9 realistic ways to beat jet lag
Jet lag is evil. Jet lag will conspire behind your back to ruin your first days of holidays, and then laugh at you. Jet lag wants you to feel sluggish (when you should be bursting with excitement), disoriented (when you really need to figure out that map) and wide awake at 4 am (when you should be resting for tomorrow’s adventures). Don’t let it! Jet lag should be crushed, wiped out, annihilated. Here are a few tips on how to smash it for good.
What they say
When it comes to anti-jet lag tips, you always get told that you should:
a) Start adjusting your schedule according to the time at your destination a few days before departure.
— Please. Has anyone, anywhere, actually managed to quietly go to bed at 9 pm on the night before a flight? Personally, I’m most likely to be found running around my apartment until 3 in the morning, wondering where the hell could that charger be, painting my nails while trying to zip up my bag then re-painting them to cover the damage, wondering why I haven’t dealt with making passport copies before, and possibly crying a little.
b) Eat super light on the plane (i.e. turn your nose up at airline meals and only survive on fresh fruit instead).
— Please (again). It all starts with the smell… food is getting warmed up! Then you notice the airplane crew buzzing with activity. The trolley appears at the end of the aisle, slooowly works its way up… and finally, the stewardess puts the tray down in front of you. Honestly, who has the willpower to say «No thanks, I’ll just have this grapefruit instead»? Not me. This isn’t happening. I love airplane food. I’m not ever giving it up.
Now, leaving these aside, there are actually such things as humanly applicable tips to keep jet lag from turning you into a walking zombie.
1. Plan accordingly
Jet lag means that your circadian rhythm (the fancy name for body clock) is out of synch with its new environment. It’s likely to occur when you cross four or more time zones at once.
In theory, jet lag hits harder when you travel eastwards rather than westwards. In reality, it’s also affected by subjective factors: flying back to winter after a summery holiday, regardless of the direction, will bring you down because cold temperatures and returning from vacations suck.
However, calculating the time difference in advance will help you plan suitable activities: if you’re about to cross 8 times zones and going eastwards, it’s easy to guess that it isn’t the best idea for your first night in town to book a mountain trek (you will suffer) or an Austrian opera in four acts (you will snore). A few drinks in a laid-back bar, a stroll along the beach/river/park or a yoga session are much more appropriate choices.
2. Get some sleep on the plane
Slip on some comfy clothes (and compression stockings: goodbye heavy legs on arrival!), wear your warmest socks, nestle in a soft scarf and doze off for as long as you can. A neck pillow, a sleeping mask and earplugs can make this step a lot easier! More tips on looking and feeling good on long flights here.
3. Drink heavily
… Water, that is: H2O is your best ally when fighting jet lag. To avoid requesting cup after cup, either buy a (pricey) bottle of water after going through security at the airport, or save up by bringing an empty foldable, reusable water bottle that you can fill up afterwards (Sip N Go and Vapur both make them). Dehydration is known to worsen the effects of jet lag, so you don’t want to skip this one!
A couple of glasses of wine might send you off to dreamland in no time, but not only does alcohol dehydrate you, it also tends to result in inefficient sleep. If you do have to drink, try to keep your alcohol intake to a minimum… You don’t want to meet the nasty offspring of the jet lag and the hangover: the dreaded Jangover! The same goes for caffeine (i.e. coffee, but also Redbull or Coca-Cola) and teine (found in tea), which interfere with your — already confused — wake/sleep cycle. If you crave a hot beverage, slip a few bags of your favourite herbal tea in your carry-on and ask the staff for a cup of boiling water! Valerian and chamomile both are popular herbal sleeping aids.
4. On arrival: Resist the nap
It’s usually a good thing to listen to your body; but when you just entered a new time zone, your body doesn’t know what’s good for you anymore. It will urge you to sleep, wake up and eat at home time, and will implore you to dive into you hostel room’s seemingly featherlike pillows for a long nap as soon as you put down your backpack. Don’t give in: nap = trap! Have a quick shower, put on some fresh clothes and run out, putting as much distance as you can between yourself and your bed.
