Anyone who has experienced jet lag knows this: It can make or break your entire trip. And falling victim to the travel-induced grogginess can be a waste of time (i.e. snoozing instead of sightseeing) and money.
I once flew from Atlanta to Indonesia, which took nearly a full day of travel, and when I arrived it was nine in the morning. I should have had a whole day ahead of me enjoying a new country, but instead, thanks to jet lag, I spent all day in bed ... sleeping.
Our bodies are 'set' to our home time zone even though we are physically in a different time zone. The experience of jet lag is our body being confused about its sleep/wake rhythm.
Dr. Julie Grant, Ph.D.
Dr. Julie Grant, Ph.D., sleep psychologist at Atlanta Insomnia & Behavioral Health Service, says the reason this happens is because “our bodies are 'set' to our home time zone even though we are physically in a different time zone. So the experience of jet lag is our body being confused about its sleep/wake rhythm."
Grant says symptoms of jet lag are typically extreme fatigue, reduced concentration, headaches, irritability and daytime sleepiness. “It is helpful to think of what you may feel like if suddenly awakened in the middle of deep sleep,” she adds.
If you're flying across multiple time zones for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure or important business trip, then you certainly don't want to spend prime time daytime hours snoozing or have to get through the day like a walking zombie. The good news is, mitigating the effects of jet lag can be quite simple, if you know how to prepare for it.
Start by building a pre-trip routine
Experts suggest that you should get acclimated to the time zone of your destination a few days before you depart by eating, sleeping and doing other activities on that new time zones schedule. Depending on whether you are flying east or west, exposure to additional light in the morning or afternoon a number of days before departure will help shift your internal rhythms. The same thing goes for meals. Try fasting until the breakfast of your new time zone, then eat the following meals accordingly.
One caveat when adjusting your schedule: don't sacrifice the amount of sleep you get. “Travel is stressful and we often wait until the last minute to get all our to-do's done. Try to avoid that trap and aim for a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night in the nights leading up to departure,” Grant says.
In addition to setting your sleep schedule, frequent traveler Scott Eddy, who takes up to 35 trips a year, says he does things to boost his immune system, too. “The day before my flight, I always take vitamins and drink twice the normal amount of water I would normally drink.” Grant says “hydration is a big key." Dehydration can compromise your immune system, which opens you up to getting sick.
And you may want to make other lifestyle adjustments as well. Travel writer Sue Reddel of the “Food Travelist” says that she “walks a lot on most of our trips. So we start walking several miles a day [ahead of the trip] so that our feet, back and legs are ready to go.”
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What you can you do on the plane
Eddy says this is when he really regulates his sleep. “If I know I'm arriving somewhere in the morning the last thing I want to do is arrive tired, so I make sure to sleep on the plane so I wake up feeling fresh and I don't lose the whole day. Also the opposite if I land somewhere and it's 8 o'clock at night ... I want to make sure to not sleep on the plane.”
Reddel recommends that you “change the time on your watch to match the new time. It will help make a mental, as well as physical, shift easier.”