You know the feeling – groggy, tired steps, bags under eyes… Jet lag can be a huge obstacle when traveling, especially if you don’t have a ton of vacation days to stay in one specific place. Here are some of my favorite tips for killing your jet lag (or at least subduing it temporarily).
1. Use the Flight to Reset
Operate under the assumption that you’re automatically reverted to your destination’s time as soon as you step on the plane. If that means it’s 3 AM at your destination when you take off, then sleep for a few hours then stay awake for the remainder of the flight. Prepare ahead for this, whether you need melatonin or other sleep aids to be able to doze off, or if you need to drink a coffee beforehand to stay awake.
Want to know best way to make yourself feel groggy and terrible? You guessed it – dehydration. Hydrating well is key to being able to overcome jet lag quickly. Don’t over hydrate, or else you’ll just end up having to use the restroom more often, but make sure you drink as much water as you usually need at home. It can be hard to keep up with this when water isn’t always available/free on planes (sigh…), but I usually bring my own reusable water bottle to ensure I always have an ample supply.
3. Get Your Body Clock Ahead of Schedule
In the day leading up to your trip, try to adjust your eating and sleeping schedule to match your destination’s time. This may involve skipping a meal or pushing it to later, or sleeping earlier than you’re used to. While this isn’t always possible if you work full-time or have other obligations at home, even minor changes can help. If you mentally and physically prepare as early as possible for the time changes, you’ll have a much easier time adjusting once you’re on the ground.
4. Fight the Urge to Revert Back
When traveling in a new time zone, it’s so natural to think “ah, well back at home it’s 7 PM and I’d be eating dinner right now.” I’m definitely guilty of this. However, these thoughts are counter productive, and are the “easy way out” of actually adjusting to that timeline. Be strong! Fight the thoughts of time at home and you’ll be happier and better off.
5. Take Lots of Breaks
On your first day or two (or throughout your trip if you’re only traveling for a weekend), be sure to schedule in a few breaks in your day where you can relax and get a bit of rest. These can come in a variety of ways, though – you don’t just have to sit in your hotel the entire day. You can try spending a few hours hanging out in a coffee shop, reading a book at a beautiful viewpoint, or watching a musical performance.
6. Bring Comfort Items
On the other hand, sometimes you’ll be awake in the middle of the night, and you may have a hard time going back to sleep. It’s good to always have 1-2 of the things that help you feel relaxed and sleepy. For me, these are lavender-scented things, a pillow, and/or some herbal tea. For you it could be completely different. The point is that the more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to get some rest.
7. Cherish Favorable Time Changes
Have you gone to a place that has you waking up at 5 AM, with no hope for falling back asleep. Use this to your advantage to see a busy city in the early waking hours, or to watch the sunrise in a beautiful spot. If you wake up early, you’ll also be likely to be able to sleep well at night. Don’t fight your body too hard – sometimes it takes a few days to adjust. In the meantime, enjoy the times of day that you may not have been able to experience otherwise.
8. Open Your Window Shades
The whole point of having a circadian rhythm in the first place is to match your waking hours with daylight. Giving your body to adjust to the waking hours of a place is one of the best ways to get on track. By letting light in, especially in the mornings, you’ll be more inclined to wake up naturally with the sun each day. What I usually do is open the opaque curtains but leave the sheer curtains down – this way you can maintain some privacy and keep heat out while still letting the light in.
One notable exception to this tip is if you’re traveling where the sun doesn’t set all day (e.g., Iceland in the summer). Definitely use those blackout curtains in these places if you want to get a good night’s sleep and are sensitive to light.
9. Lose the Sleep
At the end of the day, you’re going to lose sleep somewhere along the way. And that’s okay. You’ll survive and your time exploring will be more than worth the few hours of sleep that fell by the wayside. Enjoy your trip. Use caffeine if necessary. Remember that you’ve decided to put up with jet lag for a reason – to see a beautiful new place and experience it to the fullest.
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Featured image photo credit: Steven Smith (Flickr)