It was a simple overnight flight to London. I watched movies, read my book, and talked with my friend as the eight-hour trip flew by. What I didn’t do was get much sleep, and the seven-hour time difference hit me like a ton of bricks upon arrival.
When my friend and I rolled into the hotel lobby at 10 a.m. London time, I could barely function from lack of sleep. It was, after all, the middle of the night at home.
When we learned our room wasn’t ready, we went for a walk, passing Hyde Park along the way. Perhaps you can guess what happened next. We sat down on the grass in Hyde Park for a “few minutes rest”—and yes, we woke a few hours later after falling asleep on the lawn.
That’s what jet lag can do to you. While it may not reduce you to sleeping in foreign parks, it can make it hard to enjoy the first days of your journey, and it can disrupt your sleep schedule for days. Fortunately, jet lag doesn’t have to affect your vacation. Here are a few simple ways to help you deal with jet lag while traveling.
What Is Jet Lag?
According to the Mayo Clinic, jet lag is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who travels quickly between multiple time zones. Symptoms include severe fatigue, sleep problems, including insomnia, stomach problems, and even mood changes. For me, jet lag made me dizzy, nauseated, and miserable.
Symptoms are more extreme the farther you travel. While a trip from the West Coast to the East Coast may not be difficult, traveling to Asia or Europe can be a challenge.
Traveling across time zones disrupts your internal clock, which regulates your body’s sleep cycle and even hunger and bowel patterns. Sunlight is the biggest influence on your internal clock, since light affects the regulation of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. That’s why some travelers find that taking a melatonin supplement can help readjust the body’s internal clock when traveling.
Regulating your exposure to sunlight can also help you adjust to a new time zone. If you arrive in the morning or afternoon at your destination, get out and take a quick walk in the sunshine. It will help you feel more wakeful and help readjust your internal clock.
Before You Take Off
Be sure to get a good night’s rest before your trip begins. If you’re tired before you travel, you’ll only add to the effects of jet lag.
As soon as you get on the plane, set your watch to the time zone at your destination. This will help you mentally transition to the new time zone.
During the Flight
What you do during the flight is key. Dehydration can contribute to the effects of jet lag, so drink plenty of water during the journey. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can affect your sleep and cause dehydration. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and be sure to get up to stretch during the flight.
Though it’s tempting to watch all those good movies on the plane, if the flight is during the night at your destination, try to get some sleep. Flight crew activity will often match the time zone at your destination. If it’s already night at your destination, they will serve the meal and drinks and then turn off the cabin lights until right before you land.
As for me, I’ll watch one movie during the meal service, and then put on eye shades and earplugs to shut out the noise and light. I have two small travel pillows that I stack up against the window to lean on. Sometimes I’ll take an antihistamine like Benadryl, which makes me sleepy, or listen to soothing music which puts me to sleep.
Years ago, a colleague introduced me to a product called No Jet Lag. This homeopathic remedy can be purchased at retail stores or online. Its natural ingredients include Chamomilla, Arnica, and Bellis Perennis, which are extracted from the common daisy. The product does not contain any caffeine or sleep medications, but it’s effective in countering the effects of jet lag.
I admit I was skeptical at first. But ever since I’ve started taking No Jet Lag during travel, adjusting to different time zones has been easier. You simply take one tablet when you take off, one every two hours during the flight, and then one more upon landing. Since it’s homeopathic, No Jet Lag can be taken with other medications or by travelers of all ages.
Perhaps the most important ingredient to overcoming jet lag is your mindset. Angela Berardino, a PR executive from Denver, said her goal while traveling is to live in the time zone she’s in.
“I travel every week,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s a big time zone change; other times it’s small. But the moment I hit the ground, I use the time on my phone. I don’t do mental calculations to figure out what time it is back home. I trick my mind into being fully present.”
That’s a goal I have too. My time in a destination is so precious that I don’t want to waste it feeling jet lagged. I’ve found that it’s easiest when I arrive in the late morning at my destination, rather than very early morning. Then I hit the ground running when I arrive. I try to be outside as much as I can, and eat meals at the regular times, even if I’m not hungry. I don’t take any naps but do admit to several cups of coffee during the day.
By the end of the day, I’m usually tired enough to go to sleep at the normal time in my destination time zone. That gives me a good night’s rest, helping me to make the most of my journey.
Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 45 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.