Plane Talk About Jet Lag: Expert Advice on Coping with Your Body’s Messed Up Sleep-Wake Cycle
When planning your next vacation, consider these expert tips on how to time-zone hop with your health in tact
Ah, Paris – the famous City of Lights. It’s too bad that they’re looking pretty dim through the fog of your jet lag. There’s no need for your vacay to start like this. With more than one-third of Americans planning on taking a vacation to glamorous places like Rome and London, according to a recent AAA survey, it’s going to be a popular time for trips overseas and subsequently, increased rates in those feeling the physical impact of long-haul journeys.
“Jet lag affects everyone differently, with common complaints ranging from feeling irritable and exhausted to clumsy and slow,” says Michael Breus, PhD, SleepScore Labs advisory board member and a clinical psychologist, based in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Those symptoms are a sign the body’s circadian rhythm is out of whack. You’re awake when you’re usually sleeping. You’re sleeping when you are typically awake. It’s no wonder there’s a physical (internal) revolt happening because of the upheaval.
Incidentally, west is best when it comes to combating jet lag, aka circadian rhythm disorder. Eastbound travel is tougher on your body and it takes one hour per day to readjust versus the 1.5 days it takes when heading west.
Before you put your suitcase on your bed and get ready to pack, consider some important steps you can take to minimize the impact of traveling through multiple time zones (more than two) on your body.
What really works for jet lag
- Get a good night of sleep the night before your trip to help you cope better with a loss of rest. Try to calm your pre-trip jitters and anxiety by not leaving all your vacation preparations to the last minute.
- For your flight, be sure to bring, or request, a bottle of water to drink. “We breathe in dry air which can dehydrate the body,” explains Dr. Breus. “It can also contribute to the fatigue, miserable and irritable feelings one has post-flight.”
- Upon arrival at your destination, he recommends getting as much direct sunlight as possible during daytime in your new time zone. It’s a powerful and effective way to reset your internal body clock.
- Go to bed at the same time you would at home. For example, if you’re going from Los Angeles to New York, make your bedtime at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, if you go to bed at 10 p.m. Pacific.
- If you take a red-eye flight overnight, consider taking a sleeping pill at your doctor’s discretion. When you arrive at your destination in the morning, you’ll be waking up, already adjusted to the time change
- Get into the swing of your new time zone by eating meals when locals dine, even if you’re not super hungry. Eating on a schedule will help shift your biorhythm, according to Breus.
What doesn’t work for jet lag
- Skip the booze-induced snooze. Alcohol can make your jet lag even worse. Sleep prompted by it isn’t good quality sleep and is short lived.
- Melatonin isn’t as effective as you might think. There is evidence that it helps, but the improvement is small.
- Even though your body might be screaming for sleep when you arrive at your destination during the day after a long flight, it’s a bad idea to hit the hay for anything longer than a short power nap. Your system will feel even more messed up when you throw a random sleep session into the mix. Get outside and soak up some daylight.
- Things might be a bit quieter at the back of the plane (unless you’re sitting close to the lavatories), but the tail tends to bounce with every bump from turbulence. Choose seats near the front of the plane for a smoother ride that’s kinder for sleeping.
- Snoozing on planes might seem like a good idea, but if you land in daylight hours, it might mess up your bedtime sked. Instead watch a movie, read or play Candy Crush until the wheels hit the tarmac.