For those of us who fly more than a couple of time zones from home—particularly those who fly eastward around the globe—jet lag can be a serious challenge. It takes away our edge, makes us groggy and disrupts our sleep. Here’s how to be focused and alert during the day—and sound asleep at night.
If you’re going to be gone longer than a couple of days, begin acclimating your body to the new time zone by altering your eating schedule three days before your plane takes off.
If you’re heading west to California from New York, for example, three days before you leave, eat an hour earlier each day. Flying from California back to New York? Help reverse the acclimation and get back on home time by eating an hour later each day for three days.
2. Fly a day early
Some business travelers try to schedule multi-time zone meetings on a Monday so they can fly out Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. That gives them a day or so to adjust their body’s clock. It helps, travelers report. Employers don’t appreciate the extra night’s hotel bill, but since you’re giving up your weekend, they usually fall in line.
3. Drink water
Stay hydrated by drinking water on the plane. Avoid alcohol and anything caffeinated during your flight. Both can dehydrate your body, mess up your internal clock and exaggerate jet lag symptoms.
4. Fly business or first class
If you’re flying overnight and need to hit the ground running in the morning, book a business or first-class seat so you can get some sleep. Sitting upright in a narrower economy seat with no legroom, your body generates adrenaline-like substances to keep blood flowing up to your brain. The adrenaline keeps you from sleeping, and if you do doze off, it keeps you from dropping into a restorative sleep. On the other hand, lying in a flatter position with the legroom accorded to the first-class and business-class seating prevents the problem altogether, and you can arrive at your destination rested, focused and ready to go.
5. Have a plate of linguini
Or any other carb-dense food at dinner on the night before your flight. Scientists have been arguing for some time about whether or not this decreases jet lag and increases your potential for normal sleep, but recent research on clock genes has uncovered subtle effects that indicate carbs boost your ability to sleep—particularly when you fly westward. No one’s quite figured out how they help, but they do know that carbs provide your brain with a source of tryptophan from which it can make the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin.
6. Cool down
If you’re flying during what would be night hours at your destination, try to get some sleep on the plane. Use earplugs to eliminate noise, an eyeshade to kill the light and turn the air-conditioning valve on high. Another cue your body uses to set its internal clock is temperature. A lower temperature lowers your body’s core temperature and signals it’s time for sleep. A higher temperature raises your body’s core temperature and signals that it’s time to wake. To keep from getting too chilled, bring along one of those blanket-and-pillow sets.
7. Avoid airline food
Yet another cue your body uses to set its internal clock is food. Since airline food is served onboard according to the time at your home base, eating it can sabotage efforts to reset your clock to the time zone to which you’re traveling.
8. Consider the medical option
Short-acting sleeping pills can help you sleep through an overnight flight. They can also help you sleep during the first couple of nights at your destination. That said, keep in mind that if a sleeping pill is taken just a little later than it should be on local time, it can exacerbate the effects of jet lag. Even worse, if the drug lasts longer than the flight, you’ll arrive drowsy at your destination—that’s not good if you have to drive or negotiate local transportation home.
9. Try melatonin
Yes, melatonin is available as an over-the-counter medication and you don’t need a prescription. But since it has the ability to really mess with your brain chemicals, consult with a doctor anyway—especially if you’re taking another medication.
Studies indicate that supplemental melatonin will make you sleepy. It’s not as strong as a sleeping pill, but it directly affects your body’s internal clock and nudges it toward sleep. Generally, sleep specialists seem to recommend that if you’re heading east, you should consider taking one 3- to 5- milligram capsule after you’ve arrived at the local bedtime. If you’re headed west, take a single melatonin capsule just before bed at your destination.
10. Have the eggs benedict
A protein-rich meal the morning after you arrive will give your brain what it needs to produce neurochemicals to increase your alertness throughout the day.
11. Stay on home time
If you’re going to be away from home for only a couple of days, stay on the same eating and sleeping schedule while you’re away as you would at home.
12. Or switch immediately
If you’re away for more than just a couple of days, don’t just set your watch to local time when you arrive—help reset your internal clock by eating, going to bed and waking at the local time as well.
13. Pack your workout gear
Most hotels have exercise rooms and lap pools. Schedule a 30-minute workout each day you’re on the road. You’ll feel and sleep better.
14. Watch out for fuzz brain
Avoid driving long distances and making critical decisions for the first 24 hours after you arrive. If you’re the least bit fuzzed by jet lag, your ability to think and react will be impaired.
15. Make your room cold and dark
Yeah, the view from your hotel-room window is superb. But use those heavy room-darkening shades to shut out light during the hours you plan to sleep. Also, lower the room’s temperature. Remember, manipulating light and temperature manipulates your body’s clock and gives it a clear mandate to sleep.
From Sleep to be Sexy, Smart and Slim (Reader’s Digest Canada)