While jet lag may not be 100% unavoidable, there are a number of ways to make its side-effects a bit more manageable.
Your bloodshot, desiccated eyes are wide-awake as you lay in bed, looking up at the ceiling. You register every detail of your room, blanketed by darkness. Jet lag. The rough feel of the blankets that on a regular night inspire comfort. The fact that your body can’t decide if it’s hot or cold, sweating or chilly. Your clock flashes 3 am, but for you it’s 6 pm, or 10 am, or any other time of day during which sleep is the furthest thing from your mind. Your heart races as you count down the hours—4, 3, 2—that you’ll be able to sleep for if you fall asleep at that exact moment.
The next day consists of classes, a meeting, tourism, or what feels like a mountain to climb if your mind is clouded by the ultimate discomfort that is lack of sleep. All travelers have experienced these symptoms brought about by jet lag, a monster that rears its ugly head by making its victims feel a complete lack of control. But fortunately, while jet lag may not be 100% unavoidable, there are a number of ways to make its side-effects a bit more manageable.
1. Before leaving to your destination.
For best results in terms of getting rid of jet lag early, travelers should consider beginning their preparations before they even board their flight. In fact, it is best to begin to adjust sleep times several days early (if possible) by going to bed earlier and earlier (if traveling east) or later and later (if traveling west). Ultimately, your best bet is to just be well-rested for several days before a trip, which makes it easier to adjust upon arrival. It is also ideal to keep yourself hydrated in advance, as dehydration can be an unpleasant side effect of jet lag. Before boarding the plane, it’s advised to change your wristwatch time to that of your future destination in order to become accustomed psychologically.
2. On the plane.
Once on the plane, it is best to already begin acting as though you’ve arrived at your destination. Travelers should try their hardest to sleep if it is nighttime where they’ll be arriving (especially by using earplugs and eye masks provided on the plane), or stay awake if it is daytime. If you’ve changed your watch already, this should be relatively easy to keep track of. Doing this in terms of your meals (eating according to your destination’s mealtimes) can also be quite helpful to aid stomach side effects of jet lag.
3. Upon arrival.
You’ve finally made it through the hours of repositioning yourself on a tiny airplane seat and trolling the aisles for something to do. Once you’re at your new and exciting destination, keep your mind on the new time zone rather than calculating what time it is in the old one every five minutes. This helps you get into the new mindset as quickly as possible. Be sure to keep yourself lightly active during the day, while avoiding caffeine, alcohol, or overly fatty foods in the evening.
Light therapy can also work wonders on jet lag. If traveling east, it is recommended to get as much light as possible in the afternoon or early evening, while avoiding too much light exposure in the morning. If traveling west, it’s best to follow the opposite (maximum light exposure in the early morning and less in the afternoon or early evening). These are all methods to regulate our circadian rhythms that control our regular sleep cycles.
Be sure to keep the little things in mind, like eliminating potential sleep disturbances such as open curtains, extreme temperatures, or long naps. Early morning or early evening exercises as well as protein heavy breakfasts increase alertness, while having a pre-bedtime routine that involves relaxing can increase the ability to fall asleep. If your symptoms are more severe, consider taking melatonin or consulting a sleep specialist regarding other possible medications.