Hopping across time zones can wreak havoc on your internal clock and all the things it powers, from sleep cycles to daytime alertness. Jet lag causes insomnia, fatigue, disorientation, loss of concentration and drive, headaches and a general feeling of malaise. There are a number of ways to combat these problems. If you're a regular overseas traveller you've probably got the routine down pat. But if you're a first timer, or if you haven't travelled in a while, here are some pointers to help you leave jet lag at check-in.
Prepare Your Clock
It's important not to arrive at your destination without a running head start. At least four days before you leave, you should start moving your eating and sleeping times to match what they will be at your destination. By the time you get there, your internal clock will be right on time.
Cut Back On the Caffeine
Don't drink any coffee, tea, energy drinks or caffeinated soda during the 12 hours before your flight, and during it. Caffeine doesn't just keep you awake and jumpy in the moment; it can interfere with your overall sleep architecture, causing problems with your sleep cycle long after you ingest it. So even though it may help you stay awake long enough to make a last-ditch effort to match your internal clock to the clock at your destination, it will hurt you in the end.
No In Flight Alcohol
Booze on the plane may loosen you up and even help you sleep a little, but at the same time, it's dehydrating you. And like caffeine, alcohol can mess with your circadian rhythms, undoing the work you've done to get ready.
Take the Redeye
If you can, fly overnight. You'll start in the evening and, depending on your destination, probably arrive in the morning or afternoon. This is the best match to your natural patterns. Plus, and this is a big one, you're much more likely to sleep through a redeye than a daytime flight.
Sleep on the Flight
Take advantage of the opportunity to get as much rest as possible so your body will be prepared for the new time zone. This is especially important if you're flying from west to east, as you'll be heading forward through the time zones. As noted, this is easier if you take a redeye flight. It may even be worth your money or frequent flyer miles to fly business class, at least on especially long flights (New York to Hong Kong, for example). You'll get much more leg room, hot towels, and other amenities that make sleeping easier.
Be Careful with Medications
Some medications may help you sleep, but be careful. A short-acting sleeping pill may help you get through your flights, but the wrong medication could do more harm than good. Make sure you know how your sleeping medication works before you try it out at 30,000 feet.
Spend Time Outside
Once you get where you're going, don't spend too much time indoors at first. Sunlight helps your internal clock reset and puts you into the swing of your new time zone faster. Spend as much time as you can walking around outside while it's light out.
Avoid the Temptation to Sleep Early
The greatest temptation of the jet lagged is to fall asleep too soon. If you arrive before what would normally be your bedtime in your home time zone, you should stay awake until that time. This can be agonizing for the first few days, but if you start sleeping early on your first day, you'll keep doing it and never adjust.
This article was prepared by Valerie Johnston, a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, Valerie is a regularly contributor to Healthline, a website that's devoted to health and staying healthy while travelling.