Dealing with Jet Lag

By Jenny E., our experienced Travel blogger.

Crossing several time zones can have a deleterious affect on your energy and capability to perform as a businessperson, or hamper your ability to fully enjoy your vacation destination. Fortunately there are several things you can do to minimize the effects of jet lag.

AIR TRAVEL TIPS

Water: The environment on an airplane is very dehydrating, which can seriously affect your body’s ability to function optimally.

  • Be sure to drink plenty of water and keep any caffeinated or alcoholic beverages to a minimum. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which pull water out of the body and can lead to dehydration.
  • You may be tempted to drink alcohol to help you sleep if it’s a long flight, but studies have shown that you may fall asleep more quickly, but the quality of your sleep will decrease – you are likely to wake up more often.

Food: You can keep the body’s energy supply steadier by eating a combination of protein and carbohydrates, rather than by eating carbohydrates alone. The protein causes the energy (glucose) of the food to be released more slowly and steadily.

Eating something like pretzels can give you a rush of energy (glucose) but then levels drop very quickly, leaving you tired and craving another similar carbohydrate. Some examples of better snack choices include:

  • energy bars
  • cheese
  • dried fruit
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • trail mix
  • yogurt

Sleeping: Some air travelers advocate adopting the time zone of your destination as soon as you step on the airplane, and adapt by sleeping and eating accordingly. Others employ the “sleep while you can get it” methodology.

It really depends on how many time zones you will be crossing, and you will need to experiment to see what works best for you.

Personally, I am a huge advocate for earplugs and an eye mask. On long flights I don’t travel without them. Small foam ear plugs block out a lot of the noise – flight attendants going up and down the aisles, people talking and the possibility of crying children. The eye mask blocks out light if I am trying to sleep when the cabin lights are on and improves the quality of my sleep.

If you have any rituals or routines that you normally do before going to bed at home, do them on the plane if possible. For instance, I normally read in bed. It relaxes me and gets my mind to stop thinking about the day or planning ahead to tomorrow. I always travel with a book and it never fails to put me to sleep – I can even be asleep before takeoff!

Sleeping Aids: If sleeping on an airplane is next to impossible for you and it is crucial that you get rest, taking a sleep aid may be helpful. Talk to your physician about what over the counter or prescription medications may help. It is important that you understand how much to take, how long it will last and what the possible side affects may be.

ONCE YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION

Sunlight: If it’s still daylight, get outside and expose your body to sunlight. Natural sunlight will help your body regulate its sleep patterns and adapt to the new time zone.

Movement/Exercise: Try to get some physical activity. Daily exercise has been shown to increase the quality of sleep. You will typically fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. If you really need an energy boost, exercise releases endorphins that increase energy in the body. With that in mind, avoid exercise too close to bedtime as it may impair your ability to fall asleep.

Keep a Schedule: Attempt to stay awake during the daylight hours of your new destination and get in bed at the same time each evening. By creating a schedule, you’ll be training the body to adapt to the new time zone.

Avoid Alcohol: Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it typically prevents you from reaching deep REM sleep (the most restful) and you may wake up more often during the night.

First Posted: 5/2009