How to Combat Jet Lag
Imagine this scenario… you have just flown to your dream destination. It’s a beautiful day and you have a list of exciting things you want to do and see. But your body is aching to lounge and your mind can’t seem to figure out if it’s time to sleep or be awake. You have jet lag! The nemesis of all travelers. And the dread of parents who are traveling with kids. The sad part of this scenario, is there is really no way to avoid it. Your internal clock is still set to home time, while the time zone you have arrived in is set to another. However, with some preparation and understanding of how to cope with it, your body and mind will have a much easier transition to a new area and soon enough you will be out exploring.
It may seem strange that a flight under five hours could throw off your internal clock so much. But a two hour difference can make an impact. Especially if you have children with set nap and bedtimes. To have the best experience in this new location, before anything, determine how long you are going to be traveling in this time zone and how much of a time change it requires.
Short trip, small time change
If you will only be there one to three days, with a two hours or less time change, it may not be worth changing your internal clock for such a short amount of time. Use an app on your phone to remind you of what time it is back home, or keep your watch set to your home’s time. Go about your day as close to your normal schedule as possible.
Short trip, longer time change
If you will be traveling to a location for a short amount of time, but it has a time change of three to five hours, keeping to the same schedule as home may be easier said than done. Instead, try a modified adjustment. In this situation, you do a small shift for a time change. To do this, take the amount of hours you have changed and divide it by two (round down, if needed). For the next days while on your short trip, shift your schedule by that calculated number. For example, if you are in a time zone four hours later than yours, shift your schedule two hours later than your home schedule. This will make for a slightly easier adjustment after traveling while still changing enough to get by.
Long trip, small or long time change
If you will be staying in the destination’s time zone for four or more days, changing your internal clock will be more worth it because of the amount of time you will be staying there. Upon arrival, immediately change your watch or any other time device to match the new time zone. Do everything you can to shift your schedule to match where you are.
I suggest preparing for this one a week in advance, and this method can work for both adults and children! Because it will be more complicated for a child’s daily schedule, let’s use them as an example. If their schedule is wake at 7:00, nap at 1:00, bedtime at 8:30, start by shifting their routine forward of backward by 15-30 minutes over a each day over a week, depending on how many hours you will need to shift. By the end of the week, when you are headed to your new destination, they will be starting to get used to an altered schedule and your adjustment while there will be limited. Repeat the same thing, but in reverse, when returning home.
Now for the more difficult transition. I consider long distances when the time has changed five hours or more. Staying on your same schedule would result in not being able to access sites, shops, restaurants, or other locations because of them being closed when you are awake. Since that is most likely why you are going, that doesn’t work. Try some of the tips below instead.
West is Best, East is a Beast
This saying is referring to the the direction of your flight. When flying to the West, your body will typically have an easier time adjusting to your destination’s time zone as you are flying with time, making for a long travel day. When flying to the East, you are flying against time, which creates a shorter travel day. Your body will typically have a harder time adjusting to going East, than it will going West. This is not meant to dissuade you from traveling a certain direction (because if you travel one direction, you will most likely travel back the opposite), but to remind you that it may be more difficult to transition depending on the flight direction.
Before You Go
If at all possible, schedule your flight to arrive in the morning of your destination. It is much easier for your body to adjust after a long day versus a short one. Also, do your best to get as rested as possible. You are in for a 24-36 hour time period where sleep is a luxury and you will be day dreaming about your bed. Enjoy it while you can!
During the Flight
First off, change your watch to your destination’s time zone. It will mentally get you into the frame of mind for what you will be transition to. Try to mirror what you would be doing at that time if you weren’t on the plane. If it’s night time there, catch some z’s. If daytime, entertain yourself with something to avoid sleep.
Also, take into account when you will arrive at your destination. If you happen to arrive at night, it may be helpful to avoid sleep on the plane so that you are ready to go to bed when you arrive at the destination. If you arrive in the morning, you will have a full day ahead, so it will be helpful to be rested. Use your flight time to rest and recharge your body as much as possible. It’s difficult in the standard airline chair, but do your best to sleep.
It is helpful to avoid alcohol, caffeine, or other things that stimulate the body as these will further alter how your body can adjust to the new time zone. Instead, drink plenty of water.
If you have children, and you are wanting them to sleep, use their bedtime ritual to your advantage. Pack your carry on bag or personal item so that bedtime items are easily accessible. Change the kiddos into their pajamas, brush teeth, read stories, and then do your best to make them comfortable for sleep. Having a familiar ritual will help them feel more comfortable with their surroundings, and help them drift off.
Start with what you would typically be doing at the local time of day. If it is morning, washing your face, and getting yourself ready for the day will help get you mentally in that time. If it’s mid afternoon, grab a bite to eat, and search out something to do.
As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to take a nap or go to bed too early. This will only be counterproductive. In order to reset your internal clock to the new timezone, you will need to remain awake until the typical bedtime for that time zone. Typically after one night’s rest in the time zone you are in, your body and mind will be able to transition to being fully reset. My best advice for this, get out and explore! It’s easier not to focus on how tired you are if you are moving around and seeing exciting things.
Time for Bed
By the time the clock strikes 8:00 or 9:00 pm, you know that you have made it long enough and it is time for you to get some sleep! at this point, you may have forced yourself to stay up so long that you may struggle with settling down. If this is the case, take some time to do something that relaxes your body; a warm bath, gentle yoga, drink a cup of something warm and soothing (no caffeine, though), or try relaxation exercises (contracting then releasing muscles gradually through the body).
With any luck, you’ll be drifting off to sleep soon, and will wake feeling refreshed and ready to take on the time zone.
A Note to Parents of Babies
Did you know that there are bassinets that have been designed for airplane use? They are available free of charge, on most airlines that are flying internationally, and they are a sanity saver! Holding that baby for the entire flight would get tiresome for you and baby, so it is nice to be able to put them into their own sleeping space.
Depending on what airline you fly with, the bassinet may hook into the seat in front of you to create a hammock, while others mount onto the wall in a bulkhead row. Each offers a way for you to let your baby rest, and let you stretch take a break. You will need to call the airline and reserve one before your trip. Try to do it as soon as you can as to make sure you will have access to one. It’s a little extra work to get in the air, but so worth it.