Top Tips to Combat Jetlag and Start Your Holiday Right
Frequent travelers will be familiar with that drowsy feeling you get after spending a night sitting upright in a chair snuggled up to a stranger whose snoring is even worse than your Grampa Jo’s.
If you’ve never been lucky enough to experience jetlag, I can tell you that it’s similar to that feeling of waking up after a night out, full of excitement for the day, only to reach the front door and feel a hangover hit you hard in the back of the head.
Jetlag is just one of those things that comes with the joy of intercontinental travel. Luckily, there are a few things we can do to combat that fuzzy, jetlagged feeling.
What exactly is Jetlag?
Jetlag is the name we put to a bunch of symptoms that affect us when we travel quickly across multiple time zones.
Scientists say that these symptoms, such as sleepiness, confusion, and stomach issues are caused by interruptions to our circadian rhythm.
To put it simply, we all have an internal body clock that tells us when to eat, sleep, wake up, take a nap, or go to the bathroom.
One of the main regulators of our internal body clock is daylight, so when we hop continents and see daylight when it should be nighttime, our body clock gets messed up.
This is when jetlag occurs.
Sleep Well Before Your Travel
A common tactic is to stay up the night before your trip and battle your way through the day so that you can sleep on an overnight flight. I’ve tried this method myself with variable success rates. While skimping on sleep does make you physically and mentally exhausted for your flight, it’s not a fail-safe solution. When you end up stuck next to a flatulent passenger and the plane is bouncing about in turbulence, sleep is frustratingly elusive, and you’re more likely to arrive at your next destination having not slept for 48 hours. That’s sure to put the brakes on day one of your holidays. The bottom line is that it’s actually not a good idea to change your sleeping pattern at the last minute.
Related: 19 Ways to Enjoy, Not Just Survive, A long flight
Shift Your Routine According to Your Direction of Travel
It’s generally agreed that traveling west is easier for our internal body clock, which is great for Europeans taking their vacation in sunny California, but not so great for residents of the US who are planning to city-hop their way across the EU. Even without crossing continents, traveling east is likely to have a larger impact on your energy levels and consequently take more time for your body to adapt.
To avoid losing days to that groggy, jetlagged feeling, you can prep your body for its new time zone by relaxing your usual schedule. According to NASA, it takes about one day to shift one-time zone; why not start the process a day or two in advance of travel? For eastward travelers, try to go to sleep a few hours earlier and set your alarm a few hours earlier, while westward travelers should do the opposite. This will minimize the shock of stepping off a plane at 7 am local time when it’s only 1 am body clock time.
Sleep on the Plane or Stay Awake
Whether you should sleep on the plane or not depends on which way you’re traveling. For example, if you’re departing from London at 6 am and arriving in Peru at 12 pm (6 pm London time), you should probably avoid sleeping on the plane so that you’ll be able to go to bed when the Peruvians do. If you’re traveling in the opposite direction, you’ll want to get a few hours shut-eye so you’re not falling asleep while taking a ride on the London Eye. Admittedly, rigid economy seats are not the comfiest things to fall asleep in, but a decent sleep mask, noise-canceling headphones, and a trusty travel pillow should help you doze off.
Set the Time
As soon as you’re on the plane, change your watch match the time in your destination country. This will mentally prepare you for shifting time zones since it’s difficult to convince your mind that it’s bedtime when your watch reads 11 am.
Stick to Water
Although it’s tempting to hit the bar and celebrate the beginning or end of your vacation with an in-flight beverage, try to hold out until you’ve made it to your destination. The air inside planes is already quite dry and alcohol will only make you more dehydrated, not to mention increasing the effects of tiredness. The same goes for coffee and sugary energy drinks. These impact your natural sleep cycle and make the jetlag recovery process harder. Another top tip is to avoid salty snacks that will make you thirsty. There’s no chance you’ll get to sleep if you constantly need to use the bathroom.
Related: 16 things one should not do on an airplane
Part of the discomfort of jetlag is the weary and achy feeling that comes from sitting in a cramped space for an extended period. The best way to work out these kinks and click back into place is to do some exercise. That doesn’t mean that you have to go run a 10K, but a short walk and a few yoga stretches can relieve some of the muscle tension.
If you’re on a short trip of less than three days or will be traveling over multiple time zones, it might be better for you to stay on home time. With less than 24 hours to adjust to each time zone, you’re likely to just confuse your internal clock, which can lead to daytime drowsiness, sleepless nights, digestion problems, bad moods, and a general ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on’ feeling.
Take it Easy
Overdoing it is a common mistake people make in trying to combat jetlag. While coffee, adrenaline, and determination will keep you going for a while, at some point you will have to catch up on the lost sleep. Try to schedule some downtime on the first day of your vacation, take an afternoon nap, or head to bed a couple of hours early.