What’s the mortal enemy of frequent and infrequent travelers alike? Many answers likely spring to mind, from long security lines to rain-heavy beach days, but we’re thinking of a far more insidious enemy that has the potential to ruin a good portion of your trip: jet lag. If you’ve ever traveled more than two time zones at a time, you’ve probably encountered jet lag before, that hazy state of feeling completely out of sync with the world around you. But did you know that you don’t have to sacrifice multiple days of your trip to shake off this uncomfortable and downright exhausting feeling? No? Well, lucky you then that you’re here. Frequent traveler or every-so-often vacationer, here’s your complete guide on how to get over jet lag so you can have a trip that’s unforgettable for all the right reasons.
Table of Contents
- What Is Jet Lag?
- How to Beat Jet Lag: 9 Easy Tips to Save Your Trip
- Jet Lag? Conquered. Travel Plans? Booked. How? Next Vacay.
What Is Jet Lag?
Aside from being a traveler’s worst nightmare, jet lag is most commonly known as that thing you get when you travel. And while that might technically be true, it goes a lot deeper.
Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that can affect anyone traveling multiple time zones in a short time frame by disrupting what’s known as circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms regulate bodily functions like a person’s sleep-wake schedule, appetite, and even body temperature. Thus, they’re known as the body’s internal clock. With jet lag, this internal clock is thrown off completely. As a person travels time zones, their body remains in its normal circadian rhythm, synced to their original time zone and thus out of sync with the new one. Consequently, whether traveling from Miami to Madrid or Boise to Beijing, jet lag is something every traveler must watch out for.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
Going from one time zone to another might not seem like such a big thing in theory, but trust us when we say your body will feel it. While you’re smack dab in the middle of your new destination, your body is still stuck in your old time zone, trying to play catch up.
And if you guessed this comes with some drawbacks, congratulations, you guessed it correctly. Jet lag can come with a range of symptoms, but there are a few common ones that tend to crop up:
- Fatigue: feeling extreme exhaustion and lacking energy
- Daytime drowsiness: difficulty staying awake or alert throughout the day
- Sleep disturbances: difficulty falling asleep (insomnia), staying asleep, or waking too early
- Difficulty concentrating: inability to focus and reduced cognitive performances
- Headaches: temporary or persistent headaches, migraines
- Gut lag: feeling hungry (or having no appetite) at odd times, indigestion, constipation
- Irritability and mood changes: feeling irritable and experiencing mood swings
- Disorientation: difficulty adjusting to the new surroundings and time zone
Recovery typically takes about a day for each time zone crossed, so it’s no surprise that symptoms tend to get worse and last longer the farther you travel.
How to Beat Jet Lag: 9 Easy Tips to Save Your Trip
Jet lag may not be some scary boogie, man, but it can ruin a perfectly good trip—and that’s nightmarish enough. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy, there are some tricks you can use to mitigate the effects and get over jet lag quickly once you arrive at your destination. So, if you’re ready to start your trip off on the right foot, here are nine easy tips to prevent and beat jet lag on your next trip.
1. Adjust Your Sleep Schedule
The best way to prevent jet lag is to slowly begin adjusting your sleep schedule and, thus, your circadian rhythm to that of your destination. You can start this a few days, one to two, before your flight.
Changing your sleep schedule might prove challenging for some travelers, who have work and other schedules to abide by. But even a small shift in sleeping patterns before a trip can make a big difference in jet lag symptoms by minimizing the incongruity between your original time zone and the destination’s time zone.
2. Light Exposure
Light is the most powerful tool in preventing and reducing jet lag because it helps reset your body’s internal clock. Flying west requires you to shift your circadian rhythm later (phase delay), while flying east requires you to shift it earlier (phase advance). As such, the level and timing of light exposure are important. It’s not as simple as going outside and getting lots of sunlight. Instead, you’ll need to be strategic and employ some math skills to decipher your core body temperature and plan your light exposure around that to phase delay or phase advance as needed. If that sounds like a lot, apps like Timeshifter make it simple by telling you when to get more light exposure and when to avoid it.
Melatonin is a hormone the body produces in response to darkness, hence why it’s called the “hormone of darkness.” It signals to the body when it’s time to be asleep and when to wake up. If the body is exposed to light when it shouldn’t be, like at nighttime, it can block melatonin production and interrupt the sleep-wake cycle.