(If you have collapsed into bed before reaching this paragraph, then make sure to set your alarm for a micro-nap; more tips on how to nap like a pro here).
Immediately adopting the local time is the best way to crush jet lag in just a few days: don’t go to bed before 10 pm, and get yourself out of it before 10 am on the first morning.
5. Soak up the light
You need to make it obvious to your body that it’s daytime: the way to do this is to expose yourself to as much natural light as you can, i.e. go outside. If it’s pouring out there, try to find a cafe with large windows to sit by. If you flew westwards, keep your sunglasses off your nose during the afternoon to stay awake for longer; if you flew eastwards, try absorbing light in the morning then putting your shades on in the afternoon to fall asleep more easily at night.
Along with light, expose yourself to social interactions — although your conversation might not be the most brilliant when your brain is under serious jet lag attack, it will stimulate your brain and help dodging the drowsiness.
6. Move it
Stripping you off any motivation is one of jet lag’s weapons of choice. When you land, you’ll probably feel like going for a run about as much as chopping off your right foot; but pushing yourself to do it will help revitalise your numb muscles after the flight, and give you more energy during the following days.
If you’re lucky enough to have a beach or pool nearby, go for a swim! (You never regret a swim.) If you’re not the sporty type, slip on some comfy shoes and go for a walk; it’s also a great way to catch a first glimpse of the city you just landed in. The general rule is you should exercise at night if you travelled westwards, and in the morning if you travelled eastwards.
7. Eat up
If you need to go to sleep earlier than usual, try eating complex carbs (i.e. wholegrain cereals) for dinner: they help you produce serotonin and can have a calming effect. Whereas if you’re trying to stay awake, a meal full of proteins is just what you need!
The juice place near my house serves a ‘Jetlag Joker’ smoothie with strawberry, apple, mint, orange, ginkgo (for blood circulation) and yoghurt: try to ask your local juice bar for a similar recipe! Drinking carrot juice and eating bananas before departure also seems to help fight jet lag.
8. What about the meds?
Last time I ventured across time zones, my pharmacist recommended melatonin. A hormone naturally found in the body, melatonin is produced when it’s dark and helps regulate sleeping patterns. It can be bought in supplement form in numerous countries and taking a small amount before bed can help when arriving in a new time zone; however the use of melatonin to fight jet lag is a controversial topic, and you should talk to your GP or chemist about posology and effects before buying it.
Some people like taking light sleeping pills during the first few days of their trip. It’s not recommended to take them during the flight itself — as they cause you to unnaturally sit in the same position for hours and thus increase the risk of developing blood clots —, but a short-term prescription for the first three or four days of your trip can be discussed with your doctor. Be aware of the side-effects though (drowsiness, nausea…).
And what if ridiculous eyewear was the solution? Apparently these ‘Re-Timer’ glasses might mean the end of jet lag in the near future…
Well, after all this sensible advice, here is the dirty secret: out of experience, what I found works best to kick jet lag’s ass is… to NOT sleep at all. On my last trip to Australia, I was so stoked to see my friends again after being away for three years that we had beers until 3 am on the night of my arrival. The following night, we partied until 4. And the night after that, it was time for my official welcome-back party, which was the most ridiculously colossal party ever. Well, I’ve never gotten over a 10-hour time difference so quickly in my life!
Want to vanquish jet lag? My personal advice is to get out there — and have the best time.
Photos 8 and 10 by myself
Photo 1 by Ashenzil on Flickr
Photo 2 by Melissa Tasecho on Flickr
Photo 3 by Tim Phillips on Flickr
Photo 4 via Vapur and Sip N Go
Photo 5 Photo by Anoldent on Flickr
Photo 6 by Mark Notari on Flickr
Photo 7 by Anne Colinet
Photo 9 via Goodnews