I am the sort of person who needs a solid nine hours of sleep.
(Absurd, I know!)
So changing time zones is not easy for me (and not sleeping on the plane doesn’t help). So what do we do, those of us doomed to be jet lag zombies? Medication can help, but all it did was make me super groggy without falling asleep. And my doctor warned me that it would make me groggy the first few days of my trip!
For those of you who only get two weeks of vacation a year, being groggy the first few days of your trip is unacceptable!
So here are five natural, med-free ways to help combat that pesky jet lag!
#1 Adjust Your Time Zone before Your Trip
What exactly does that mean? Well, a couple of days before your trip (as much as a week if you have that luxury), start behaving like you’re in your vacation’s time zone. I’m going to Guiyang, China in November. They are exactly twelve hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone. So about a week before my trip, I’ll start switching my sleep schedule. It’s best to do it gradually.
Since I usually go to bed at 10 and wake up at 8, I’ll start shifting my sleep every night. I’ll go to bed at midnight the first night, then 2 AM, then 4 AM, etc. By the time I depart on my flight, my body will already be in Guiyang’s time zone.
But sleep isn’t all you should adjust! When you eat your meals should be adjusted. When you’re exposed to sunlight should be adjusted. I’ll have to be exposed to artificial light overnight, and around 8 AM start wearing sunglasses, even inside. My body will see that as a sign to start winding down and getting ready for bed.
#2 Take Care of Your Health
It seems so obvious, right? But if you aren’t fully hydrated, jet lag will be even worse. So not only does that mean drinking water, it means avoiding beverages like coffee and alcohol, because they cause dehydration.
If you, unlike me, can sleep on a plane, go for it! Just make sure you’re getting quality sleep by simulating night as best you can. That means using an eye mask, earplugs, pillow, blanket, pajamas—anything you need to sleep comfortably on the plane.
For the rest of us though, sleeping on a plane is impossible. Whether it’s because of the uncomfortableness of the seat or flight anxiety, we just can’t do it. To stay healthy and less prone to jet lag on a flight, make sure you get up and walk the aisles every few hours. Your body wasn’t built to sit in one place for a long-haul flight. Your blood needs to circulate, and your brain needs some exercise to be healthy. Exercise helps regulate your melatonin, so when you decide you can sleep, your brain will be ready.
#3 Spend Your First Day Outdoors
The best way to get your circadian rhythm in line with your new time zone is sun exposure. So if you can, spend your first day of vacay soaking up as much sun as possible. If it’s not feasible to hang outside and sunbathe (maybe you’ve arrived for business), at least get out as much as possible. Try to make sure you’re exposed to as many types of sunlight as possible. Morning sunlight helps wake our bodies up, and evening sunlight lets our bodies know that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep.
You may have heard other people suggest that napping is a bad idea when you’re trying to adjust to a new time zone. As someone who loves naps and sometimes can’t get through the day without one, I disagree.
Naps are only harmful to your adjustment if you overuse them. If you take a four-hour nap on your first day, you’ll impede the progress you’ve already made. Take small naps, and know your body. Some people can lie down for twenty minutes and then wake up as fresh as a daisy. Other people (i.e. me) need a good two-hour nap to feel refreshed. If I don’t get that two-hour nap, I’ll wake up groggier than before. So don’t over- or under-do your nap.
And as a bonus tip, take a shower after you nap. You’ll feel clean after all that sweaty travel, and it will help wake you up even more—especially if you take a cold shower.
#5 Reduce Your Stress
So, so, so much easier said than done, right? But there are lots of ways we can slowly chip away at our stress level. We can be more mindful when we travel. We can nix the caffeine. We can wear comfy clothes when we travel. (Never underestimate the power of comfy clothes!) We can make sure we’re fully prepared for our trip by using a travel agent. We can practice meditating. We can eat comfort food. We can distract ourselves. The list really is endless.
(Share how you reduce your stress when you travel below!)
Stress makes everything harder, so it’s no surprise it makes eliminating jet lag harder, too. The best way to combat stress when you travel is to know thyself and have a plan. Does the airport recommend arriving two hours early, but you know you’d feel a lot better if you arrived three hours early? Do it! Who cares if you’re sitting in the airport an hour longer, at least you can sit in that airport completely at ease. Take care of yourself and have a stress reduction plan when you travel.
Now get out there and go!