Travel tips: How to avoid jet lag
Written by Robert Niles
Each Wednesday, for the next several weeks, I'll be devoting a post to some of my favorite travel tips. Today, we'll kick off the series by talking about how to fight jet lag.Tweet
Jet lag's cause is mental. Your mind is telling your body what time it thinks it is - but it's wrong. So the key to fighting jet lag is to convince your mind to communicate the correct time to your body.
Here's what I do: When I walk down the jetway to my flight, I think of myself walking into a time machine. When I step into that plane, the time magically shifts to the time at my destination. I change my watch, my cell phone and my computer to my destination's time zone, and put out of my mind any thought that it could be any other time.
Your mind takes time to adjust to a new situation. Better to make that adjustment within the (relative) sensory deprivation chamber of an airplane than at your destination, where you're supposed to be enjoying a vacation.
So if it is time to sleep when you get on the place, sleep. If it is time to eat, eat. If it's time to stay awake and work, stay awake and work.
This is a big deal on some overnight flights from the U.S. to Europe, where you might get a meal service after take-off, even though it's close to midnight (or later) at your destination. Skip that meal, and prepare for sleep instead.
Much of what feels like jet lag on (and after) a trip is actually exhaustion. Travel can drain your energy. Few of us ever get any decent sleep on an airplane. So support your effort to fight jet lag by getting rest before you leave.
Make the 24 hours before your flight departs your quiet time. Finish packing before then. Don't schedule any errands, meetings or deadlines during that time. Get all that done before the 24-hour period before your vacation starts. Don't plan any parties or dates then, either. Make your last 24 hours before the flight a quiet time at home. Get to bed at a reasonable hour, but don't sleep in on your travel day.
If you'll be trying to sleep soon after boarding your flight, be sure to eat your "dinner" before you get on the plane. Whether you eat at home or the airport depends upon what time it will be at your destination when you walk onto the plane.
Other than switching your final pre-trip dinner time if needed, I'm no fan of trying to slowly adjust your mental clock to your destination time zone in the days leading up to your vacation. All that's doing is substituting jet lag at your destination for jet "lag" at home.
Help yourself to stay comfortable on the plane by avoiding alcohol in the day leading to and during your flight, but drinking all the water you can. (If you're afraid that you'll get hungry on the plane because you skipped the meal service, ask for orange juice when the drink cart comes by.)
Take your shoes off when you board, too. That really helps your comfort level on board. Don't stress out if you can't sleep when you're supposed to on the plane, either. Just pull down the window shade, get under your blanket and be quiet. Read a book or listen to some calming music if you need something to occupy your mind. Get what sleep you can and don't worry about it. Like I said, few of us get decent sleep on a plane.
When you reach your destination, stay with that local time. I try to plan a lot of outdoor walking for my first day in a far-away destination, to reaffirm to my body what the correct "day time" is. Sunlight (even on a cloudy day) resets your mind and body clock better than any other stimulus.
Finally, don't forget to do the same thing when you're ready to come home. Too many travelers forget to stick with their anti-jet lag strategy for the return leg, and end up spending their first several days back home in a mental fog. Make the final 24 hours of your vacation a quiet time, too. And set those clocks to your home time when you step down the jetway for your flight back.
Do you have a jet lag horror story? Or success story? Please share your jet lag story, in the comments.
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