Jet Lag: How to Deal with the Unwelcome Side of International Travel
I just arrived in Seattle yesterday where I´ve temporarily relocated my ¨office¨ for the next 5 weeks. While seeing mostly…
I just arrived in Seattle yesterday where I´ve temporarily relocated my ¨office¨ for the next 5 weeks. While seeing mostly online clients through my psychology private practice means that I´m able to live the location independent lifestyle a few times a year, the international travel does come with a price: jet lag.
In general, I would say that I’m a good traveler. I can be flexible, see the bright side when things don’t go my way, I’ll try new foods, use gross bathrooms and chat it up with strangers. I even seek out ways to enjoy flying despite the fact that deep down I really hate it. But, there’s one part about traveling halfway around the world that I just can’t stand, and it´s the jet lag that I´m dealing with today. Which is why I´ve been doing some research on the best ways to deal with it.
First of all, a little bit more about jet lag. Did you know that it can take up to one day for each time zone crossed to fully recover? Thankfully this is only the case if you’re traveling from West to East (i.e. Seattle to Amsterdam). If you’re traveling in the opposite direction, you’ll only need half the number of days to recover (which means that by midday Thursday I should be back at 100%).
Jet lag occurs because international travel disrupts our circadian rhythms, our internal 24 hour biological clocks that help us know when to eat, sleep, etc. Cues that help us know when it’s time to sleep, like exposure to sunlight, physical activity, social activities, etc. are disrupted when we travel. And it turns out that air travel includes other factors that can further mess with our circadian rhythms. According to Web MD, there was a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 that found that pressurized airplane cabins lower oxygen in our blood, which makes us feel more dehydrated and less comfortable. Not to mention the fact that when you’re in an airplane cabin, you get much less physical activity than you normally would.
So, jet lag really does seem to be inevitable. But, there are some preventative steps you can take before your flight AND once you hit the ground to make sure jet lag doesn’t ruin your first few days in a new country:
- Change your bedtime. In the days leading up to your trip start adjusting the time you head to bed. If traveling east to west, go to bed later, if traveling west to east, go to bed earlier.
- Get some exercise. Wear yourself out before you get on the plane. Go to the gym, go for a walk, do some yoga in the airport waiting area. Whatever you need to do to get some sleep on the plane. Some people swear by sleeping very little the night before an international flight, but this just takes me longer to recover from jet lag because I’m so exhausted.
- Mentally prepare for the new time zone. Change your watch while on the plane to reflect the new time zone. Is it 3am in Paris, the city you’re headed to? Get some sleep! Bring earplugs and a face mask just in case they aren’t offered on your flight. They’ll also come in handy at your destination in case your hostel or hotel is noisy or lacking black out blinds.
- Get to your destination a few days early. If possible, try to schedule in some extra days to adjust (this is my favorite method!)
- Stay hydrated. Hydration during flight and once you arrive is absolutely essential. Resist the temptation to immediately start enjoying the alcoholic or caffeinated beverages that the place you´re visiting is famous for. Also keep in mind that alcohol and caffeine can interrupt sleep so make sure to avoid them a few hours before you go to bed.
- Continue to move. Get up and move around during flight and once you land try to go out for a walk. Travel expert Rick Steves always says that “sunlight is jet lag’s worst enemy.”
- Turn to technology. There are some apps available for cell phones and tablets that can help you to fight jet lag! Check out iTunes or the Google play store to see what’s people are saying about the different ones available.
- Consult your doctor. Many international travelers swear by taking medication to cope with jet lag. Make sure to consult with your own medical professional to see whether they´d prescribe you medication to help you to sleep better or adjust your circadian rhythms.
Are you a frequent international traveler? Share with us your own favorite tips for fighting jet lag in the comments section!