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Do you know what Circadian Rhythm is? If you’re a frequent flyer, you’re probably well-acquainted with the concept, if not the term. Your Circadian rhythm is your body’s 24 hour clock. It’s the basic daily routine your body develops based on its exposure to light. This rhythm determines when it’s time to wake up, eat, go to sleep, and more. When you disrupt this rhythm, for instance by going somewhere the light exposure is different than your normal environment, this rhythm is thrown for a loop. The result is something we call Jet Lag.
Jet lag can result in poor physical and mental performance, lack of concentration and exhaustion, which makes it equally frustrating for both business and vacationing travelers. It hits you worst when you head East, so chances are the adjustment for one leg of your trip will be worse than the other. If you’re traveling Westward, you’re going to get very sleepy in the evening, and awake before the sun comes up at your destination. When headed East, it’s the opposite. If you’re looking for a few basic tricks regular jet-setters use to combat Jet Lag, take a look at the list below. Extra Tip: Many frequent flyers say adjusting back to home time is harder than adjusting to vacation time. If your trip is quite short, 3 or 4 days or less, it may more practical to just keep with your typical schedule.
Arrive A Few Days Early (When Possible)
We’ll start by getting the obvious solution out of the way: Allowing yourself more time to make the transition would be ideal. Giving yourself an adjustment day or two is the best bet before embarking on whatever you have planned. While this is ideal, it’s not always in the cards for the average traveler.
Start Adjusting Your Schedule The Week Before
If you’re headed East, go to bed 30 minutes earlier and earlier each day the week prior to your trip. Headed West? Do the opposite, and go to bed later. Slowly adjusting your sleep schedule by going to sleep closer to the local bedtime of your upcoming destination will ease your body into a new rhythm and can help prevent or lessen the intensity of jet lag.
Watch What You Eat
Transition your meal times as well as your bedtimes. As with sleep, in the week prior to takeoff start having your meals closer to the meal times of your destination. A sudden change in your Circadian Rhythm can throw your digestive system for a loop as well as your sleep patterns. As a general rule protein in the morning will make you more alert, carbohydrates in the evening will induce drowsiness. But, eating anything too close to bed time can be disruptive to REM sleep. While there is no official study to support a particular jet-lag-proof diet, there is one diet method frequent flyers swear by.
If you’re interested in this diet, it starts the week before take-off and looks like this:
This “Jet Lag Diet” requires you to alternate between high protein breakfasts with high carbohydrate dinners one day, and “fasting” with light meals the next. You follow this routine every day for the week prior to takeoff. On departure day you should enjoy a high protein breakfast at the local breakfast time of your destination.
Day 1, you “feast” by filling up on a high protein breakfast, drink no caffeine or alcohol except in the late afternoon. You can still eat at your local time. Day 2, you must “fast,” and eat only light meals including salads, soups, fruit and vegetables. Alternate this rhythm until your departure day, make sure you end on a “Fast” day, but enjoy a high protein breakfast at the local breakfast time of your destination to get you through the trip. In general follow these tips:
- Caffeinate Wisely
- Avoid Salt
- Skip alcohol until you’ve adjusted
- Drink a glass of water every hour you’re airborne
- Eat Bananas (Full of Melatonin, Serotonin and Magnesium & are a great snack for the plane when you need sleep)
Switch Time Zones Immediately After Boarding
Setting your timekeeping device to the time zone you are headed to will get you ready psychologically for the time change. From the moment you board try to eat and sleep according to the local time of your destination.
Take Overnight Flights
Again, this isn’t always an option, but an overnight flight gives you the best possible chance to “Reset” your sleep schedule to fit that of your destination. If you’re on an overnight flight, adjust your sleep time closer to that of your destination’s sleep time. This might mean bringing an eye shade to go to bed early, or if you have to stay up later perhaps or having a cup of coffee, or leaving a light on, so you can to stay up later.
Resist the Urge to Pass Out Early
This problem will hit you harder on the Westward leg of your trip. If you’re already feeling lethargic, you might be tempted to sneak in a “quick 20 minute power nap” when you arrive, but we all know that short siesta can turn into waking up at 4AM wide awake and hungry. If you are already an expert power napper, and you’re used to sneaking in 20 minute sessions here and there, then go for it. Most of us don’t have that kind of will power. So, unless you arrive sort of close to your destination’s bedtime, do your best to stay awake. Now is a good time to drink some coffee.
However, make sure to drink a lot of water as well as staying hydrated is crucial to avoiding jet lag. If it’s daylight when you arrive, spend as much time outside as you can. This is especially handy when flying East. Hopefully you’re well rested from the night before, and getting outside will liven you up, make you more alert. This will signal your brain that it isn’t bed time just yet.
Sleep On the Plane
Once it’s bedtime at your destination, it’s bedtime for you too. If you’re still on the plane, that could pose a bit of a problem (especially in economy). Sleeping on a plane might seem like a virtual impossibility, but we have a few tips that jet-setters swear by.
- Dress comfortably (Don’t forget to put slippers or flip-flops in your carry-on)
- Pop on your sleep playlist and doze off.
- Bring your eye shade
- Headphones or ear plugs
A little tip from us, noise cancelling headphones run about $300, but a simple pair of ear plugs cost closer to a dollar.
Experts say taking 3 milligrams of Melatonin an hour or two before bedtime the day you arrive and give yourself time to sleep for 10 hours. If you have an overnight flight, take the Melatonin about two hours or so before the bedtime of your location. The take it at night once you arrive and around the same time for a few days. If you want something with a little more kick, a sleeping pill can be a life saver on a long overnight trip. You might have a surprise visit from negative side effects and that could throw off your sleep schedule even more. If you have a sleep aid you’re comfortable with already, then by all means indulge.
Lavender oil is very affordable, widely available, and since it packs a punch in small doses, is very TSA friendly. Shake some drops on your hotel pillows, in your bath or just apply it to your skin. Lavender scientifically proven to act as a mild sedative, making you more likely to experience deep sleep.
Taking a warm bath relaxes your muscles, refreshes you after a long exhausting day of travel, and readies your body for bed. Plus, this is the perfect time to drop in some of that lavender oil. Also, take this opportunity to exfoliate your skin to feel and look refreshed.