What is Jet Lag?
In layman’s terms, jet lag is the disruption of your internal clock, the one that tells you when it’s time for bed and when it’s time for dinner. Flying across time zones can mess it up big time, giving you symptoms like exhaustion, headache, disorientation and indigestion just to name a few. It’s no fun suffering from jet lag! So if you want to learn how to prevent jet lag, read on!
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
- First and foremost, plenty of rest and sleep for 2 nights before your flight helps to minimize symptoms. It may be difficult, what with farewell parties and last minute packing and all, but try. I know some people whose technique is to stay up all night prior to departure so they’ll be super tired and sleep on the plane. I used to do that too, but I almost always end up watching those in-flight movies, which then keep me awake even more!
- Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, through check-in and security screening. Reducing stress also helps minimize symptoms, plus it’ll set the tone for the rest of your journey. Pack wisely for quicker security screening – be familiar with the 4-1-1 rule, use a TSA-approved bag for your laptop, remove shoes etc.
- Set your watch and your mind to the local time at your destination prior to your departure. Use the travel time to help you adjust to the schedule. For instance, if your boarding time is 4pm but it is midnight at your destination, try to sleep as soon as you can even if you feel you should be eating dinner.
- The same applies to mealtimes, although this is usually more challenging on the plane. Some experts suggest bringing food with you, while some others suggest fasting. I try to eat small meals (plane food) or snacks so that I don’t feel too hungry (and binge!) or too full when it’s the proper time to eat.
ON THE PLANE
- Rest or sleep as much as you can on the plane! Do whatever you need to do – if you have a bedtime routine, use it (discreetly). Bring a noise-cancelling headphone, an eye mask, a blanket, a travel pillow, etc. I tried Melatonin before on a red-eye flight to the East Coast, and it helped me sleep on the flight, which was great, but I felt some side effects because I had less than 8 hours of sleep. With that being said, each person reacts differently to “supplements” so check with your doctor prior to trying any supplement or “jet lag pill”.
- Wear comfortable clothing and bring thick socks if you’re inclined to take your shoes off while you nap. (For the sake of your fellow passengers, and yourself, make sure your shoes don’t stink…)
- Stay hydrated. That means drink lots of water, or juice. Avoid alcohol and caffeine! Sure, you might be thinking “but wine helps me sleep!” Alcohol dehydrates you, and you can be sure that you’ll be sorry you had that free glass. If you’re leery of the water quality on the plane, buy a bottle after you’ve cleared security and bring it on board with you.
- Get up, stretch and walk around frequently to get your blood circulating. After all that water you’ll probably need to use the restroom often anyway. I like the aisle seat, because it’s convenient to get in and out.
AFTER YOU HAVE ARRIVED
And finally… after 19 hours of traveling, you’re pooped and ready to go to sleep. If it’s night time when you arrive, by all means, go to sleep! But if you arrive in the morning, what should you do? To nap or not to nap? It’s best to stay awake and sleep at night so your body adjusts to your new timezone and schedule.
Another helpful way to prevent jet lag is to go outside and get some sun! Your brain registers the exposure to sunlight and helps your body adjust your internal clock to the local time (even if you don’t realize it!)
Take it easy on the first day you arrive at your destination, and when you wake up the next day, you won’t feel like you’ve just crossed 7 (or 10) time zones!
Former Study Abroad participants, feel free to share your tips on how to prevent jet lag!