How to Minimize Jet Lag (and Sleep Better) While You Travel
‘Tis almost the season for visiting friends and family around the world. And you know what that means, right? Not only will we be exhausted from all of the merrymaking, we’ll have to deal with the ever-dreaded bouts of jet lag. Ugh.
Feeling tired after changing time zones is a very real (and very trying) ordeal. While it might not be possible to completely avoid the phenomenon, there are some ways to ease the effects.
Why does jet lag happen in the first place?
Jet lag happens when there’s a sudden change in your “environmental cues,” or what’s happening around you at any given time and how you respond to that stimuli. When those cues change in relation to your body’s natural body clock (also known as circadian rhythm), you end up with jet lag. This is what causes jet lag to have a similar effect as working night shift jobs – your environment becomes out of sync with what you are used to seeing as your normal cues.
Your eyes open you up to jet lag
The cells in your eyes have individual clocks that run on their own time, as well as being sensitive to light. This is what confuses your brain and body when it comes to switching time zones, since your brain doesn’t have any exposure to the light and relies solely on what your eyes are telling you. And your other organs are completely clueless, as they have no clocks at all – instead, they rely on strong metabolic cues to alert you when it’s time to sleep, eat, work, etc. Starting to see how jet lag happens?
This misalignment of internal body clocks is what causes us to feel sick and tired when we have jet lag. Our bodies are telling us that something isn’t adding up and it throws up warning flags in the form of jet lag symptoms, such as headaches, indigestion, irritability, or exhaustion.
So now that you know what causes jet lag, what can you do to minimize its impact?
Get an early start
One of the best tips to avoid suffering from jet lag is to get a head start on adjusting your body to the time zone you are heading to before you even leave home. Go to bed a bit earlier or later (depending on what adjustment you will need to make when you reach your destination), move your eating schedule to accommodate when you will be eating while on your trip.
This slight change in your environmental cues can be a big help when it comes time to adapt to a new time zone. It’s so effective, in fact, that many professional sports teams have begun adopting this method. They change their training schedule to the time of day when they will be playing at away games, enabling their bodies to be ready for game play at the right time. For example, athletes in California might practice at 4 p.m. if they are planning to fly to New York for a 7 p.m. game in the next few days.
Get your timing aligned
Be sure to eat, exercise, and sleep on the time clock that you will be traveling to within a week of leaving on your trip. This will allow your body to get the same info to all of your organs, no matter what cues they might be sensitive to in your environment. Getting enough exposure to sunlight during the day is also important, much like keeping things dimmer at night is key to getting to sleep. Spend some time outdoors each day and consider using a sleep mask for the first couple of days if you are having to turn in earlier due to prepping for a time zone change.
Cut yourself a break
Jet lag will disrupt your sleep and your ability to focus for the first 24 hours, no matter how well you have prepared yourself for your travels. This makes you human! Make sure to take this into account and schedule some much-needed relaxation into the first day after you arrive. Taking it easy for your first day will help your body to focus on realigning and recovering – a very good thing and the key to beating the jet lag blues.
Following these tips will not only help you to feel your best no matter what time zone you happen to be in. They will also ensure that you get the most out of your trip and the time spent with family and friends, which was the whole point after all, right?