5 Tips to Dealing with Jet Lag
How is it that some people hop in and out of time zones with no signs of jet lag, yet others (myself included), can struggle for days? We’ve all been there – wide awake at 2 am, the eyes just refusing to close!
I’ve had my fair share of it! The time difference from Sydney, Australia to Chile in South America nearly did me in. I was sleeping in a hostel in Pucon with a group of strangers. The time zone change was 14 hours…and, well, you can do the math! As the others peacefully slept in their beds, I lay there, wide awake and ready to go. Every sound was magnified in the silence of the room. I couldn’t even turn a light on and read my book as I would surely wake everyone else up. It was frustrating. I could literally feel every cell in my body store up energy and feel ready to pounce! I am sure, most people who have crossed date and time zones have had that same feeling. So, how do you deal with the age old traveller’s dilemma: jet lag?
We know that jet lag is a result of our circadian rhythm being thrown off balance. Light exposure, meal times and activities are disrupted as we cross into the new time zone – it just doesn’t compute with the internal clock that has become out of synch with the world around you! An article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that air cabins pressurized to 8,000 feet lower oxygen levels in the blood. This, coupled with lack of movement for extended periods of time and dehydration can exacerbate jet lag symptoms and make it more difficult to your system to get back in sync.
So, what can you do to combat jet lag? Obviously, avoiding travel is never the answer!
1. Fake it til you make it!
Set your clock to the new time zone as soon as you can and try to follow the natural rhythm of the destination. That means adjusting your eating schedule and sleeping pattern to the location. If your schedule allows, why not try adjusting or time shifting even before you leave? I rarely do this, but the experts say it helps.
2. Move it like you mean it!
A little exercise, especially after a long haul flight, will do you the world of good in resetting your internal clock. Get the blood pumping and stimulate the senses with fresh air and sunshine. Sunlight, after all, is a powerful stimulant and will naturally help regulate our circadian rhythms. I find it so much easier to adjust when I arrive in a sunny location. If only we had the ability to convince Mother Nature to guarantee a little sunshine upon arrival.
3. Adapt your schedule to suit!
You know yourself best. If you are going to be struggling to stay awake past 6pm, the first few days are not the best time to be sitting in a theatre or booking fancy restaurants! Have a light meal and get out for a walk as your system adjusts to the time change. If you find yourself waking too early, take advantage of the morning to explore the city before the crowds or to watch sunrise. When traveling to Australia for 3 weeks, I knew I would be waking before dawn for the first few days. One of my objectives was to see the sunrise over the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road. I planned my trip accordingly and was easily up before dawn to get to the perfect site for sunrise. Turnip Seed Travels has a few ways to adapt – Around the world in 80K – Slow travel on a fast schedule
4. Avoid powerful stimulants before sleep!
It is tempting to stock up on coffee and tea to keep ourselves going through the afternoon, pushing as we try not to lose a moment on the road. Next thing you know, it is time to sleep and you are feeling a little jittery! Make sure you drink enough water – the flight will have left you dehydrated, and your body needs that water to function. Top it up to keep it going!
Spending time on the computer before bed is also likely to over stimulate when you are trying to get yourself into the new time zone. Take some time wind down and relax before bed. Lower the lights in your room and settle in. I like to flip through a magazine before bed. If my schedule is too hectic and my mind is racing, I also put a note pad and pen on the table. It helps to jot down some of those thoughts. That way, my mind doesn’t worry about me forgetting, especially if I am in a time zone induced fog! Ear plugs and an eye mask may help muffle ambient noise and light, especially if you are a light sleeper.
5. Is the jury out on the impact of food?
Some say what you eat will impact your transition to the new time zone, others say there is no evidence to suggest this. Personally, I find if I am trying to stay awake, a heavy meal will have me dozing before I hit my bed. A long seating at a restaurant will also leave me struggling. I prefer to keep it light for the first day or two, eat in bright restaurants and go for an after dinner walk or activity! The later I can stay up the first night, the better my chances of sleeping through to morning. There is nothing quite like falling asleep by 8pm, only to wake at midnight feeling refreshed as if I have just had a small nap! Makes for a rough adjustment period.
How do you deal with the travellers dilemma of jet lag? Do you use herbal remedies like melatonin and chamomile or doctor prescribed sleep aids? Or do you tough it out and try to get through it?
- National Sleep Foundation – jet lag and sleep
- WebMD – natural sleep aids
- Sick on the road: how to get over jet lag as quickly as possible