A practical guide to conquering jet lag
By Kim Bercaw
Jet lag and I made our first acquaintance when I traveled to Australia for a Journalism study abroad internship back in 1994. Since I had earned my very first passport stamp on the trip over, I took a seemingly logical approach to time zone adjustment: I made like a wombat for the first week, sleeping my days away and waking only to forage for nourishment at nightfall. (Read: Battered cod and Tim Tams® washed down with sips of Victoria Bitter®.) Eventually my curiosity overcame my need for slumber and I began exploring my new environs by day. I was proud to have completely adapted to the flip-flopped clock by the time I ran out of clean clothing. Most travellers, however, don’t have the luxury of a multi-day grace period when it comes to adjusting to a new time zone. Hence this blog post.
While there’s no amount of preparation that can alleviate jet lag completely, enlisting a few of the ideas below can help minimize your chances of, say, drooling in your yak milk next time you speed off to Nepal for a long weekend.
Rest up before departure: Travel itself can be a huge energy zapper, so get a jump on the inevitable by getting plenty of extra shut-eye before you leave. A good rule is to allow yourself at least two solid, uninterrupted nights of sleep before you fly. If it’s realistic, you can also try to go to bed an hour earlier than usual or sleep in an extra hour in the morning, depending on which direction you’ll be traveling. (Example: Go to bed early when traveling east, wake up late when traveling west.) Travel prep can make life hectic, so stand firm when it comes to avoiding unnecessary obligations prior to departure. As a side benefit, departing fully charged can also help your body’s immune system stave off travel-related illnesses.
Bring along a few in-flight comforts: Sleeping en route can be challenging for most people, but this type of sleep can be crucial for jet lag recovery, especially if you’re on a long haul flight. It helps to bring along a few familiar items to help you rest. A pillow is especially handy if you’re willing to tote it. Slippers or loose fitting, comfortable shoes can also help you feel at home in the sky. I always bring along a 30 X 80-inch cashmere wrap when I travel, which does triple duty as a pillow, a jacket and a cozy blanket. (Cashmere is compact and lightweight, yet warm and durable.) And if you normally read or have a cup of tea before bed, doing the same in flight can sometimes trick your body into settling down. (Be sure the tea is decaffeinated. Chamomile tea is a good choice since it is said to have calming properties.)
Don’t overlook the possibility of meds: Though I harbor a general aversion to anything stronger than baby aspirin, my own online research suggests that Ambien (by prescription only) and melatonin (widely available over the counter in the U.S., illegal in some parts of Europe) are currently very popular with many a weary globetrotter. When used properly, Ambien can make the transition to a new time zone much more bearable by giving your body a little extra nudge to sleep soundly. It’s commonly used en route and/or for the first few nights at your destination. Melatonin is an herbal remedy that seems to accomplish the same goal. Note: If you decide to try a sleep aid for the first time, I highly recommend a test run prior to your travels.
When you get there, stay awake: This is arguably the most important bit of advice a person can follow. Staying up until 8 or 9 p.m. local time can sometimes be downright painful, but if you can manage it, and THEN get a good night’s sleep, you’ll awaken the next morning with a huge advantage in the energy department.
Go for a run and salute the sun: Our circadian rhythms respond to light, so what better way to break the time zone news to your body than by spending some time in the sun? For best results, do this while walking or running. (Studies show exercise helps equalize cortisol levels, which can spike up when you travel and exacerbate sleep disturbances.)
It also helps to remember that even the most stubborn case of jet lag has little chance against the incredible sights and sounds of an exciting new destination. Please consider contacting one of our Travel Beyond consultants to help you choose a spot where you can test this theory.