Unfortunately, though, we can’t.
Flying to other continents can wreak havoc with our bodies’ natural cycles, and normally it takes several days to make the transition. This period of adjustment has earned the popular name “jet lag,” and often people just assume that—as one of the downsides of traveling—it’s just something they have to tough out.
But, while jet lag is unavoidable, there are several things you can do to minimize its negative effects on you. Here are a few ideas of things to do before you fly, during your flight, and after you arrive at your destination:
Before You Fly…
- Consider your flight time. Travelers who find it easy to sleep in planes often prefer night flights. But many other travelers find that daytime flights cause less jet lag. Ask yourself what your experience has been, and then schedule flight times accordingly.
- Shift your sleep a bit before you leave. If you are traveling east, stay up later at night and sleep later in the morning. If you are traveling west, go to bed earlier and get up earlier.
- Exercise as much as you can. This is as good for your mind as well as your body. It will help you relax for your flight and maybe even increase your chances of getting some much-needed sleep on board your flight.
- Plan to leave 48 hours before you actually do. This is a tip European travel guru Rick Steves suggests. “Keep that last 48-hour period sacred (apart from your normal work schedule), even if it means being hectic before your false departure date,” Rick says. “Then you have two orderly, peaceful days after you’ve packed so that you are physically ready to fly.”
- Rest. Even if you can’t spare a couple of days before you fly, get as much rest and as you can. And don’t party or drink the night before
During Your Flight…
- Reset your mind. As soon as you board the plane, reset your watch to the time it currently is at your destination. Be there in your mind before your body arrives. You’ll be amazed how much a difference this “mind set” can make to your outlook!
- Exercise. Get up and move around—walking up and down the aisles, etc.—as much as you can. When you’re not doing that, simply stand or stretch in your seat. All this helps reduce the discomfort you feel when you’re sitting in a cramped airline seat for hours and hours. If you have any stopovers, take advantage of them—walk around your plane or the airport as much as possible.
- Drink fluids other than the caffeinated or alcoholic kind. The dry air in jets causes dehydration, and the point is to stay healthy and properly hydrated.
- Use external sleep aids. Getting as much sleep as you can while flying is always helpful, and sleep aids such as blindfolds, ear plugs, neck rests, and blow-up pillows can reduce in-flight noise and other distractions and help you relax and hopefully get some shut-eye. It often helps to take off your shoes, too, and airlines sometimes offer soft, disposable slippers to keep your feet warm.
After You Arrive…
- Stay awake until an early local bedtime. If you feel like sleeping at 2:00 in the afternoon and yield to the temptation, you’re only slowing the inevitable adjustment you need to make. Keep going—walk, see some sights, walk some more, see more sights—until you’ve made it to a reasonable local bedtime. For the first day or two, force yourself forward.
- If it’s right for you, think about jet-lag medications. This isn’t for everyone, but some travelers find that various sleep remedies help them adjust to the new time zone much more easily. There are both prescription meds and over-the-counter remedies such as melatonin, a hormone that helps ease the transition and is very popular among travelers. (It’s important to note too that, while melatonin is available over the counter in the U.S., it is illegal in some other countries.) But the best person to talk to you about this subject is your doctor or an advice nurse.
If you have any additional tips to minimize jet lag, just post a comment to this blog. We’d love to hear what you have to say!