Those who frequently travel abroad are very familiar with the impact of ‘jet lag’, also known as ‘time zone change syndrome’ or ‘jet lag disorder’.
These terms describe the range of symptoms that occur following a flight to a new time zone. It happens when the internal body clock gets disrupted after crossing several time zones.
Your internal body clock finds it difficult to adjust to rapid travel and a new time zone. The body needs anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get familiar with and adapt to the new time zone.
Your internal body clock influences your sleeping and waking pattern as well as appetite, digestion, bowel habits, urine production, body temperature and blood pressure.
A disturbed sleep pattern is one of the most common symptoms of jet lag. Other symptoms include fatigue, digestive problems, nausea, muscle soreness, poor appetite, headaches, memory lapses, impaired judgment, poor concentration, and irritability.
Symptoms vary from person to person and can last up to 5 or 6 days if you have traveled across nine or more time zones, particularly in an easterly direction.
Anyone can suffer from jet lag, but certain factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing it. Such factors include the more number of time zones crossed, traveling to eastern time zones, dehydration, drinking alcohol and caffeine during the flight, lack of sleep, excess stress and being over 60 years of age.
Jet lag is temporary, but it can significantly reduce your comfort during your vacation or business trip. Fortunately, there are some tips and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms.
Here are the top 10 tips to prevent or reduce jet lag.
1. Change Your Sleep Routine before Departure
It is also important to change your regular sleep pattern a few days before your departure. This will help your internal body clock adjust easily to the new time zone.
Alter your sleep pattern to closely match the sleep times that you will follow after arriving at your destination.
For instance, if you are travelling east, go to bed an hour earlier than your usual time, and if you are travelling west, go to bed an hour later. Make these changes, a week before your departure.
Also, be sure to get enough rest and sleep before you travel to combat tiredness, which can make the jet lag feel worse.
Avoid a busy schedule the night before your departure. Prepare for your trip ahead of time and avoid last-minute packing.
2. Enjoy Daylight upon Arrival
If you arrive at your destination during the daytime, it’s important to spend some time in the natural sunlight.
Exposure to daylight will help your brain adjust to the new time zone. In fact, daylight is the most powerful natural tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, which in turn will help reduce jet leg symptoms.
Morning exposure to daylight helps the body adjust to an earlier time zone, such as when you travel eastward. Early evening daylight helps your body adjust to a later time zone when you travel westward.
Try to get as much daylight as you can, but this does not mean that you need to be out directly in the sunlight. Stay in shaded areas or in a room where you get plenty of natural sunlight.
Also, do not forget to apply sunscreen generously on exposed body parts before going out in the sun to reduce the risk of sunburn.
3. Stay Hydrated by Drinking Water
Staying hydrated is the first and most important step for preventing jet lag. In fact, you need to keep your body properly hydrated before, during and after travelling.
Air travel seems almost designed to squeeze water out of the body, and the dry, cabin air on the flight doesn’t help. The lack of humidity can make your body dehydrate quickly and worsen the symptoms once you land.
To stay hydrated, water is the best option. You can even try flavored water or lemon water.
As an added bonus, drinking more water will ensure frequent trips to the bathroom, so you’ll have a reason to get up and move around.
4. Limit Caffeine and Alcoholic Beverages
A few days before your scheduled travel and also when you are on the flight, limit your intake of caffeine and alcoholic beverages. Such drinks can lead to disturbed sleep, one of the major side effects of traveling abroad.
Caffeinated drinks and alcohol can increase fatigue and tiredness. Plus, these drinks can dehydrate your body, which will only add to your woes upon arrival.
So, no matter how tempting it seems to take full advantage of the trolley service during the flight, make sure to avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
However, upon arriving, you can drink beverages with caffeine, such as coffee, espresso and sodas, to help offset daytime sleepiness. But be sure to avoid an excess of caffeine.
5. Eat Sensibly
Just like your sleep cycle, traveling to places with different time zones can affect your digestive routine. This is why you need to keep a close eye on what you are eating.
