Traveling in the age of commercial airliners is a true miracle, transporting you across continents and time zones at a rate that would astound our ancestors. But with the dream of flight comes the reality of jet lag.
Jet lag disrupts your circadian rhythms, the internal body clock that tells you when you’re supposed to be sleeping or awake. Not only does jet lag induce fatigue, headaches, indigestion and other nasties, it also makes you more susceptible to infection, not the first souvenir you want to pick up in a new place.
While it’s inevitable that our bodies will need a bit of bounce-back time after the rigors of travel, here’s a few ways to shorten that battle without 5 in-flight martinis and a fistful of sleeping pills.
Before Departure . . .
GET SOME REST
Though you’ll want to try and sleep on the plane, if you start off the journey in a fatigued state, it’ll only compound the effects of jet lag. Some people swear by the method of going to bed slightly earlier/later each day leading up to your trip in the hopes of getting closer to the sleep schedule of the time zone they are traveling to. While I don’t personally use that approach (I need to still be on my current sleeping pattern at home in order to wrap up all my last minutes work and not feel out of whack), everyone comes out ahead of the game by embarking on travels with a good night’s sleep.
DRESS IN LOOSE, COMFORTABLE LAYERS
I love the old school approach of dressing up for travel. But for the sake of self-preservation, dress for comfort! Airplane seats are confining, and your body temp is likely to run the gamut during the whole experience. (Think of the sweating as you jockey your luggage and check-in, to the sudden chill you get after several hours aloft, unmoving.)
Since you will inevitably be fighting dehydration while in-transit, get a jump on it and drink a lot of water in the hours leading up to departure. Doubly so, if you drink any caffeine and/or alcohol during that time. Also, of possible, eat a light and healthy meal before you go – the antithesis of what you’ll be subsisting on in the aircraft. Hopefully you can make those good calories last you a bit longer.
Which brings me to…
In-Flight . . .
I pre-order vegetarian meals because, besides being a veg, I find they are only ever-so slightly healthier and fresher, if that’s even a possibility. I also bring supplementary snacks on-board that can sustain me. You’ll need to review the TSA rules to be certain what you can bring, but I’ve found that even a few good granola bars will get me pretty far, since I’m not burning more than, like, two calories an hour anyway.
HYDRATION REIGNS SUPREME
Bring an empty water bottle on the plane; the airline attendants will refill it for you. (I’ve also noticed they’ll hand out additional water bottles on request, but I’m not so much with the plastic bottles.) Yes, I know it’s a pain to get up and go the bathroom on the plane – especially if you are a window person like me. But hey, everybody has to. And your body will thank you. Plus getting up often is important to.
STRETCH AND GET UP
That cheesy in-flight video that shows people stretching and doing head rolls in their seats? It’s good stuff! My ankles puff up like an elephant at 30,000 feet and getting up to stretch and move the legs periodically is one of the only ways I can shove my shoes back on at the end of the flight. This is a sport, people!
TRY TO GET AS MUCH SLEEP AS YOU CAN
To my mind, the sleep I get on an airplane is worth half as much (or less!) as the sleep I get in my bed on the ground. For any flight that is more than a short hop, I aim to sleep as much as I possibly can in-flight. Both earplugs and a sleeping mask can be very helpful tools in this endeavor. I load my iPod with lots of ambient soothing tunes and sometimes select a particularly boring movie to watch when I start to get drowsy. Be sure to buckle your seat belt on top of your blanket so the attendants don’t wake you up to tell you to fasten up if turbulence occurs.
MELATONIN and VALERIAN
Melatonin and Valerian are two natural supplements used to offset the effects of jet lag. I’ve never used either of them so, at this point, I can’t give any personal feedback. If you do think you’d like to check these out, do set up a trial run before you travel so that you can measure how your body reacts to the dosage. Just because they are natural doesn’t mean you can’t have a reaction to them that is unexpected and undesired. The same goes for any sort of sleeping pills or mild depressants; proceed with caution and the aid of previous experience. Just as important as it is to get sleep in the air, so too is it vital to have your wits about you when you touch the ground.
LAY OFF THE SAUCE
Ok, I’m not going to tell you – flat out don’t drink on the plane. To be honest, I often have one cocktail early-on in long-haul flights to help mellow me out for sleepy time. (I opt for a bloody mary because of the ‘beneficial’ properties of the tomato juice.) But keep it cool, people. Have you ever had a jet lag-fueled hangover? Bad news.
It’s a good practice to set your clocks to the your destination’s time as soon as you take-off. For me, it’s a mental thing – I’m starting the process of being there. Some recommend that you eat and sleep accordingly, but I don’t. Since being in-flight is not the same as walking around on earth, instead I choose to eat lightly only to sustain energy and sleep, as I said, as much as I can.
STICK WITH THE SCHEDULE
Sure, you may have been in-flight for 17 hours and its only 6:00am where you’ve landed. But don’t look at that bed, unless you really feel crappy. Treat the day like a day, and let the buzz of a new place propel you. You’ll be well tuckered out by night and shouldn’t have any problems falling asleep at a decent evening hour.
HIT THE STREETS
Once you check in, unless it’s bedtime locally, try and get out and do just a little light exercise. Take a walk around and explore your new environs. If there’s still daylight, the exposure will send your body clock a natural cue to reset.
TAKE IT SLOW
If you are the master of your own itinerary, try and keep those first couple of days light, especially for trans-continental journeys. If you have the time, explore the city you’ve landed in rather than taking off to criss-cross the country the next morning. Enjoy long strolls and immersion in the local flavor over joining the hordes at the major attractions. Let yourself sink in to the place and pick up on it’s vibe, and soon you’ll be grooving on local time.