One of the questions I hear from people regularly is how to handle jet lag.
Travelling is a blast and can bring all kinds of amazing new experiences, but if you are foggy and bogged down with jet lag for most of your trip, it can be a major downer.
I’ve been doing a lot of travelling lately, and have several trips lining up for next year, most of which are going to be in different time zones. Over the years I’ve found that these are the best ways to keep my body on track when travelling.
Airplanes are notoriously dry, and travel is notoriously draining. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I know that plane bathrooms are gross, but the tradeoff is worth the ick factor. Bring a reusable water bottle from home to fill up at one of the many fountains around airports once you go through the security gates, and you may want to even purchase another BIG bottle before getting on the plane. #worthit.
2. Fast or Eat Lightly
This one isn’t for everyone, depending on either personal preference, what works best for your body, or how long you will be travelling for. However, it seems to work well for me and helps keep my digestion on track once I arrive at my destination.
Changes in meal timing, particularly if you’re someone who generally eats at the same time every day, can throw the entire system off. Moreover, eating a big heavy meal right before you jump on a plane is basically guaranteed to make you feel off, and the body will have to focus on nothing but trying to digest the big meal sitting in your stomach like a rock. By keeping things light or waiting to eat until you reach your destination, you’re giving the body a bit of a break.
Ever noticed that you might poop around the same time(s) each day? Many people experience a shift in this when travelling. The body is a little confused, especially if you have to wake up at odd hours for a very early flight, or if you’re taking a red-eye and are awake much later than usual. Our bodies are highly sensitive to this and it can entirely throw off how you poop. Keeping food minimal while travelling can offset some of these negative effects (such as not pooping for long periods of time).
3. Avoid Salty Foods
This might seem like it goes without saying, but when you’re feeling peckish and the flight attendant drops those salted nuts onto your tray, it can feel like an open invitation.
I’m guessing they do this on purpose to encourage you to purchase more real food or alcoholic beverages, but either way, best to choose differently whenever possible. Given how dried out air travel can make us on its’ own, high salt snack foods will suck the remaining moisture out of us.
Instead, either fast (see previous tip) or bring snacks/meal from home. A big salad with a plant-based protein (so lack of refrigeration doesn’t make a big difference), whole food bars like LaraBars or RX Bars, a scoop of individually pre-packaged protein powder, veggies and hummus, or apples are all some great options. Just be sure there’s no liquid (or dip/spread like hummus) over 3 ounces, according to regulations.
I have noticed that many airports are stocking some healthier options as well. To-go salads, kombucha, simple protein bars, fresh fruit and more. However, if you can arrive prepared, you will be guaranteed to have foods that will make you feel good already on hand and ready to go.
This doesn’t need to be fancy. Typically it might be harder to access the same kind of equipment of classes you may be used to attending at home, so instead squeeze in a quick and dirty bodyweight workout in your room or in a local park. Or, do sprints outside. Or, make use of the (likely empty, in my experience) hotel gym.
If you do feel the need to pack some type of equipment you can use on the go, I suggest these mini bands or TRX suspension trainer that can be hooked up to any door while travelling. Otherwise, your bodyweight is all you need.
There is truly nothing like a good sweat to get your body back on track, and it always helps to ease jet lag.
Airports are usually a waiting game. This is a great opportunity to move. If you have a layover, walk around the airport rather than sitting waiting for your next flight. Once you reach your destination, going for a walk acclimatizes your body to your new time zone as well, depending on what time of day you arrive.
Exposing the body to natural light first thing in the morning can also help your body adjust and will help get your internal clock on the local time. This is a perfect chance to go for a walk. When you first waken, try to spend at least 20 minutes outdoors. The extra Vitamin D won’t hurt either ;).
6. Change your sleeping patterns to adjust to your new time zone as quickly as possible.
This is a pretty hard and fast rule I stick to that seems to work so well for me, and when clients or friends ask about how to avoid jet lag, this is the #1 suggestion I make. For example, a few years ago on a trip to Europe, we took a red eye and arrived in Amsterdam around mid-morning local time, which was 6 hours ahead of our home time zone. We had already been up for 24 hours by then, but pushed ourselves to stay up until around 9 or 10pm local time before going to bed. When we woke up the next morning in Amsterdam, our bodies seemed well adjusted to the new time zone.
**A warning here: It’s often a little tougher coming home after a time change than it is going the other direction. Try to stick to this as much as possible, but be prepared for a slightly longer adjustment**
If you do need to nap (especially depending on the particular time zones you’ve been crossing), try to keep it as short as possible. Natural REM sleep cycles tend to be approximately 90 minutes long, so my suggestion would be to keep the nap under 20 – 30 minutes when your body hasn’t quite hit deep sleep, or in 90 minute increments to avoid interrupting REM cycle. Otherwise, you may feel quite groggy and likely more tired than before you napped.
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