If possible before you go, eat meals closer to the time you will be eating them at your destination.
Also, jet lag diets are quite popular among frequent fliers. A jet lag diet calls for eating a heavy diet for a few days before your scheduled travel and having no diet (fasting) on the day you are to take the flight.
When indulging in a heavy diet, though, don’t eat high carbohydrate or fatty meals close to bedtime as they may cause digestive problems and disrupt your sleep during the night.
On reaching your destination, have a protein-rich meal to help with alertness and to maintain energy.
Try to eat light and healthy meals – sprouts, soups and salads- according to the new time zone to keep your digestive tract functioning properly.
Large, rich meals will make it more difficult for your digestive system to work smoothly, which can trigger symptoms like constipation and diarrhea.
6. Consider Taking Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces naturally around your scheduled bedtime. In fact, this hormone controls the internal body clock and sends signals to the body about when you need to go to sleep and when you need to wake up.
By taking a melatonin supplement, you can reset your body’s internal clock. It should be taken prior to bedtime for several days after arriving in a new time zone to ease the transition.
A 2002 study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews states that melatonin is remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jetlag, and occasional short-term use appears to be safe.
It is recommended for adult travelers flying across five or more time zones, particularly in an easterly direction.
However, it is essential to consult your doctor before taking melatonin supplements to be sure it’s safe for you.
7. Take Regular Walks
Get up and move around while you are on the flight.
While flying long distances, make sure to take regular 10-minute walking breaks around the cabin to prevent poor blood circulation. Frequent walks will also help reduce your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.
Also, do small twisting and stretching exercises in your seat to reduce discomfort, especially swelling in your legs and feet. Stretching exercises also help reduce muscle strain and pain upon arrival.
Get off the flight at stopovers if possible, and do some exercise or take a walk.
8. Use Sleeping Aids on Flight
If you are traveling overnight or flying west to east, make sure to get some sleep on the flight.
Traveling can be extremely tiring for many people. Thus, the more sleep and rest your body gets en route, the more your body will be prepared to handle jet lag symptoms.
However, sleeping on a flight is not easy. To help you get quality sleep, use blindfolds and ear plugs or headphones to block out light and noise. Neck rests and blow-up pillows will make your sleeping posture more comfortable.
You can even kick your shoes off to ease pressure on the feet.
9. Take a Shower
Traveling overseas can make you extremely tired. To overcome this tiredness, a shower or bath is what you need.
Opt for a warm shower if you have reached your destination and it’s close to bedtime in that time zone. A warm bath or shower can ease sore muscles from traveling and help you relax and wind down. The drop in your body temperature after the warm shower may also make you sleepy.
If you land at your destination early in the morning or during the daytime, a cold shower will help keep you awake and alert so you feel much better for the rest of the day.
10. Wear Light, Loose Layers of Clothing
Dress sensibly for your travel time, especially when flying long distances. Wearing loose, comfortable clothing in layers is essential.
Airplane seating arrangements are snug and the temperature inside the cabin can fluctuate drastically. Moreover, the dry air in the cabin can make you itchy and uncomfortable. Layering helps you remove or add clothes to keep you comfortable as the temperature changes.
Until and unless you are comfortable, sleep is impossible, which can worsen the symptoms.
- If possible, plan your travel so that you arrive at your destination during the daytime.
- If traveling a long distance, try to build in a stopover to help your body adapt to the changing time zones.
- Once you board the flight, set your watch to the time of your destination to get yourself psychologically aligned.
- Avoid taking sleeping tablets to alleviate jet lag.
- If you are really exhausted from the travel, a 20-minute nap is what you should opt for instead of hitting the bed immediately. Try not to sleep longer than that before the local nighttime arrives, no matter how tired you are.
- If you wear contact lens, carry eye drops and use them regularly during the flight to prevent your eyes from drying out.
- Carry light moisturizers and lip balm and use them during the flight, also.