How do you combat jet lag? Here are five methods that may help time zone-crossing travelers:
1. Leave home well-rested. This may seem counter-intuitive (you may think, why not hit the plane utterly exhausted, so I can sleep?) but sometimes that kind of exhaustion actually makes it harder to get to sleep. Not to mention, a long flight, change in time zone, change in food, culture, etc. can be stressful on the body, and the last thing you want to start your holiday with is a cold. Try to get everything done at least 1-2 days before your actual departure, so that you’re starting your trip in good physical shape.
2. On the flight, drink plenty of water, eat lightly, and take walking breaks. As any flight attendant will tell you, long flights are very dehydrated (just look at the large water bottles most of them bring with them). Avoid alcohol, coffee and tea, as these are all dehydrating, stress the body, and exacerbate jet lag. Eat lightly, and take regular walks around the plane to stretch your legs and avoid muscle cramps or worse, blood clots.
3. Reset your watch to local time at your destination. It helps to mentally focus on the time at your destination, rather than reminding yourself that it’s 2am in the morning at home.
4. Stay up until a “normal bedtime” once you arrive. As much as your body may be begging you to go to sleep as soon as you arrive, refuse and force your body to adjust to local time by taking walks, getting fresh air, and not going to sleep until at least 8pm local time. You’ll probably still wake up fairly early, but at least you’ll be more on schedule than had you gone to sleep at 3pm. If you arrive in the morning and can’t get through the day without a nap, make it a short one—no more than 1 hour—so that it doesn’t keep you from going to sleep that night.
5. Pack a sleep aid. Ambien (generic name: Zolpidem) is powerful, and you may not need more than a half-tablet to help you drift off. Melatonin, a natural dietary supplement to help recalibrate your internal clock, is considered by many to be an effective, safe sleep aid for travelers, and is available without a prescription in the U.S., although not in some European countries. As with all medicines, it’s very important to consult your doctor and consider the side effects before deciding whether to take them.
6. Try a jet lag-fighting phone app. If your natural resolution to most problems is technology, consider a tech-friendly solution in the form of a smartphone app designed to pepper your schedule during your first days in a new place with jet lag-fighting activities. Based on the idea that getting or avoiding light at the right time of day and finding time for light exercise will help alleviate jet lag symptoms, the new Jet Lag Fighter app released last month by Virgin Atlantic tells users what to do on arrival and at what time each day after they’ve input their flight departure and arrival information. While this app has been getting the lion’s share of the jet lag phone app hype these days, there are at least three others out there right now, so you may want to try several to find the one that’s best for you.
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