You’re all packed and ready to go on your dream vacation to _________(fill in the blank)! You’re so excited!! Itinerary. Check. Passport. Got it. Emergency contacts written multiple places. Yup. You’re ready for everything…. except jet lag. You need a game plan, but you don’t have one. So, whaddaya do? Well, I’m no doctor, but I’ve read a ton about jet lag to learn how to minimize my own suffering and a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about surviving a really long flight. So, this week, I thought it would make sense to talk about what happens AFTER that really long flight. I’m passing along what I learned from reading and from personal experience and I hope it helps if you’re gearing up for your own travels to a far off place!
So what exactly is jet lag?
Before figuring out what to do about jet lag, it helps to know exactly what it is. Also known as desynchronosis, or jet lag disorder, jet lag is a physiological condition that messes with our body's circadian (daily) rhythms.
What causes it?
Jet lag occurs when we travel across multiple time zones quickly, usually two or more. And it gets worse the farther you go. According to information on the Mayo Clinic website, being on the plane may even contribute to it! Here’s what the website said:
“Some research shows that changes in cabin pressure and high altitudes associated with air travel may contribute to some symptoms of jet lag, regardless of travel across time zones. In addition, humidity levels are low in planes. If you don't drink enough water during your flight, you can get slightly dehydrated. Dehydration may also contribute to some symptoms of jet lag.”
Factoid – It’s generally accepted that there are 24 time zones, but in reality, there are more than 24! If each time zone was one hour apart, there would be 24 (set at 15 degree longitude intervals), BUT, the International Date Line creates three more time zones. There are also several time zones that are only 30 or 45 minutes apart, so the the total number of standard time zones increases even further. Enough to make your head spin, isn’t it?
The effects are yucky.
Jet lag can cause fatigue, affect our ability to focus or stay alert, can cause upset stomachs and other gastrointestinal issues (you know what I mean), etc. The list goes on and it ain’t pretty.
Who gets it?
Probably everyone is susceptible to jet lag, but those who can adjust fairly easily to changes in their routines are less prone than those who are rigidly attached to their schedules. Still, I was surprised to learn that some people are at a greater risk of jet lag than others, for example: older adults (who need a bit more recovery time), frequent fliers (like flight attendants and business travelers), people flying east, since you “lose” time, as opposed to heading west when you “gain” time, and like I mentioned above, travelers going across multiple time zones. It all makes sense, huh? Face it. Jet lag can be a real buzz kill for your trip.
So how can you deal with jet lag?
Well, there are likely tons of ways to try to reduce the effects of jet lag, but here are 10:
1. Get moving: I’m a big fan of exercising before flying. It tires me out before flying and relaxes me.
2. No go, Joe: Avoiding caffeine and alcohol will certainly help because they both dehydrate you and since dehydration may contribute to jet lag, why make it worse by having a cocktail or a cuppa joe? But, DO drink as much water as you can.
3. See no evil. Hear no evil: I’ve mentioned this in a previous post – eyemasks and earplugs are your friends. Both will help you block out unwanted noise and light to a large extent, so at least you can remove these two obstacles to sleep.
4. Alternative medicines: As for alternative medicines, there’s melatonin that a lot of people swear by to help them sleep on the plane as well as at their destination. I’m not a big fan of sleep aids, but that’s your call and you should consult your doctor before you take anything.
5. Timing is everything: Start getting on your new time zone to the extent possible. Maybe go to bed an hour or two earlier/later if you can. It also helps to change your watch to your new time zone as soon as you get on the plane.
6. Get your zzz’s: As impossible as it may be, if you can get a decent amount of sleep on your flight, you’ll be that much ahead of the “changing time zones” game. Similarly, if you can get a decent night’s sleep the first night at your destination, you’ll also be ahead of the game.
7. Let the sunshine in: Like from the 1960’s musical Hair - get out in the sun once you arrive. Since your body basically has to reset itself, being out in the sunlight can help.
8. Grab a bite: Like with the hours of the day, adjusting to meal times at your destination is helpful since it will also make it easier for you acclimate to your new time zone.
9. Nap/no nap: I’ve read articles both in favor of and against taking a nap when you arrive. Me, I try not to nap when I arrive, especially if it’s during the day, but it’s gonna be an early night for sure. Again - your call.
10. Keep it real: Even on a long airplane trip, I try to stick to foods that I would normally eat. Airplane food has more salt and sugar since it has to accommodate your diminished ability to taste. Snacks that are better nutritional bets – like nuts and fruit- both fresh and dried – can be a good choice (see post, “How to Survive a REALLY long flight – in the Cheap Seats!”).
Have you tried any of these? Do they work for you? Do you have other remedies to deal with jet lag? I’d love to hear about them! Reach out to Traveleidoscope on Facebook and let me know!