Jet Lag

Photo Credit: Hernán Piñera on Flickr

It is every traveler’s worst nightmare, jet lag. From the red eyes to the loony behavior, jet lag can inflict even the most experienced of travelers. You want to go out and sightsee and take advantage of the time you have abroad but your body is saying no, fighting you with every step.

In roughly 48 hours, my husband and I will board a flight for two weeks in Ireland. Two weeks doesn’t warrant a tremendous amount of time to get over jet lag. Not only can jet lag rain on your travel parade in terms of sightseeing, but you can also miss out on valuable vacation days asleep or fighting to stay awake. While I know that we will have to battle jet lag in a few days, after countless trips abroad, I have learned a few ways to cleverly tell jet lag to take a hike. If you are plotting a long haul trip, don’t forget to keep these tips in mind to help you beat jet lag.

1. Go To Bed Earlier & Wake Up Earlier In The Days Leading Up To Your Trip

When I know I am taking a trip in which my sleep cycle will be thrown off, I gradually start the adjustment process by going to bed earlier the week before my trip. Every night before you leave, try to go to bed earlier than you normally do. Set your alarm clock to wake up a bit earlier than usual to gradually adjust your natural sleep cycle. An hour here and there will help you better adjust to completely different sleep cycles once you touch down. You can start the process gradually a week before take off, going to bed earlier and earlier with each passing day. By the time your trip rolls around, you will be more inclined to sleep on the flight and wake up rested when you touch down.

2. Adjust Your Circadian Rhythm With The Help Of Apps

While it might be easier said than done to try to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier to fight jet lag, some apps truly help you get your circadian rhythm in check with your destination. The app Entrain Yourself helps you monitor your body’s circadian clock and even adjust it to different time zones. In the days leading up to your trip, you can follow the app’s lighting schedules and even keep up with those schedules after you touch down. Apps like these help you know when to get light and when to head for darkness to train your brain for sleep even if it might be in the middle of the day back home.

3. Get As Much Sleep As Possible Leading Up To Your Trip

how to avoid jet lag

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While you can try to reset your circadian rhythm or even trick your body into going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, nothing beats jet lag like some good old-fashioned rest. If I know an overseas trip is on the horizon, I always try to get some extra sleep in the weeks leading up to my trip. I tie up loose ends in advance so that I’m not tired going into my trip aboard. If you get as much sleep as possible leading up to your trip, you will feel less fatigued and thus less jet lagged once you get to your destination.

4. Resist The Alcohol On Your Flight

alcohol and jet lag

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It always sounds appealing to order that glass of red wine to help you pass out on your flight overseas. However, alcohol can make your jet lag far worse. Alcohol can dehydrate you on a plane, especially with pressurized and dry cabins working against you. While it won’t cure jet lag to avoid alcohol, by drinking more water instead, you stand a better chance of staying hydrated on board and then you don’t add more fatigue to the jet lag equation.

5. Set Your Watch To Local Time At Your Destination

Just being aware of the fact that its really 8PM back home and 3AM at your destination can make your jet lag far worse than you ever imagined. I always try to set my watch to local time at my destination to block out what time it is back home. I don’t want to know that it is lunchtime back home when I should be going to bed at my destination. I set the clock on my phone to my destination’s time once I board my flight. I know when I should be trying to sleep and when I need to wake up if my home’s time zone is completely out of sight, out of mind.

6. Upgrade If You Can To A More Comfortable Seat

jet lagged

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You might want to sleep on the plane and yet a screaming baby or a chatty seatmate next to you makes that next to impossible. While sleep can be possible in economy class, if you have more legroom, more of a recline and less noise, you stand a better chance at getting some extra sleep. Even in the months leading up to your trip, check your seat assignment often. If you can switch to a more favorable seat, even if it is economy, do it. Exits rows will lend more legroom and no crying babies. Resist booking the seat right near a bathroom or an aisle seat. You will be waking up constantly with people getting up to use the bathroom or bumping you on the way there. An upgrade can be just what the doctor ordered to combat jet lag. If you can sleep on the ride over, you will often resist taking a nap right when you get into town. If you can upgrade to business or first class, sleep becomes less of a challenge with more legroom, less noise, and reclined seats.

7. Cut Out the Caffeine On Travel Day

avoid being jet lagged

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The scent of coffee at the airport might be tempting but resist. Caffeine on the day of your travels is always a bad idea. If you tend to need a cup or two of coffee to get by each day, cut out your caffeine intake on your travel day. Caffeine can make it next to impossible to sleep on a plane. You will be wide-eyed while the rest of the plane is sleeping. While not having your morning coffee might make you seem a bit zany, you will stand a better chance of falling asleep on the plane. At the same time, you can lessen jet lag’s grasp over you by not having caffeine working against your need for sleep.

8. Avoid The Post Flight Nap

Jet lag is a strong force especially after hours of travel and that moment you finally reach a nice warm bed. While it might be tempting to just collapse and sleep for several hours, jet lag will come back with a vengeance when you need to sleep later that night. In most cases, you are touching down in the morning or early afternoon. If you take a nap now, you will only prolong your jet lag. I always try to stay awake at least until an appropriate bed time at my destination. If I take a nap right when I get in, the jet lag worsens and the whole day is shot. Avoid the post-flight nap and you will thank yourself later when you can actually sleep through the night. The key is to stay awake as long as possible after you touch down to avoid making jet lag worse. If you nap, chances are you will wake up feeling worse and have a hard time going to bed at night.

9. Get Out & Exercise When You Land

how to get over being jet lagged

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While the last thing you might want to do is exercise when you land, staying active will actually help lessen your jet lag. I always try to either schedule a walking tour the day I get in or merely just wander around my destination on foot until my feet can’t stand it. Getting out in the daylight and moving will help keep your body awake longer and resist the urge to take that afternoon nap. Stay busy on the day you get in by exercising and walking.

10. Practice Healthy Bedtime Routines

You are faced with jet lag at your destination so you decide to scroll through your phone’s apps before going to bed. Next thing you know, you have spent a few hours on social media and still don’t feel tired. The light of your cell phones and tablets has the ability to keep you awake even longer. When you are dealing with jet lag, you have to practice healthy bedtime routines. Take a hot shower. Read a book. Resist screen time and draw the curtains. Block out any light you can to ensure that you will go to sleep and stay asleep even if your body knows it's 2PM in Los Angeles.

Your Turn…

How do you combat jet lag? Share your tips for dealing with jet lag in the comments below.