Jet lag might be the worst part about flying. Crying babies, cramped legs, security lines and baggage fees are certainly contenders, but jet lag is public enemy #1 in my book. What exactly is jet lag? Basically, it’s a disruption of your internal clock caused by rapidly changing time zones. Your body gets used to falling asleep and waking up at a certain hour. When you fly across the country to a coast where the sun sets 3 hours later, you’re ready to sleep before the first stars twinkle to life. Symptoms of jet lag include insomnia, exhaustion, headaches, irritability, indigestion and sore muscles. We’ve assembled a list of 10 tips to guard you from the detriments of the dreaded jet lag, but don’t expect miracle cures or panaceas. Your best defense? Common sense. Check it out.
1) Obey your bed time
As we run through this list, you’ll notice many of these tips pertain to sleep. That’s because the best way to beat jet lag is by adjusting your internal clock using careful moderation of your sleeping patterns. Our first sleep-related tip is to go to bed at a reasonable time once at your destination. If you’re suffering from jet lag, you’ll either be wired or very tired when night falls. Don’t go to sleep at 4:00pm because you’re exhausted or stay up until 4:00am because you’re wide awake. The best thing you can do is force yourself to sleep according to the readings of an actual clock–not your internal one. With any luck, you’ll be rested and energized when you awaken.
2) Adjust your sleep schedule beforehand
If you’re really worried about jet lag (and it can be a legitimate concern for people!), begin tweaking your internal clock during the week preceding departure. If you’re flying west, go to bed a little later every night. If you’re flying east, go to bed a little earlier. Gradually shifting your internal clock will be less jolting than suddenly winding it backward or forward several hours.
3) Dream on the plane
Travel is exciting. Even business trips can be potentially exhilarating. But calm down, voyager. You’ll need to rest up during flight. A few hours of shut-eye before touchdown can get you energized for what remains of the day. Falling asleep mid-air can be a challenge, especially if you’re not accustomed to the cramped quarters and endless noise. Bring pillows, noise-canceling headphones, a sleeping mask or whatever it takes to catch some z’s. You can also use pharmaceutical sleep aids, but make sure you experiment with them before the actual time of your flight.
4) Choose the right flight time
If you’re good at sleeping on planes (it’s a talent in many ways), a red-eye flight might be a smart option. You can snooze through the night without your internal clock descending into chaos. On the hand, if the whir of engines and braying of babies makes sleep untenable, fly during the day and spare yourself the torment.
5) Be smart about sleeping pills
Sleeping pills can be invaluable when adjusting to a new time zone. You can use them on the plane or at your destination if sleep just won’t come. However, it may be unwise to experiment with a new drug while traveling. The last thing you want to do is suffer from the negative side effects of a new pill while traveling. We recommend sticking to pharmaceuticals you’ve already come to know and trust.
6) Leave home rested
Before you worry about sleeping elsewhere, take care of yourself at home. Make sure you get a proper night’s rest before you fly. Even if you plan to sleep on the plane, you don’t want to throw your body for a loop before you even take off. As much as possible, keep the day or two before the flight peaceable and relaxing. Too much scurrying about will spell certain exhaustion.
Avoiding jet lag is all about staying healthy, and exercise is a crucial component. Exercising before your flight serves a couple different purposes. Not only will physical exertion make sleeping on the plane easier, but it will help satisfy your body’s urge to move. When you’re flying, your exercise options are limited, and you’ll spend much of the flight cramped and stagnant. Do some walking at the airport before you board. When flying, be sure to stand periodically and do some simple stretches to get the blood flowing.
8) Stay hydrated
Drinks lots of water! Unfortunately, this also means eschewing in-flight alcohol. Nothing will dry you out worse. Experts recommend drinking 8 oz of water for each hour in the air.
9) Go outside
Once you land, spend some time outdoors. Your internal clock will respond to sunlight (or lack thereof). Daylight should help you wake up and stay conscious until a reasonable hour.
10) Consider melatonin
Supposedly, melatonin plays a role in regulating your internal clock. Some recommend taking melatonin supplements during the days leading up to a big flight. If you’d rather get melatonin from a more natural source, dried cherries will do the trick. Munch on them for a few days before departing and a few days after you land.