Anyone who has ever taken a cross-country or transoceanic flight likely knows what jet lag feels like. It’s very common for a traveler to experience a few days of grogginess and fatigue as one’s sleep cycle adjusts to a new time zone. How many days it lasts depends on how far away the destination is: traveling across more than one time zone generally results in increased jet lag.
Unfortunately, jet lag is a very normal response when the body has to adapt to a place located far to the east or west of home. For that reason, the condition is almost inevitable. However, a few steps can be taken to ease the body’s transition to the new locale.
Start adjusting sleep schedule before the trip.
Giving the body a head start on the new time zone can go a long way to lessening the effects of jet lag. Beginning several days ahead of the flight, simply go to bed a half-hour earlier every night, and wake up a half-hour earlier every morning. This applies to eastward flights; if your flight is taking you west, instead, reverse the time-shifts – later to bed, later to rise.
Stay rested during the flight.
Flying is rarely comfortable, and getting rest on board an airplane can be difficult to do, but it’s well worth it if you can. To maximize the odds of getting some decent rest, pack some earplugs, a sleep mask, and a pillow in a carry-on bag. Also, avoid caffeine to improve sleep quality. Some people might consider using sleeping pills or melatonin, too – however, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor first.
Airplanes are very dry environments, and tend to dehydrate the body. This generally leads to fatigue and poor sleep. Drinking a glass of water every hour will help keep the body hydrated, while moisturizing lotion and eye drops can decrease other uncomfortable symptoms of dehydration.
Embrace the new time zone!
After a long, tiring flight, many people’s first impulse is to take a nap. Unfortunately, that can actually interfere with the body’s ability to adapt to the new time. If you arrive in the morning or early afternoon, it’s usually better just to stay awake until the local bedtime. Similarly, if you arrive at night, use an alarm clock to get up at the local breakfast time – even if that means only couple hours of sleep. Either way, make it a point to enjoy as much of the local sunshine as possible.
Forcing yourself into the new time zone’s natural schedule means that first day will probably be difficult. However, the body will have a much easier time adjusting over the next few days, so the overall time spent jet lagged is decreased.
For more tips on how to beat jet lag, click here.