Jet lag. I say that word with deep loathing.
Jet lag has always been the bane of my travels. It’s probably because most of my traveling takes place between the United States and Asia. You can be sure that as soon as you cross the international date line you’re in for trouble. However, I’m a big napper, so I’m always in trouble. Now, it’s possible that some of you are the kings and queens of jet lag; You are never conquered by its mighty grasp. You are the lucky few.
Last August when Leif and I returned to Beijing, we couldn’t stay awake to save our lives. We spent day after day planning to stay awake, but found our eyelids dropping. And, despite all our planning, we would give in to sleep – deep, blissful sleep. After four days in a row of falling asleep at 3 pm and waking up at 9 pm, we said enough is enough. We knew we were skipping some very important steps in defeating jet lag.
In light of how crucial fighting jet lag can be, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over my years of traveling. I hope it can help you during your next flight as well.
Seven Tips for Fighting Jet Lag:
1. Stay hydrated.
Every medical professional (or mother) ever will tell you to drink loads of water while traveling. I’m not as big a water drinker as I should be, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve certainly seen the wisdom of it. I also always feel a little sweaty and nasty after a long flight, so drinking loads of water is a must. I so often think of jet lag as only a mental challenge, but it’s really a physical one as well. Your body needs to adjust to the new 24 hour clock you are giving it. Help it out.
2. Don’t nap.
This is the number one no-no. I’m already a big napper. I love curling up in an arm chair or anywhere really and shutting my eyes for a little while. Especially when I’m exhausted from jet lag, napping seems like such a great idea. It’s a lie! Don’t listen to that voice. Try and do as much as you can the first day you arrive at your destination. If you fill up that first day with activities (and make it through that day without a nap), you’ll find fighting jet lag a million times easier. It’s completely okay to turn in early that night, too. I find that (when I fight jet lag the right way) I’m an early to bed-early to rise kind of person, and I love it.
3. Change the time.
This is my favorite tip, because I feel like I’m outsmarting jet lag. As soon as you sit down on your flight, take out your watch/phone/device and change it to your destination’s time zone. This way as you make your way across the world, your mind is already adjusting to the time where you will be. If you can, try and sleep when it’s “nighttime” and try and stay awake while it’s “daytime”.
4. Think ahead.
Now, if you are particularly awesome, you might consider adjusting as much as possible to the time difference before you even leave. (Clearly I’m not disciplined enough to have done this.) If you will be traveling east and want to adapt to the new time, you will have to wake up and go to bed earlier than normal. If you’re traveling west, you will want to wake up and go to bed later than usual. It’s much easier to say than to do, but hey, you’re awesome, right?
5. Use the sun to your advantage.
I’ve done some research on fighting jet lag and most of the experts talk about the importance of light. They say that light is the primary cue telling your body’s clock when to sleep and when to wake. So controlling jet lag is fundamentally about controlling light and darkness. If it’s nighttime where you’re headed, consider closing your shade and putting on an eye-mask instead of admiring all the beautiful clouds out of your window. When you land, however, don’t try and adjust too quickly to all the light if it’s daytime as that may exhaust you even more. Take it easy, grab some sunglasses, and stay awake!
6. Avoid overdoing caffeine.
When someone tells me that I’m going to need to stay awake when I’m actually dead on my feet, my first reaction is to find the nearest cup of coffee. However, when it comes to jet lag, this is not the best idea. Caffeine dehydrates and doesn’t allow you to sleep deeply when you do finally sleep. It is important to get deep sleep so your body can recover from the stress of your trip.
7. Sleep well the night before.
Sleep to prepare for your flight is just as important as sleep to recover from your flight. If you’re anything like me, you put off packing until the night before your flight and get around four hours of sleep if you’re lucky. This is also one of the reasons I’m the worst when it comes to jet lag. Be smarter than me, don’t procrastinate, and get a great night of sleep before you leave.
I hope you find these tips helpful for your next flight. Drink water, sleep well & be merry!