Traveling long distances would be a lot easier if it weren’t for those pesky time zones. Not only do they make it difficult to keep in touch with loved ones and business contacts, but they throw off your internal clock, making you drowsy-or wide awake-at inconvenient times.
What causes jet lag exactly? Our bodies are naturally programmed to function on a 24-hour cycle; this is called our “circadian rhythm.” Alterations in this rhythm often occur when a person flies across multiple time zones. This leap results in symptoms such as insomnia, daytime sleepiness, indigestion, irritability, and poor concentration. Some people adjust quite quickly while some need up to a week to adapt to the new time. It also depends on the number of time zones crossed; it can take up to a day for each time zone crossed for your body to acclimate to the new time zone.
So what can you do to keep these symptoms at bay? Here are 10 methods for avoiding and recovering from jet lag.
When you’re traveling west, try going to bed a half hour to an hour later several days before you leave; if you’re traveling east, try going to sleep 30 minutes to one hour earlier. Note that it’s typically harder for your body to adjust when you’re traveling east. You can also try shifting your mealtimes.
Change your watch at the beginning of your flight. This helps mentally prepare you for the time change.
Cabin air can easily dehydrate you, which exacerbates the symptoms of jet lag. Avoid caffeine and alcohol or drink as little as possible. Try to drink at least eight ounces of water for every hour you’re on the plane, regardless of whether you’re thirsty or not. And don’t neglect other parts of your body such as your eyes and skin. If you wear contacts, clean them thoroughly before you board, use eye drops during the flight, and consider removing your contacts if you get some shut-eye. Bring lotion and lip balm. Hydrating sprays with essential oils are also great.
With an overnight flight, you’ll probably eat dinner at a normal time and it’s easier to catch some Z’s (for those lucky enough to be able to sleep on flights). Depending on how many time zones you’re crossing, the plane will likely land in the morning or afternoon; if you’re able to stay awake until nighttime, it will be easier to adjust to the local time.
It’s important to keep your muscles activated on long flights. Not only can exercise reduce your risk of developing blood clots, but it will also help you feel more comfortable and refreshed on the flight—and better able to hit the ground running when you land. Stroll up and down the aisle periodically and do some exercises in your seat.
If you arrive at your destination in the morning, don’t go to sleep; try to stay awake until the evening. If you have to sleep, try to limit it to a 20- to 30-minute nap. Walk around, grab some coffee, and just do what you can to make it to at least 9pm. You’ll adjust to the local time faster.
Try to spend some time in the sunlight when you arrive. Sunlight is a powerful, natural stimulant for regulating your internal clock.
You may want to consider taking melatonin to help prepare for and reduce the symptoms of jet lag. Melatonin is the hormone that our bodies naturally secrete around the time we go to bed; it helps regulate our circadian rhythms. Some studies have shown that melatonin may reduce jet lag, while other studies have shown that it has no effect. The non-prescription drug is available over-the-counter but it’s not recommended by the FDA; as such, it’s recommended that you talk to your doctor first. Some studies recommend taking a small dose of fast-release melatonin before bedtime for several days after your arrival in a new time zone to help your body adjust.
If you’re not crossing many time zones and you’ll only be gone a few days (around three days or less), it may be best for you to stay on your home time zone. It takes a few days for your body to adjust to a different time zone anyway, so it may not be worth making the effort. Keep a watch set to the time at home and try to go to bed and wake up according to your usual times.
Jet lag can mess with your normal feelings of hunger and satiety, and overeating can make things worse. To maintain your energy levels, eat lighter, plant-based meals with a good balance of protein and complex carbohydrates. Have some protein-rich snacks handy for when you get a little hungry.
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