Tuesday Tip: Recover Faster from Jet Lag
By Yehudit Garmaise
If long flights leave you feeling like your body is upset at you: it is.
Air travel is fast and convenient, but crossing several time zones in one day wreaks havoc on one’s inner sense of time. Back before cross-Atlantic flights, travelers likely adjusted much better after arriving after long ship journeys that provided slow months to adjust to new time zones.
After crossing the globe at high altitudes at 600 mph, air travelers’ “internal time clocks” remain in the time zone from which they traveled, while their bodies have arrived in unfamiliar places that seem to have days and nights terribly confused.
While jet lag is not a disease, it is not nothing either. Through trial and error, travelers can determine how to best care for themselves upon arrival.
Here are a few tips that could help to banish the headaches, exhaustion, stomach upset, cold symptoms, and the brain fog that jet lag can create.
1. Try to sleep on the plane by creating ideal sleeping conditions. A neck pillow, large eye shades, earplugs, Dramamine or melatonin, and multiple layers of clothing to stay warm can increase the chances that travelers get some rest on long flights.
2. Avoid processed plane food and packaged airport snacks, if possible. Eating unhealthy, fried, and sugary food only makes one feel worse.
Try to pack simple, light, and healthy food, such as cheese or peanut butter sandwiches, crackers, sliced apples, sliced sweet peppers, and baby carrots.
Many travelers report that eating minimally on long flights prevents stomach upset and provides a good break for their digestive systems.
3. Upon arrival, hydrate with cold water as much as possible. Flying is very dehydrating, and dehydration causes headaches. When landing in new cities, choose cold bottled water, as the water in new cities carries bacteria and other unfamiliar properties that can cause stomach upset.
4. Try to drink coffee or caffeinated tea only in the early morning in your destination’s city. When arriving in the afternoon or at nighttime, choose only herbal, chamomile, and mint tea to get your body to wind down on local time.
Getting out in the fresh air and sunshine in the morning and after an afternoon rest powerfully and naturally adjusts travelers’ circadian rhythms much better than caffeine, which can keep travelers feeling over-stimulated, sleepless at night, and jittery.
5. On the first morning possible, try to get out in the sunshine, get some fresh air, and go for at least a short walk to sightsee. After arriving home, try to embark on a quick walking errand to readjust to local time.
Just like babies getting sleep-trained, travelers need to regulate their biorhythms to be active and alert during the day while learning how to wind down to sleep at night.
6. Throughout the first few days upon arrival, try to resist the flight the “blahs,” by chugging coffee or soda. Instead, stay hydrated with iced water, non-caffeinated tea, and matcha lattes to both rehydrate and prevent jitters, exhaustion, over-stimulation, and anxiety.
7. Heaps of laundry, dinner, texts, emails, and work deadlines may seem urgent upon arrival, but all these tasks can wait, one at a time, until travelers feel they can get back into the swing of either vacation or everyday life. Try to postpone what can wait until you are feeling better.
Ask family members who didn’t travel or who feel fine to help out with little tasks that usually fall to you. Allow yourself to put some things off until your healthy equilibrium returns.
8. Eat simple, light, and hydrating meals that are easy to digest, such as vegetable bean soup, broiled chicken, white rice, and cold cantaloupe or honeydew melon. For the first few days on both ends of trips, avoid heavy, spicy, and new foods that can cause stomach distress.
9. Try to eat meals at the proper times of your new time zone to trick your body into starting to regulate your hunger cues at the appropriate times. In the morning, eat a light, protein-filled breakfast, such as yogurt with berries and granola, a light lunch at midday, and a light dinner at 6 pm-ish local time, so your body starts to adapt to local time and prepare to sleep after the sun goes down.
10. When naps feel irresistible in the afternoons after landing in a new time zone, try to just “rest” without sleeping, if possible. Lie down to read a book or a magazine, or listen to some relaxing music or a light podcast.
If you know you will doze off, set an alarm for 60 or 90 minutes so you don’t sleep too long and prevent yourself from falling asleep at a normal time that night. To further regulate one’s biorhythms in a new time zone, try to go outside, get some fresh air, and get some sun before coming home for the evening.
11. Instead of trying to “push through” one’s physical discomfort when not feeling great, give yourself a break. Ask yourself what would make you feel comfortable or better, and then try to secure those things. Hot showers, comfortable clothing, simple take-out food, and quiet evenings at home can help travelers reset after long journeys.