I absolutely love travelling – but jet lag? Not so much. Jet lag is colloquial term used to describe a medical condition known as ‘desynchronosis’ which occurs when we cross time zones rapidly. Doing this confuses our body clocks. Along with the physical and emotional stress of the journey itself, it can make the first few days of a trip and your return home really stressful. But how to avoid jet lag? It’s easier than you might think.
How To Avoid Jet Lag – Things To Do Before You Travel
Keep regular hours in the days before you leave
While some people advocate trying to go to bed earlier or later to mimic the time zone you are heading for, I have found this to be counter-productive. Instead, simply be sure to get enough sleep in the days before your journey so that you start your trip rested and refreshed.
Make healthy choices
Eat regularly and drink lots of water. You don’t have to avoid caffeine completely, but try not to have more than 3 caffeinated drinks each day.
How to Avoid Jet Lag – Things to Do on the Plane
Start to think about what time it is at your destination throughout the flight.
This helps your mind to get used to the time change. Most airlines offer a moving map which will tell you the time at your destination.
Drink lots of water and eat regularly
Once you get on the plane, be sure to drink lots of water. The environment on a plane is seriously dehydrating and the best way to counteract this is to hydrate from the inside out. Eat small amounts of nutritious food regularly, whether you are hungry or not. I take a few small packages of nuts or crackers with me in case I get hungry at a time when food is not being served on the aircraft.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
While one glass of wine or champagne won’t hurt, try not to drink too much alcohol in flight. It’s extremely dehydrating and makes sleeping properly virtually impossible. Avoid caffeine completely on the plane as there is absolutely no need to force yourself to stay awake. In fact, the best thing you can do is nap as much as possible.
Nap whenever you can. I know airlines provide lots of exciting films to watch and it’s easy to be distracted. However, if you really want to avoid jet lag, sleep is crucial. Once the main meal has been served, try your best to get a bit of shut eye. Wear an eye mask and ear plugs if it helps.
If you really can’t sleep, simply rest with your eyes closed. Even if you are not unconscious, it really does help. You never know, you may just nod off!
Check out my Top 5 Air Travel Tips to Make Flying Less Stressful
How To Avoid Jet Lag – Things to Do When You Arrive
Stay awake until the next bedtime if you can
Start to work only within the time zone you are actually in. Avoid going to bed on arrival, unless it is a time of the evening when you would normally sleep. In other words, if you normally go to bed at 10pm in your time zone, try not to go to bed before 9 or 10 pm in the time zone you are in. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery if you are tired!
If you find yourself desperate for a nap and really cannot go on, set the alarm (or two alarms if necessary) and nap for no more than an hour or so. Get up when the alarm goes off, have a tea or coffee and try to carry on until your ‘normal’ bedtime in the local time zone.
Avoid energy drinks. A little caffeine can be helpful but too much will just make your fatigue worse in the long term.
Go to bed at your normal bedtime and stay there until its a normal time to wake up
Don’t get frustrated if you can’t sleep when you ‘should’– even lying in bed can be restorative if you allow yourself to relax. And you never know, you might actually nod off! If you wake in the middle of the night stay in bed and rest unless it’s reasonably close to when you would normally get up.
Eat nutritious food regularly
Have something light to eat at the next mealtime in local time even if it means you have an extra meal that day. For example, when arriving in New York or San Francisco from London, the flight arrives mid to late afternoon. I’ve eaten breakfast at home, a main meal at ‘lunchtime’ on the plane and a light ‘tea’ with sandwiches and cakes just before we arrive. However I still eat supper at supper time local time.
Use caffeine carefully and creatively
Caffeine can help you adjust your circadian rhythm to the local time zone but too much will wreak havoc with your body clock. A cup of tea or coffee may help you stay awake until the next bedtime or wake you up if you’ve had to take a short nap. However be careful not to over-use caffeine as it will then make it difficult to sleep when you should.
Take a walk
Weather permitting, try to get outside, particularly if it’s sunny. The sun can really help convince your body it’s daytime even if your body thinks it’s not.
Keep your mind in the time zone you are in
Obviously if you need to call someone at home you need to be mindful of what time it is for them. However don’t constantly think about what time it is there. Saying things like, “It’s midnight at home now” is not a good idea. Your mind listens to what you say and subconsciously your body does too! If it’s 3pm local time, it’s 3pm local time. Your need to convince your body of that as quickly as possible.
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How To Avoid Jet Lag With Children
Travelling with children can be challenging at the best of times and makes avoiding jet lag tricky, but it’s still do-able.
Travel with children from a young age if possible
Travel across time zones with children as early as you can and if possible, build up to longer time changes gradually. The more familiar children are with travelling, the easier it will be for you to keep them on schedule. Trust me, it’s worth it. A jet lagged toddler or teenager is never fun.
If they are old enough, talk about time changes and jet lag with kids before you leave
Talk to children about how time zones work and how important it is to adjust to the local time as quickly as you can. Explain how important it is to rest on the plane. I always suggested to my son that he was going to miss out on the excitement of the destination if he was tired when we arrived. Kids hate missing out!
Keep children well fed and hydrated
Encourage children to eat regularly and drink healthy drinks, especially water. Avoid sugar, pop and anything that might contain caffeine.
If all else fails and your little one’s body clock gets seriously confused, encourage them to rest. While adults can push themselves to wait to sleep until the next local bedtime, for kids this can be virtually impossible. Frankly, it’s not good for them.
Use my tips for how to avoid jet lag and enjoy travelling even more! If you are on holiday you will begin to enjoy your break sooner. If you are travelling on business or for personal reasons it will help you to be more effective more quickly. A well rested traveller is a happy traveller!
I’m a very frequent traveller – in addition to several short-haul flights of up to five hours, on average I make six long-haul flights each year. These are the tips my family, colleagues, and I use to avoid jet lag. Not everything will work for everyone. You should always consult your doctor if you have any questions about the effects of travel on your body and/or any medications you might take. Never drive or operate heavy machinery if you feel ‘jet lagged’ and remember that fatigue always impairs judgement.