No matter how seasoned you are as a traveller, no matter how tightly you can make Die Hard fists with your toes, no matter how many Ambiens you pop pre-flight, you will get jet lag. It’s science; accept it. Though it can’t be avoided, it can be minimized — with these seven expert tips.
But first: what is jet lag?
A relatively newish condition, jet lag was born when people started flinging themselves across time zones faster than their bodies could adjust. According to Dr. Gary Zammit, Executive Director of New York City’s Sleep Disorders Institute, it’s the negative experiences people have when their internal body clock becomes “desynchronized” from the actual clock time around them.
If you recall 6th grade biology, our bodies have a natural 24hr cycle called the “circadian rhythm”, which tells us when to eat, sleep, read RedBook on the can, and have sex in order not to get pregnant (wait, no?). Jet lag screws that rhythm up, basically turning you into a version of yourself usually reserved for late Friday nights: sluggish, confused, hungry, moody, unwell. Zammit says it usually takes about one day to adapt to every time zone crossed when travelling West, and about a day and a half when moving East.
And now, how to beat it:
1) Start adjusting in advance
It can be a bit of a doozy, but begin shifting your time/ activities at least three days before departure. For example, hit the sack an hour earlier each night; get up an hour earlier each morning. Also, try and eat closer to the times you’ll be dining at your destination.
2) Sleep, sleep, and sleep some more (hooray!)
Sleep as much as possible. Like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the winter, start stockpiling those “zzzs”. According to Christopher L. Drake of the National Sleep Foundation, the more hours you’ve slept prior to flying, the less the lack of sleep will affect you.
3) If a trip is less than 48hrs, don’t bother adjusting
It’s called coffee, and we recommend lots of it. Especially if you’re in one of these seven airports.
4) Say bye to booze
Put down the drinks. Although, sadly, not down the hatch. While alcohol is a sedative — and one that we’re naturally inclined to take in order to score some sleep on the plane — it’ll make your jet lag much worse. Starting with the dehydration, which is already amplified at altitude. Passing out is not the same as sleeping, and waking up hungover without proper rest will only make life more painful.
Zammit also warns against popping sleep aids too far into a flight (be sure to check how long the medication lasts), as you don’t want the flight attendants wheeling you off a seven-hour flight after taking an eight-hour sleep aid.