Earlier this week, I shared my struggles of overcoming jet lag following our two-leg, 11-hour journey from Toronto to London to Leeds (which you can read about here). It was brutal; the longest eight days of my life, during which I learned that exhaustion is not a good look for me. I don’t care what the interweb tries to tell me, those bags under my eyes were anything but designer.
Until we moved to Leeds, I was a very lucky traveller and could count on one hand the times I’d suffered from jet lag.
And then, five months ago, everything changed.
Now, it seems that every time we arrive back in Leeds I turn into a vampire: awake until 5 AM, sleeping until 1 PM, living under the cloak of darkness. The only difference between Dracula and I is my insatiable desire to eat garlic – seriously, I put it in everything. While living the vampire life does help me cross a lot of titles off my “to read” list, it doesn’t make for a very productive life, and both times I found myself desperately searching for anything that would cure me of circadian dysrhythmia (a fancy and never used term for jet lag, which I am hoping will seriously catch on).
It’s in thanks to those nocturnal research sessions that I’ve pretty much become an expert on overcoming and curing jet lag. And, today, I’m sharing my newfound wisdom with you. Because sharing is caring, and jet lag is to absolute worst.
What is Jet Lag?
Let’s start off in the beginning: What is jet lag?
Well, to put it simply, jet lag is the devil. As per Skyscanner: “Jet lag…is the bane of the timezone-crossing frequent flyer.”
It is seriously, the worst.
Jet lag is a physiological condition which occurs any time you travel quickly across two or more time zones, usually on high-speed aircraft. The more time zones you cross the more confused your body becomes and the more your circadian rhythm is thrown off, causing you to be sleepy or sluggish at all the wrong times.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely eliminate jet lag if you’re travelling across multiple time zones, but there are a few ways to minimise the disruptions associated:
My Top Five Tips for Preventing Jet Lag
- Adjust your sleep routine before you leave. This is a difficult tactic to implement, but from what I’ve read, it’s one of the most effective. A few days (or even weeks, depending on how far you’re travelling), try slowly adjusting your schedule. If you’re travelling east, start going to bed a little bit earlier each day, and waking up earlier, this will help your body better adjust to the new timezone. (NOTE: If you’re travelling west, just do the opposite).
- Change your watch to match the time of your destination. As soon as you get on the plane, adjust your watch (or iPhone clock) to the time of your destination. This will help your body and brain better adjust.
- Stay hydrated. It can be hard to say no to the free bar cart on those long-haul international flights, but if you want to arrive stunning and refreshed, it’s best to stick to water and save the spirits for after you land.
- Sleep on the plane. This might seem like a no-brainer, but as it’s one of the best things you can do, so it bears repeating. If you can try and get a little sleep on the plane, especially if it’s a red-eye flight. Bring whatever you need (i.e., eye mask, pillow, earplugs, blanket) to ensure you can get even a few short bursts of shuteye.
- Try to adjust immediately to the new time zone. This can be incredibly hard, and this is where I struggle the most, but after arriving, start eating meals and going to bed in line with the new time zone. It might be hard to go to sleep or seem weird to be eating dinner when your body thinks it’s lunch time, but trust me, this will make a world of difference in preventing jet lag.
- Adjusting to your new time zone is actually something you can start doing before your plane has even hit the ground by sleeping (or staying awake) depending on what time of day it is at your final destination.
As I mentioned above, there’s no way to completely prevent jet lag. There are times where you will do everything right and still be brought down by the hammer of Thor. This is just a fact of life and something that we travellers need to learn to accept. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome jet lag and speed up that return to regular life:
My Top Five Tips for Overcoming Jet Lag
- Get light at the right time. As per Wikipedia: Light is the strongest stimulus for realigning a person’s sleep-wake schedule, and careful control of exposure to and avoidance of bright light to the eyes can speed adjustment to a new time zone. The hormone melatonin is produced in dim light and darkness in humans, and it is eliminated by light. (source) One of the best ways to overcome jet lag is to get up and outside at specific times of the day (depending on whether you’ve travelled east or west) to expose your body to light. This will not only help you feel better but will help your body process the much-needed melatonin when you’re getting ready for bed.
- Eat the right foods at the right time. There are certain foods that just seem to help boost the production of melatonin. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try incorporating foods that are rich tryptophan into your diet. An hour or two before heading to bed snack on a little bit of hummus, some cheese, yoghurt, a banana or a handful of nuts to help your body get a head start on a good night’s rest.
- Exercising and moving around is important before, during and after your flight. Getting up every so often to get the blood flowing and work out the kinks will help you stay healthy on that long haul flight. After you arrive, it’s important to keep moving because this will help create endorphins. Exercising will also help tire you out if you’re suffering from jet lag, just be sure to exercise early enough in the day so you’re not too jazzed up when you want to be sleeping.
- Take short naps. While napping is delicious, it can also be detrimental to overcoming jet lag as sleeping too long during the day will only make the problem worse. If you just can’t fight it and keep your eyes open, try taking a short 20-30 minute nap. Naps of this length shouldn’t disrupt your sleep and should have you feeling immediately energised.
- Write down what’s on your mind. It’s in those moments at 3 AM when the mind wanders and we start overthinking about all the things we should/could/need to do. Thinking about everything and anything isn’t going to help you sleep. In these cases, it’s best to get up, write it all down and try again. At one point in my jet lag journey, I was so desperate to sleep that I was fretting about what might possibly be on my mind and keeping me awake. It was a vicious cycle, one that only became worse when I realised the only thing bothering me was that I wasn’t sleeping. Worrying about not sleeping wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I decided it was best to get up and write out a list of all the things that were on my mind as well as a few things that could be causing me stress and what I was going to do about them. Surprisingly, the small act of putting it all on paper worked like a charm and I was out cold within the hour.
- Read. If you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, pick up a book and head to the couch. Avoid using up your phone and tablet as the blue light these electronics emit does more harm than good as they tell the body it’s time to wake up. Curling up with a good (or bad) book will keep your mind occupied and should slowly help coax you back to sleep.
When travelling across multiple time zones, jet lag is pretty much unavoidable. Thankfully there are ways to minimise its effects and help you get back to regular life as fast as possible. Today, I’ve shared with you what’s worked for me, but this is by no means an exhaustive list; there are countless ways to battle this sleep-stealing demon.
If you’ve ever suffered from jet lag or are a frequent flier, let me know what you’ve done to prevent and overcome it – chances are, I’ll be looking for new solutions all too soon.
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