Easy and cheap travel all over the world is one of the great privileges we have in the modern era. Try to imagine what international travel must have been like even a hundred years ago, when taking a weeks-long journey by ship was the only widely available commercial travel if you wanted to cross the ocean.
But the speed with which we can hop from continent to continent actually has a downside: jet lag.
Even the most experienced traveler worries about how to beat jet lag. That’s because no matter how often you travel, jet lag isn’t something you can ever really get used to.
But never fear: there are some ways you can minimize the effects, and some tricks you can try to help you learn how to avoid jet lag.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is the effect travel across two or more time zones has on your sleep patterns and energy level. Some medical experts go so far as to call jet lag a bona fide, if temporary ‘sleep disorder.’
The more time zones you cross, the more profound the effects can be, and the longer it may take for it go away.
Travelers desperate to learn how to overcome jet lag report feeling sluggish, sleepy, having trouble concentrating, having bouts of insomnia and even stomach problems. The issue is that when you cross numerous time zones, your circadian rhythm is thrown off.
The usual cues that tell your body when to sleep and when to be awake – cues like light, social activities, mealtimes – are decoupled from what your body needs at a given moment.
How long does it take to recover from jet lag?
First, if you want to know how to avoid jet lag you need to know what you’re up against. The rule of thumb for savvy travelers is ‘West is best, East is a beast.’
This comes from the observation most travelers experience when they’re trying to figure out how to get over jet lag: when you travel east several time zones, you ‘lose time,’ making it harder for your body to catch up to your new time zone.
In fact, if you’re traveling west to east you can count on it taking the same number of days as the number of time zones you crossed for you to fully recover from jet lag. If you’re traveling from east to west it’ll take about half that.
Having said that, here are a few of the most tried and tested methods for how to beat jet lag.
1. Start changing your schedule before you leave
One old-school method flight attendants and other frequent travelers use to beat jet lag is to start shifting your sleep schedule in advance of your trip.
If you’re heading east, start moving your bedtime earlier by 30 minutes each night for at least a few days before you leave. If you’re heading west, move it later.
It helps some travelers to overcome jet lag when they also shift their meal times to more closely correspond with the times they will be eating at their destination.
2. Begin adjusting while you’re still in the air
Another trick that is partly psychological but nonetheless effective for some travelers who have learned how to beat jet lag is to change your watch or set your cell phone to your new time zone while you’re still traveling.
You can also try eating and sleeping on what the new schedule will be while on board the plane, although keep in mind that experts say trying to force yourself to sleep can be almost as stressful as losing sleep.
Worst case scenario, at least try to get as much rest as you can even if you only drift off into actual sleep sporadically.
3. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
This one is kind of a bummer if you’re on your way to your dream vacation and you want to start the party early.
But the fact is that alcohol, while it certainly has the ability to knock you out cold (if you do it right) nonetheless is a massive sleep disruptor. But ‘passed out’ is not the same as sleeping, and it isn’t as restful for your body.
Alcohol also dehydrates you, and to give your body the best chance of recovering as quickly as possible, you need all of your bodily functions firing on all cylinders.
Caffeine’s another no-no until you get yourself adjusted to your new time zone, as it too can cause sleep disruption and dehydrates you.
4. In fact, drink a ton of water
In keeping with the previous suggestion, drink even more water than usual.
Even if you’re not downing shots of bourbon while in flight, air travel is massively dehydrating, and you need all your precious bodily fluids fully topped off in order to help you recover from jet lag more quickly.
5. Get some sleep to combat jet lag
The more well-rested and healthy that you are before you travel, the easier It’s going to be for you to get back in the swing of things where you’re going.
So while having a fun and crazy send-off with your mates the night before you head off to foreign lands seems like a good idea, if you want to be fully recovered and ready to enjoy your time in your new location, a good night’s sleep is what’s needed instead, and one of the best ways to beat jet lag.
6. Eat healthy
In order to give yourself the best chance possible to recover quickly from jet lag, make sure you don’t succumb to the temptation to eat junk food while you’re traveling and in the days before you set off or on the day of travel.
Whole foods like nuts, fruit and veg, yogurt, and grilled chicken that are high in protein are your friends. Make sure you avoid salty, sugary, high carb snacks that don’t stick with you and don’t provide the energy you need to recover.
7. Get out and about
While you probably won’t be down for a run or some other grand exercise session right after you arrive on a long flight, at least try to get out for a walk in the fresh air and move around a little.
You can also help give yourself a leg up in how to get over jet lag faster by moving around while you’re on the plane.
Sitting in your seat for ten hours or more is likely to be far more sedentary than the activity level your body is used to, so take advantage of every opportunity to walk around, stretch, and flex your various muscle groups.
8. Enjoy that sunshine
In the days after you arrive, make sure you spend plenty of time outside in the daylight.
Sunshine, especially morning sun has a rejuvenating effect on us, and signals the body to stop producing melatonin, the sleep hormone that makes you feel drowsy and ready for bed.
9. Scheduling is key to beating jet lag
If at all possible, try to schedule your arrival for late afternoon or night. This means you’ll just have a few hours before It’s time for bed.
If you arrive in the morning and you have to plow through, that means you’re facing nearly two full days without a night’s sleep.
10. Be flexible to recover from jet lag
If you’re traveling for work or something else that requires you to be fully on your game, try to give yourself a few days buffer in your new location.
Rolling right off the plane into a vital business meeting several times zones away may seem like an awesome power move, but just because it works out great in movies and on TV, in real life it’s often a recipe for disaster.
11. Know your ride
One of the best ways to beat jet lag is simply knowing your airplane types. Keep an eye out for flights that are on A350s and A380s.
These recent vintage models come equipped with state-of-the-art humidification systems to prevent passengers from getting dehydrated, as well as LED lighting systems that are capable of reproducing 16.7 million different colors.
They cycle through simulated night and daylight to simulate the natural hours of the day and help you to recover from jet lag more quickly once you touch down.
12. Split it up to prevent jet lag
This one flies in the face of the way most of us try to travel, but if you want to know one really good secret to how to get over jet lag quickly, consider breaking up your trip into two or more legs.
The extra time on the ground not only allows you time to stretch out, but also simply gives your body extra hours to adjust.
13. Pass on the sleeping pills
Lots of travelers searching for how to recover from jet lag faster think taking sleeping pills on their flight is going to give them a shortcut, but most experts agree this is a mistake.
The forced, drugged sleep you get on sleeping pills does nothing to help you adjust to the new time zone, and just leaves you feeling groggy when you land.
14. But do consider melatonin
However, if you’re really concerned with getting some quality sleep while you’re on board the plane, you might think about picking up some melatonin.
The natural hormone your body produces won’t make you muzzy-headed like sleeping pills can, and could help you get some quality zzz’s on the flight over.
Stay tuned for more health and fitness advice from Blitz’d!