So, to help mitigate the underexposure or overexposure to light, travelers can use melatonin supplements. When taken at the right time, melatonin can help reset your circadian rhythm and help you match your internal clock to the new destination, thus making it easier to fall asleep and wake up based on the local time. Melatonin is easy to get over-the-counter and can be used without side effects for most people. However, it’s always best to consult your doctor before taking it.
4. Stay Hydrated
Hydrating is crucial in avoiding the worst symptoms of jet lag. Dehydration can exacerbate jet lag symptoms, contributing to fatigue, headaches, and overall discomfort, making it even harder to adapt to a new time zone. Combine this with the fact that dehydration is fairly prevalent during travel, especially on long-haul flights where the cool, low-pressure air of the cabin dries the body out, and you’ve got a recipe for jet lag. So staying well-hydrated before, during, and after your flight is key.
Next Vacay Pro-tip: Pack a reusable water bottle with your personal item or carry-on. Fill it up after passing through security, and you’ll have easy access to water for the duration of your flight.
5. Sleep During the Flight
Getting your internal clock in rhythm with the local time at your destination may require you to sleep on the plane. In this case, don’t let a little light, or your seatmate watching the latest release on their seatback, distract you from getting your beauty rest. Get comfy with a sleep mask, neck pillow, blanket, ear plugs (or noise-canceling headphones), and even some essential oils to create a relaxing environment. Also, consider taping a note somewhere visible or asking your seatmate to let the flight attendant know you don’t want to be woken up, even for a meal.
Next Vacay Pro-tip: Choose the best seat for sleeping: A window seat offers a good lean and fewer interruptions from seatmates, while exit row and bulkhead seats allow a better stretch.
6. Avoid Long Layovers
You may already be screening your trip itinerary for long layovers. After all, no one wants to waste time hanging around in airport limbo when they could be diving into adventure at their destination. But another reason to avoid unreasonably long layovers, especially in different time zones, is that they can further throw off your internal clock. Stick to shorter layovers that give you enough buffer to account for any transfers or delays but won’t keep you for too long in the wrong time zone.
7. Eat Healthy
There’s a lot going on when you travel. Your body is already struggling to get used to the changing time zone, the stress of travel, and so much more. So, the last thing it needs is heavy, calorie-rich snacks and meals to digest. Especially when traveling and in the first few days of your trip, opt for lighter meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables to keep your body feeling good and ready for whatever the day brings.
8. Limit Caffeine (& Naps)
Caffeine does a lot more than just make it harder to fall asleep. Studies have shown that caffeine can delay melatonin release, resetting the body’s internal clock. It’s enough to replicate the effects of jet lag depending on when and how much caffeine is consumed. So, pairing your caffeine-induced jet lag with your travel jet lag is a recipe for disaster. Small doses and at carefully scheduled times are best.
Similarly, limit any napping to shake off your daytime grogginess. While a short, 30-minute nap might help stave off the sleepiness and still allow you to go to bed at an appropriate hour, hours-long naps could throw your body clock off even further.
The moral of the story: Drink and nap with caution. Your body will thank you.
Exercise is a big health benefit of travel. But did you know it can be a big helper in resetting your internal clock? This one might feel like a no-brainer, but if you’re trying to adjust to a new time zone, get active! One study found that exercise at specific times of the day could shift the body clock forward or push it back. So, if you’re trying to adjust to a new time zone, get active!
Next Vacay Pro-tip: Don’t wait to touch down. Sitting for long periods can cause stiffness and blood clots, so once that seatbelt sign goes off, don’t be afraid to get up and stretch out to help reduce those jet lag symptoms.
Jet Lag? Conquered. Travel Plans? Booked. How? Next Vacay.
Now that you know how to get over jet lag, the world awaits. And you can travel it, with Next Vacay.
With a dedicated team of deal hunters at the ready, all you have to do is sign up, set your airport, and sit back. When a deal comes through, you can click the link and book with the airline. It’s that simple. Simpler even than beating jet lag. And because each deal is hand-vetted for price, comfort, and flexibility, you know you’re getting the real deal in your inbox every time.
So, if you’re ready to get away, then it’s time to shake off your jet lag. Book your next trip. And take to the skies with Next Vacay.