If you have ever flown through different time zones, you may have suffered from jet lag – the groggy, tired, sick feeling you get for days after landing in your new destination. It gets worse the more time zones you travel through. Usually, jet lag doesn’t hit me too hard as I’ve learned some tricks over the years to mitigate it, but after experiencing the worst jet lag ever after my flight from San Francisco to London in December, I thought a refresher for how to beat jet lag is much over due.
Jet lag is worse flying west to east because you lose time, whereas flying east to west you gain time back. For some reason (I’m not a doctor or a biologist), the body’s circadian rhythm hates flying west to east which results in jet lag – symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, headaches, dehydration, nausea, indigestion, difficulty focusing, and others. This can be irritating when you’re supposed to be enjoying your vacation. Especially because it affects people differently. Where I had the worst jet lag ever, Conor felt almost no jet lag at all. Usually the symptoms go away within a few days or less depending on how many time zones you travelled through, what precautions you took, and sheer luck in some cases. Below are my best tips to beating jet lag so you can enjoy more of your vacation quicker.
Hydrate. It is so important to stay hydrated while flying, so it’s good practice to start hydrating before you’re even in the air. I carry a reusable water bottle with me so I can refill when I need to in airports, during layovers, and on board. It also helps to not consumer soft drinks or alcohol while flying as they are dehydrating. But, I know that’s not really feasible for everyone (one glass of wine helps put me to sleep), so I recommend off-setting any sodas or alcohol with water by ordering them at the same time.
Adjust to the new time zone as quick as possible. Your sleeping pattern is going to need adjustment so if you can start this early. Either before you leave by going to bed earlier or later depending on your final destination, or by adhering to your destination’s timing right away. If I am landing in the UK in the morning then I try to sleep as much as possible on the flight and not sleep after I land until that evening. If I am landing during the afternoon or evening, then I try to not to sleep at all on the flight so I’m tired when I land and can go straight to bed. Getting your circadian rhythm adjusted quicker helps mitigate the symptoms of jet lag. Pro tip: if you don’t want to sleep on the plane, book an aisle seat.
Move around. While on the plane, make sure to get up every hour or so and move around, even if it’s just to the bathroom. Moving around reduced stiffness and promotes mental alertness which can help ease symptoms of jet lag. It’s also healthy for you on long haul flights. I try to do a bit of yoga or stretching at the back of the plane or in the bathroom, as long as I’m out of the way, the flight attendants tend not to mind. It also gives me a chance to grab more water if I need it.
Disclaimer: sometimes I use sleeping medication, like melatonin, if I’m having insomnia and desperately need to get to bed. But I try not to because some don’t allow you to get into a good REM sleep and they can be habit-forming. Before going on any medication, obviously speak with your doctor.
And sometimes, you could have done everything right and still experience bad jet lag. In that case, be kind to yourself. At some point, it happens to everyone. Try to adjust your holiday plans to allow for a relaxed day on the first day, with some exercise. There isn’t treatment for jet lag, so just do the best you can with preventative measures.
- Keep a reusable water bottle with you.
- Be mindful when choosing seats – aisle if you don’t want to sleep, window if you do.
- Learn a few stretches to do in a plane seat, in the bathroom, or near the back of the plane.