Traveling time zones can be exhilarating, but trailing close behind lies the inevitable jet lag. Preventing this temporary sleep disorder from ruining your entire vacation is critical, and it all starts at takeoff.
What Is Jet Lag?
Jet lag, also called desynchronosis, is a sleep disorder that can occur when you hop multiple time zones. Each person possesses an internal clock or circadian rhythm that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle to coordinate with daylight and night. When this natural rhythm is suddenly disrupted by crossing continents, your body may be forced out of sync and unable to adapt to its new surroundings.
The farther you travel, the higher the risk of jet lag. While the experience is temporary, if you’re a frequent traveler and continually struggle with jet lag, you may benefit from seeing a sleep specialist.
Symptoms of jet lag include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood changes
- Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea
- Trouble eating too much or too little
Preventing Jet Lag
Banning jet lag before it takes hold is a delicate but completely doable task. Following these few precautionary steps will help jump start your circadian rhythm, leaving you rested and ready to fully enjoy your time in your latest locale.
Go to bed late and get up early
Contrary to your every exhausted impulse, going to bed too early or sleeping in too late can actually worsen jet lag symptoms. Resist the urge to turn in before an appropriate hour or repeatedly hit the snooze the morning after you arrive. Instead, aim to go to bed well after sundown and get up no later than the 9 a.m. local time. The goal is to get off your typical circadian rhythm and get in sync with the local rhythm as soon as possible. Retiring after the sun has set and waking up bright and early the next day will also help you fall asleep and wake up with local time the next night. If you can manage this, you should wake up the second day fully acclimated to the local time zone.
Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone also widely used as a holistic sleep aid, can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle. When searching for some mid-flight shut-eye or needing help falling asleep in a new time zone, melatonin is there to send you snoozing. There even are pleasant-tasting gummies to make the experience easy for everyone. Speak to your trusted medical provider for their melatonin recommendations.
Tune out sensory distractions
Securing solid sleep while traveling can be tough. Chatter from other travelers, the humming of airplane engines and various visual stimuli can be extremely distracting. Be sure to keep an eye mask and earplugs in your travel bag to reduce the impact of light and noise pollution while trying to sleep, especially on planes.
Don’t drink alcohol
While traveling and alcohol may seem to go hand in hand, research indicates that alcohol can actually have a negative impact on your quality of sleep. If avoiding jet lag is a high priority, resist the urge to slug down alcoholic beverages during your travel to ensure you are a rested ray of sunshine upon landing.
Skip the coffee
Coffee is another beverage travelers tend to rely on.However, after a certain point, nothing can save you from your inevitable jet lag, not even caffeine. Researchers suggest avoiding coffee after 2:00 p.m., or at least six hours before bedtime, to ensure the best quality of sleep possible
Dehydration preys on your energy levels, even without the added jet lag. It can worsen the effects of jet lag fast, so be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after your flight. Carry a reusable water bottle to fill once you get through security. We know it’s tough, but resist the temptation to drink coffee or alcohol if you want to avoid jet lag, because both can contribute to dehydration and can disrupt sleep.