team at NASA, it takes about a day for our bodies to shift just one time zone, so you can imagine why it often takes several days for us to adjust when we travel across several time zones at once.”
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake – Napoleon Bonaparte
So, how to avoid jet lag while traveling? Below are the most bulletproof methods to make sure you defeat it:
Adjust your body before leaving
You can begin your attack on jet lag from the comfort of your home. This means working to adapt your body’s rhythm to that of the new time zone before you get there. For example, waking up earlier or getting up later (depending on where you’re going).
Studies show that this can help ward off jet lag, especially when traveling eastward. You should also set your time to your future destination, helping you mentally prepare.
Turn your airplane seat into your bedroom
Well, don’t put up posters, hang lights and toss your clothes all over the floor, but you get what we mean. If you want to know how to avoid jet lag during long flights, your seat has to become your bedroom. This means, arrive on the plane with everything you need to sleep comfortably. This may include comfortable clothing, an inflatable pillow and a blanket, face mask, and earplugs to block out any noise. It’s also not a bad idea to ask them if there are any free seats or rows available, so you can lie down.
Look at all of those empty seats waiting for you to kick back, relax and avoid jet lag
Stay off the booze
We know, travel is exciting and excitement and alcohol often go hand-in-hand. However, drinking alcohol while traveling is what jet lag wants you to do. It waits until you’re in a vulnerable position, maybe a bit giddy while watching an in-flight comedy, and then urges you to order that glass of wine, a cup of beer or even mini bottle of alcohol. This is because drinking alcohol while traveling by plane not only increases fatigue, but also dehydration. When your body is dehydrated, it’s not in an optimal state to fight off all of the effects of jet lag like insomnia, irritability, depression, confusion, etc. If you want to decrease the chances of being jet lagged and reduce the total period of it, don’t drink while flying. Save the fun for when you arrive at your destination.
No coffee, sodas or sugary beverages
In the same vein of jet lag wanting you to drink alcohol, it also wants you to drink copious amounts of coffee, soda, and sugary beverages, but don’t give in. Caffeine and sugar affect your sleeping and waking schedules, throwing all of the hard work you’ve done to avoid jet lag out of the window. Not only that, but caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you have to go to the bathroom, further dehydrating your body. When it comes to beating jet lag, staying fully hydrated is one of your strongest weapons.
“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.” – Mahatma Ghandi
Instead of drinking booze or watching movies, read a book or magazine to avoid jet lag
Keep the in-flight entertainment to a minimum
“But that’s no fun!” you say. We know, we know. But avoiding all screens emitting bright lights – cellphones, in-flight entertainment, and computers – is recommended. This is because most screens emit blue light. Research shows blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone within us that regulates our sleep cycles. In order to combat this, don’t look at any screen an hour or two before sleep.
Avoid the junk food
Maybe this article should be renamed “top fun things to not do in order to avoid jet lag while traveling.” But everything we recommend is for your own good, including cutting out carb-rich and fatty foods. They’ll make you feel drowsy and stuffed, creating more of an issue as you work to reset your internal clock. Conversely, consume lighter, protein-rich foods to get your metabolism going in order to not fall asleep. What you put into your body while traveling deeply affects your ability to either stay awake or fall asleep. Therefore, it has a significant impact on how well you’ll ultimately be able to avoid jet lag.
Avoid the burger and fries if you’re looking to stay awake and avoid jet lag
Exercise on the plane
When we say, “Exercise on the plan to avoid jet lag,” we don’t mean tapping your neighbor and organizing an impromptu jazzercise class in the aisles. But we do mean getting up, moving around to circulate your body. Stretch your legs and arms, touch the ground a few times, bend your knees and even smile for 20-seconds. Doing all of this (the smiling is to increase your mood) will help avoid any potential blood clots as well as increase your brain activity to keep your body fresh.
Don’t do too much when you arrive at your destination
Once you do make it to your destination, don’t jump straight into a three-hour meeting or go run a marathon. Instead, spend a day or two relaxing. Take a warm bath before bedtime to help you fall asleep at a time appropriate to your new time zone. Read a book, meditate or anything else that will help you unwind. Don’t plan to go on any large excursions until day three or four. Your body won’t only thank you for it, but your jet lag won’t sneak in as an uninvited guest on your trip.
Listen to soft music, take a warm bath or do anything else to help you unwind and avoid jet lag
The fight against jet lag
Unfortunately, all of the glamour and glitz often associated with traveling doesn’t come without a price. Spending over half a day on an airplane is common for anyone looking for a new adventure. The reality is, jet lag is something that usually comes along with that.
However, fret not! You now have a solid set of eight strategies to arm yourself on how to avoid jet lag. So, buy that plane ticket, pack your bags and get ready for your next adventure.
The world’s waiting for you.
If you have any questions or other tips on how to avoid jet lag, please drop them in the comments!
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Want some more tips on getting the most out of your travels? You’ll love these articles:
- How to Learn a Language Fast (In 90 Days or Less)
- 7 Habits of Successful Language Learners
- Best Ways to Learn a Language While Living Abroad
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