How to World-Travel Without the Jet Lag
A trip to Paris may be fabulous, but that first day off the plane? Not so much. Jet-lag-that state of grogginess, confusion, extreme tiredness, and cheeseburger cravings-awaits, even though it’s 9 a.m. in your host country.
Conventional travel wisdom has it that there are only two ways handle it-curl up in your hotel comforter and snooze the day (and night) away, or suffer through it, ignoring your spasming eyelids and zombie-like demeanor. Both choices aren’t great. You’re either missing a day of vacation, or enduring a miserable one. So why not try to curb the symptoms of jet lag all together?
Dr. Colin Espie, a sleep expert from the University of Oxford and co-founder ofSleepio, recommends laying the groundwork a few days before your flight. For those going east: “In the days before you fly, start eating dinner, going to bed and setting your wake-up alarm an hour earlier each day.” he says. The opposite applies for those going west. “Shift your meals and bedtime an hour later each day before you fly. When you land, stay awake while it’s daylight and only try to sleep when it gets dark.”
Many flights, especially transatlantic ones going to Europe, depart late at night and arrive early the next day, which means sleeping is imperative. But getting a good night’s rest in a middle seat, next to an arm-rest hogger and behind an extreme seat recliner? Easier said than done. The National Sleep Association's Dr. Neil Kline recommends reducing external stimuli as much as possible, so don't forget an eye mask and a pair of ear buds. “Some recommend melatonin," he adds. “However, there is less data to support this.”
While fasting is one approach to combatting jet lag, simply watching what you eat and drink can also help improve how you feel after your travels. While it’s easy to see a long flight as an occasion for junk food, that seemingly harmless indulgence will hurt you in the long run. “A balanced meal, meaning ample protein and healthy fats, along with some complex carbs (like sweet potato or quinoa) will help you from crashing,” nutritionist Shira Lenchewski, author of The Food Therapist: Break Bad Habits, Eat with Intention, and Indulge Without Worry,says.
Both Lenchewski and Kline suggest skipping that glass of wine, too. “I think most people kick back alcohol, thinking it will help them sleep, but alcohol can actually be quite stimulating,” Lenchewski says. Even if you down enough to lull you to sleep, it won’t be a good snooze. “Alcohol fragments sleep. While it might help the individual to fall asleep, the quality of the sleep will be lower,” Kline says. Instead, snack on cherries-a natural source of melatonin-or drink some calming camomile or mint tea. Oh, and guzzle water, as dehydration makes jet lag worse.
Upon landing, expose yourself to the daylight as soon as possible. “One way to reduce the symptoms and accommodate faster to time zone changes is to get sunlight or other bright light first thing in the morning in the new time zone. This helps to reset the circadian rhythm,” says Kline. Just another good reason to go outside and enjoy yourself in a new city.