If you possess that passion for travel, it’s the little things that keep your bags packed and eagerly awaiting the next adventure. Yet, with all the warm fuzzies we experience on long flights, the one thing that we all dread is jet lag — that zombie-like sleep-deprived effect of air travel that crosses a number of time zones. Yet if you plan well and pay attention to your body’s internal clock, you can decrease the effects with these tried and true jet lag tips and advice that could help you avoid jet lag altogether.
I remember the first time I visited Italy, my awe-inspiring tour of the Vatican and its artwork, the eerie exploring of the Catacombs deep below the streets of Rome and the miles and miles of vineyards in Tuscany. Or more recently my 2-week road trip through Ireland with my husband and another couple, the emerald greenness of the countryside – and how I savored the taste of a pint of Guinness. And yes even when sailing on the Regent Seven Seas cruise on my bucket-list Baltic Sea adventure — AND crossing multiple time zones.
And while arriving at those bucket-list worthy international destinations is amazing, jet lag…not so much.
On these international journeys, I clearly recall the symptoms of jet lag. How those first few days, I felt like my feet were heavy and my brain fuzzy. My body clock was way out of whack and I did not like it.
I have learned when traveling through new time zones that there are proven ways to overcome jet lag. From decreasing caffeine to non-prescription sleep medicines, read on for my top jet lag tips and tricks.
What is Jet Lag and What Causes It?
Before we list the ways to fight jet lag, let’s start by explaining exactly what jet lag is, why it happens and the jet lag symptoms you’ll suffer.
Our bodies are creatures of habit and routine, naturally programmed to do a certain number of things in a 24-hour cycle. These routines are your body’s circadian rhythms. They include simple day-to-day things such as your sleep-wake cycle, mealtimes driven by hunger pains, even your body temperature.
When we board that long-haul flight and wing our way across time zones, those rhythms end up a tangled mess.
Common symptoms of jet lag include:
- extreme sleepiness
- indigestion and bowel problems
- loss of appetite
- memory and concentration issues
Jet lag symptoms can vary depending on your health, stress levels, and age. Those variables make it mighty difficult to really nail down all the possible jet lag cures.
So what’s a girl to do? While no one cure works for everyone, read on for our suggestions to get rid of the jet lag blues as quickly as possible.
1. Get a Good Night’s Sleep BEFORE Flying Long Distances
I hear you – sleep BEFORE you leave? You’ve got laundry to do, errands to run, suitcases to pack…. And if you’re like me, as soon as you lay your head on that pillow, your mind is racing going over your pre-travel checklist to make sure you’ve done all those things. Sleep? (Cue maniacal laughter.)
But seriously, the first step in avoiding those crazy jet lag symptoms to begin your journey well-rested. That’s why I try to get MORE sleep for several nights before my trip.
I recently tried REMfresh – and I felt that its natural melatonin supplement with 7-hour absorption helped me fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Bonus: I woke up refreshed, without that dreaded sleeping pill grogginess.
2. Consider Upgrading your Long-Haul Flight
While we are all for getting a great deal on your flight, multiple layovers and extended time waiting for your next flight are exhausting. A good deal isn’t always a good deal when you consider the extra money you may spend during your layover – or that you’ll lose even more sleep before arriving at your destination. Or that you’ll waste a day or more at your new location trying to get over jet lag rather than enjoying your trip!
If there’s ever a time to upgrade to a better, more comfortable airplane seat — can you hear that lie-flat first class seat calling your name? — crossing multiple time zones on a once-in-a-lifetime international trip might be the time to do it.
An upgrade will give you more room to stretch and even lie down, getting that much needed rest before arriving at your destination.
3. Set Your Watch to the New Time Zone as Soon as You Board the Plane
You’re going to deal with the time change sooner or later. SheBuysTravel contributor Sarah Ricks, a regular world traveler, says sooner is best.
She suggests “tricking” your body clock by setting your watch to the new destination time zone as soon as you board the plane. For example, if you’re departing New York City at 7 pm ET and your final destination is London, then set your watch for midnight (the current time in England).
When you land, continue to live on the local time – and avoid even short naps. Stay up until a normal bedtime of your new time zone.
4. Sleep as Much As Possible on the Plane
In the perfect world, we’d all curl up into the fetal position in our little airplane seats and fall fast asleep. In reality, getting sleep on a plane is not unlike a Mom with a newborn – you sleep when you can.
That means in-flight seat choice is important. If you really want better sleep, choose the window seat. If you’re on the aisle, your seatmates may have to wake you so they can get out to use the lavatory.
Arrive onboard the plane prepared to sleep. Bring a neck pillow to keep your head propped up (if you didn’t snag one of those lie-flat first class seats!) and an eye mask to keep out the light. (SheBuysTravel Editor Cindy Richards swears by these sleep masks.) If you’re a light sleeper, consider downloading a white noise app to your phone that you play through your Air Pods to drown out the plane noise. Or, if you prefer, go with a set of ear plugs. And, if you have sensitive ears or are flying with cold, don’t forget a pair of Ear Planes.
To get help with sleep, you might consider taking a melatonin supplement such as REMfresh.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Try any over-the-counter sleeping pill first in the safety of your own home. Don’t wait until you’re on the plane somewhere over the ocean!
5. Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine? Or Say Yes?
That is the eternal question. The truth is that the combined effects of alcohol and altitude and caffeine-heavy beverages (coffee, cola, energy drinks) can cause increase tiredness and dehydration (both symptoms of jet lag) – and sleep problems.
Sarah Ricks always avoids drinking alcohol or caffeine on the plane, and instead, drinks tons of water. (But she does look forward to sampling the local wine when landing.)
Conversely, contributor Dana Zucker is all about the bubbly and wine on the plane. She says it’s one thing she loves about a long haul flight.
Personally, I’m somewhere in between, indulging in a glass or two of wine, and then attempting to get comfortable and get to sleep. I try to drink plenty of water the days preceding my flight, but not as much during the flight, because, quite frankly, too much water will require more trips to the bathroom – resulting in less sleep.
And whether to avoid alcohol and caffeine is a personal choice based upon how your body functions.
6. Stretch and Move about the Plane.
While you should get as much rest as possible on the plane, it’s also equally important to move about the plane and stretch. Scary things like deep-vein thrombosis are very real risks when flying –and swollen ankles aren’t fun either.
Stretching exercises while sitting is also a good idea – even it’s simply sitting straight, stretching your legs in front of you (as much as possible in cramped economy seats!), and clasping your hands and flexing your shoulders.
7. Avoid Naps on Your First Day
If you’re flying east, you will arrive in the early morning hours local time. It’s tempting to crawl into bed for a short nap as soon as you can check into your hotel. Resist the urge! That bright morning light is an important part of getting over jet lag.
Try to stay awake, walk around outdoors and soaking up natural light. Bright light exposure will help your body adjust faster to the new time zone.
During your walk, take breaks to eat a healthy lunch and light dinner on local time.
Then you can fall into bed as an early hour that would embarrass you any other time, sleep blissfully for hours and be ready to take on the next day. It’s the fastest way to adapt to new sleep patterns and a new sleep schedule.
Diana Rowe is a Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe is enjoying her 'after 50" life with her blended family of 5 adult children, 8 grandchildren (ages newborn to 15 years), a dog -- and a very patient husband. For more than 20 years, she’s etched a living as a freelance writer, publishing hundreds of articles (online and print) ranging from family travel to girlfriend getaways to golf and hotel reviews. Diana specializes in multigenerational family travel and writes for numerous print and online publications. She also blogs about her various travel adventures with (and without) her family at http://travelinginheels.com.