Managing Jet Lag
Beating the Lag
Traveling affords you the opportunity to experience different cultures, meet new people, and see a whole new world. However, making a far-flung journey to distant lands also means you might experience jet lag—the adjustment of your body to a different time zone.
Squeezing in a few trips this summer doesn’t have to leave you lagging behind. Click through the slideshow to learn how to minimize the effects of jet lag.
How You’ll Feel
Jet lag can rear its ugly head through headaches, an upset stomach, and feelings of irritability—all bad ways to start a vacation. The primary symptom of jet leg is fatigue.
You’ll miss out on a few hours of sleep by traveling eastward to time zones ahead of your own, or you’ll literally travel back in time as you head west and fight to stay awake. Either way, you may not sleep as easily as you do at home.
When in Rome
Nineteenth-century American writer Ambrose Bierce is credited with the phrase “When in Rome, do as Rome does.” This saying can be helpful in buffering the effects of jet lag.
In other words, become acclimated to your local time as soon as possible. If possible, get a dose of bright light at night when traveling west, and in the morning when traveling east.
If you travel from the East Coast to California and arrive at 9pm, your body thinks it’s midnight. If you go right to bed, you’ll most likely wake up very early the next morning, throwing your sleep schedule off for an additional day.
But if you tough it out and stay up until 11pm local time, you’ll have a better chance of transitioning into a more regular pattern of sleep.
If you absolutely must nap upon arrival to your destination, limit yourself to a 20-minute catnap to prevent a sleepless night later. However, there is one exception of this rule: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping your original time zone and schedule for brief trips of two days or less. This may help you avoid feeling exhausted at the end of your travels.
Making smart food choices on both ends of your trip can keep jet lag to a minimum. Following a balanced diet maintains energy and lessens the risk of fatigue. Eliminating caffeine and alcohol from your diet during the first few days of your vacation is also prudent. These substances are stimulants and can interrupt sleep, potentially leading to chronic sleep disturbance during your travels. Large meals also run the risk of making you feel sleepy.
Starting the transition from one time zone to another before your vacation can reduce your risk of losing time at your destination. Adjust your bedtime several days before you travel, based on the direction in which you’re heading.
Stay up an extra hour or two each night for westward travel, or go to bed one to two hours earlier when heading to the East Coast or Europe. This will allow your internal clock and circadian rhythm to transition to local time more easily.
Avoid sleeping during your flight, unless it’s an overnight red-eye. If you doze the entire time, you may have difficulty transitioning into the new time zone smoothly.
Once you arrive at your vacation destination or back home again, seek out the sun. According to the National Sleep Foundation, your internal clock is more likely to readjust in the sunlight than in a darkened room that induces sleep.
Do Your Homework
Jet lag won’t last forever, but it can put a damper on your trip if you don’t take steps to counteract its effects. Fortunately, making a few adjustments to your lifestyle before you head out of town and once you reach your destination can minimize the effects of flying far from home.