Between early mornings, long layovers, flight delays, and time zone changes, traveling can be detrimental to our sleep patterns.
Jet lag occurs any time you travel quickly across multiple time zones. It’s no secret that the more time zones you cross, the longer it will take to recover.
Our internal clocks, also known as circadian rhythms, tell us when to sleep and wake up. For every time zone crossed, it takes around one day to recover. In the meantime, travelers often experience disturbed sleep, daytime fatigue, mood changes, difficulty concentrating and functioning, and gastrointestinal problems.
Frequent flyers, international travelers, and older adults are at higher risk for experiencing jet lag.
Luckily, there are several steps that we can take to help prevent the effects.
Consider arriving several days in advance. If you are traveling for a big event, like a business meeting or wedding, plan to arrive several days ahead to allow yourself the time to adjust.
Get enough sleep prior to your trip. Make sure that you are well rested before leaving. Beginning your trip sleep deprived worsens the effects of jet lag.
Adjust your schedule before leaving. Begin by trying to have meals closer to the time you will be eating them at your destination. Work on adjusting your sleep schedule several days in advance by one hour each night depending on the direction you are traveling (earlier for the east, later for the west). However, if you will only be at your destination for one or two days, you are better off sticking to your normal sleep schedule since you will not have time to adjust.
Monitor your exposure to bright light. Light is one of the primary influences on our circadian rhythms. For those traveling west, light exposure in the evening will help to adjust to a later time zone. Exposure to morning light can help those adjust to earlier time zones quicker.
Exercise and stretch the day before. Hitting the gym the day before traveling can improve circulation. A post-workout stretch can help minimize stiffness and ease muscle tension.
Hydrate and snack prep. Jet lag symptoms can be worsened by dehydration. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight while avoiding alcohol and caffeine. Plan out several snacks you can take to the airport that contain immune-boosting vitamins and nutrients such as clementines for Vitamin C, veggies and hummus for iron and zinc, or Brazil nuts which are high in antioxidants.
Plan your in flight sleep schedule. If you are in the air during nighttime at your destination, try to sleep on the plane. Eye masks, headphones, and neck pillows can help make sleep more comfortable.
Consider taking melatonin. Melatonin can speed up the adjustment of your circadian rhythm by helping you fall asleep at the appropriate time. Natural sources of melatonin include tomatoes, olives, barley, rice and walnuts. Melatonin can also be found in supplement form, which can be taken one hour prior to bedtime for the first three nights at your destination.
MORE: How to Stay Healthy While Traveling