The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Avoiding Jet Lag When Traveling
Travel is pretty great. But there’s one aspect of travel that isn’t great at all: jet lag. Jet lag happens when your body attempts to adjust, immediately, to a change in time zone. It isn’t just time change that happens with jet lag, however. You can have stomach issues and mood problems, too. Some things can exacerbate jet lag, including a greater number of time zones crossed and flying east instead of west.
But jet lag doesn’t have to be a complete body and mind mess-up. Some steps can help, including staying well hydrated. You also have to be gracious with yourself—because jet lag happens and it takes time to recover from. You can also set your clock ahead before you even leave, helping your body adjust several days in advance of your trip. If you’re unable to do that, you can immediately jump ahead to your destination’s time zone once you get on the plane. Once you de-plane, don’t let yourself go to sleep—keep yourself awake as long as possible, or at least until 10 p.m. It’s a way of forcing your body and your mind to get in step with the place you’re visiting.
Of course, resting on the plane can help you catch up on any sleep that you might be missing out by forcing your clock forward. Giving yourself the ability to add or subtract clothing based on how you feel on the plane can help too.
What else can you expect from jet lag, and how can you counteract it? This infographic can help.
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Prevent jet lag from annihilating your life
Factors that increase the likelihood of jet lag
When your body’s circadian rhythm needs to realign with a different light-dark schedule and daily routine.
Risk factors include:
- Flying east: Most people find it harder to fly east and travel forward in time.
- Number of time zones crossed: The more time zones you fly through, the greater the likelihood of jet lag.
- Being a frequent flyer: Surprisingly pilots, flight attendants, and business travelers who fly more often are likely to experience jet lag than less frequent flyers.
- Age: Older adults may need more time to recover from jet lag than younger flyers.
How to change your sleep cycle for international flights
Before the flight
- Select a flight that allows you to land early in the evening.
- A few days before traveling, set the clocks in your house to the destination time zone.
- Several days before the flight, go to bed earlier for an eastbound trip, and later for a westbound trip.
During the flight
- When boarding the plane, change your watch to the destination time zone.
- Sleep if you’re tired, but don’t try to force yourself to sleep or stay awake.
After the flight
- Try to stay up until 10 p.m.
- Go outside as much as possible. Your exposure to sunlight helps determine when you sleep and when you wake.
- The day after you fly into your destination, get up at a reasonable hour and resist napping.
- Avoid any strenuous exercise close to bedtime.
How to get some shut eye on a plane
Choose the window seat
- Window seats make it easier to lean against the wall of the plane.
- If possible, select a seat that mirrors your side of the bed (so if you typically sleep on your right side, choose a row on the right side of the plane)
Limit your carry-on lugguge
- If you have two full-size carry-on items, one may have to be stowed under your feet which will limit legroom.
- Wear breathable, comfortable clothing.
- Wear layers so you can adjust to the plane’s temperature.
- Pack socks to slip on before you go to sleep.
Steer clear of caffeine
- Avoid coffee and tea which can hinder sleep.
Take it easy on tech
- Bright lights from a tablet or in-seat TV can prevent sleepiness.
Invest in some headphones and an eye mask
- Not only will these items block out sound and light, but they’ll also send a signal to other people that you do not want to be bothered.
Keep your seatbelt visible
- If you’re using a blanket, bucket your seatbelt over it so the flight attendant won’t disturb you while you sleep.