Whether you travel for business or pleasure, jet lag could ruin your trip if you´re unlucky. It’s not impossible to beat, though. This is how you do it.
If you´ve ever been on long flights, you know that the perils of jet lag might await you when you land. Thankfully, there are multiple steps you can take to avoid jet lag and different ways of dealing with it when you already have it.
First off, what is jet lag? Mayo Clinic defines it as “a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones”. It happens because your internal clock (circadian rhythms) is not yet in sync with the new time zone you’ve travelled to.
If you travel across multiple time zones, you´re more likely to get jet lagged. In other words, the longer the flight, the harder the jet lag. It could cause fatigue, make it hard to stay alert and even affect your digestion. And, of course, if you´re not able to beat it, you can struggle with getting enough sleep on your trip.
Some need a full 8 hours of sleep to function normally, others get by with less. Our needs may differ, but everyone knows how important sleep is to both body and mind. Sleep affects our energy levels, our digestion, our immune system, our memory and many other vital processes. Jet lag could potentially ruin your sleep for the entirety of your trip.
Jet lag is also affected by low levels of sunlight. When it gets dark, the body starts producing melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy. While darkness (or the absence of light) stimulates the production, the presence of light reduces it. If you arrive very early, you might be tempted to go to sleep, but should perhaps try to get out into the sunlight instead.
Now that you know what causes jet lag; how do you beat it?
It’s difficult to find flights where both the departure and arrival times are great. You often have to choose one over the other. And sometimes you´re not even in a position to choose. Time and money will always factor into decisions concerning travel. If you’re able to tailor the itinerary to your needs, you can minimize your jet lag while you´re at it.
That’s easier said than done, of course. It’s especially hard for long flights that cross multiple time zones. You have to operate with three factors:
- What´s the time in your time zone when you’re leaving?
- Will you be able to sleep on the plane?
- What´s the time in the new time zone when you arrive?
If you leave in the evening, you might be able to go to sleep on the plane because your internal clock tells you to. This, however, might not be the best idea. What if you arrive all rested and ready to start the day, and then it’s evening in the new time zone and time for bed? A recipe for disaster.
If possible, try to arrive in the morning. It might be easier to stay awake for longer than you usually do, than falling asleep when you’re not tired.
If you are able to, you could try to change your circadian rhythms before going away. Depending on where you´re going, a couple of hours might be just what you need to make the transition easier. It does take time, however, and you should start at least one week before your flight.
You could also try to stay up late before your flight. It could make it easier for you to fall asleep on the plane. Or you can try adjusting to the new time zone. If you find it hard to fall asleep on planes, this might not be the best solution.
As mentioned, sunlight reduces melatonin production. If you arrive in the morning, you should hit the streets immediately and get exposed to sunlight. This will reduce the production of melatonin and make you feel less sleepy. You’re also less likely to feel tired when you’re on the move.
If you have difficulty sleeping, either while trying to beat jet lag or when preparing for it, you could try to use supplements. Melatonin supplements mimic the body’s own melatonin production and make you feel sleepy. You can use this to fall asleep earlier than you usually do before you travel. Or it can help you fall asleep faster when you’re jet lagged.
Combining sunlight and melatonin supplements might be just what you need to beat jet lag. Other supplements might also help you out. Some collagen supplements include magnesium and vitamins B6 and B12, which might make you feel less tired.
There is not one single way to beat jet lag, as individual factors play a huge part. If you fall asleep easily, you could catch some shut-eye on the plane. If you don’t have a hard time staying up for several hours, you could try going out in the morning and then catching up on sleep when the evening comes. Try to figure out the best way for your body to adjust to the new timezone before travelling.