When traveling across multiple time zones, jet lag can make it challenging to fully enjoy your trip and get back into the groove once you return home. Your sleep might be disrupted, it can be hard to focus and function, and you may experience digestive problems. While it may not be possible to avoid jet lag altogether, however, you can lessen its effects with some simple travel and pre-travel strategies. First, however, it helps to understand what jet lag is, as well as its causes.
What Is Jet Lag?
Jet lag occurs when you travel over two or more time zones, with the intensity of jet lag symptoms increasing with each time zone you cross. Although jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder, it’s not temporary enough for most. Jet lag will generally last about a day for each time zone crossed when traveling from west to east, but half the number of times when traveling from east to west.
Causes of Jet Lag
Traveling across multiple time zones throws your circadian rhythm off-kilter. Your circadian rhythm, or biological clock, is regulated by cues such as social engagements, light exposure, and mealtimes. As these cues are disrupted, the external time and your internal clock are desynchronized until your body gets into the rhythm of your new sleep schedule.
In addition, other circumstances of air travel can aggravate jet lag. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, airline cabins that are pressurized to 8,000 feet lower oxygen levels in the blood, dehydrating you and causing discomfort in general.
Tips to Avoid Jet Lag
These tips, used collectively, will help you reduce the effects of jet lag and truly enjoy your travels.
Simulate your new sleep schedule ahead of time. Move your bedtime earlier by half an hour each night when traveling east, and vice versa when traveling west. You can also slowly adjust your mealtimes to coincide with your new schedule and invest in quality bedroom furniture to aid sleep if necessary.
Further adapt your sleep schedule in flight. Try to coincide sleep on the plane with nighttime in your destination and stay awake if it’s daytime there. However, don’t try to force it if you’re struggling to fall asleep, this can cause unnecessary stress, so simply rest as much as you can.
Structure your caffeine consumption. Limit your caffeine intake before, during, and after the flight to coincide with the morning hours in your new destination. There are other drinks that won’t give you a caffeine spike, followed by a crash. Choose other energizing beverages like ginseng tea or more lightly caffeinated matcha.
Hydrate more than usual. Even if you are disciplined about your water intake and staying hydrated, it won’t be enough when traveling across the globe in a dry airplane cabin. Double your usual water intake a couple of hours before you arrive at the airport. After passing through security, grab a liter of water for each three hours of flight time.
Arrive early, if possible. Allow yourself a day or two to adjust to your destination, before hitting business meetings or touring the Vatican. You can use this time to get some restorative rest and take walks to soak in the local culture.