The last thing you want is to feel tired and groggy while trying to explore a new city, which is exactly what jet lag does. It slows you down and has the potential to ruin an otherwise memorable day in an exotic location. Unfortunately, depending on how many time zones you’re crossing, jet lag is unavoidable. But the good news is that there are a bunch of simple wellness practices you can adopt to help with your jet lag recovery. It is possible to speed up the process so that you can get on with your vacation and feel like your best self.
We all know how jet lag feels: it makes us lethargic, grumpy, and irritable. It wreaks havoc on our digestive systems, and it makes it impossible to sleep when we want to sleep (and stay awake when we want to stay awake). But what, exactly, is jet lag?
Put simply, jet lag occurs when your biological clock — or circadian rhythm — lags behind or jumps ahead of the time zone that you’re in. As you move across continents, your sleep-wake cycle stays at home, which means you disembark flights feeling groggy and out of touch, with a body that has no idea where you are or how to adjust.
But it will adjust, albeit probably a little slower than you hoped. It’s been said that for every time zone crossed, it can take up to one day for jet lag to dissipate. If you don’t have time to waste (you’ve got sightseeing to do, after all) here are some simple travel habits you can practice to mitigate the effects of jet lag as quickly as possible.
Rest as much as possible in the days leading up to your trip. Starting out sleep-deprived isn’t exactly setting you up for success. Once you’re onboard your flight, make it as relaxing as possible and use it as a chance to store up on rest. The key is to sleep on the flight only when it’s currently nighttime at your destination. When it’s daytime there, do your best to stay awake. We recommend keeping your eyes open with a good book or rom com.
While in the air, stay hydrated. This means drinking plenty of water, but also avoiding alcohol and caffeine. You should try to get up and move around every once in awhile, too; do some stretches if you can! While none of this can prevent jet lag, it will put you in a much better position to cope with the symptoms — and recover faster.
Our hunger cycles are closely connected to our sleep-wake cycles, which means food can impact how we feel after a flight. Avoid eating foods that can make you feel bloated (like carbonated drinks and cruciferous vegetables — cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage) or that take a long time to digest (heavy fats and starches; think bread with butter and pasta with cream sauce).
During a long flight, it’s important to also avoid energy spikes and crashes that will only make your jet lag feel worse. Stay away from sugary treats and try to pair carbs with healthy fats and proteins as much as possible; that means saying no to cookies and yes to fruits and vegetables with nut butter and hummus. If you’re eating airline food, opt for a meal that offers lean proteins paired with steamed veggies. Think chicken or salmon with carrots and peas.
Once you’ve reached your destination, one of the best things you can do to help your body avoid the full effects of jet lag is to go outside. Your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by exposure to natural light; if you arrive at your destination during the daytime, a dose of the sun’s rays will help your body to readjust. The fresh air doesn’t hurt, either. Getting your blood pumping (walking, running, biking) will help you resist the urge to nap. You’ll be better off tomorrow if you wait until bedtime to hit the sack.
For the first couple nights in a new place, your body will be confused by the time you’re going to bed (why are you trying to sleep now instead of three hours ago?). Help your body adjust by following the same bedtime routine you do at home. Have a cup of herbal tea, give yourself a facial, read a good book — whatever you would normally do. This will signal the body and mind that it’s time to wind down and settle into a new time zone. It will also allow you to sleep deeper, and wake up feeling more refreshed, so you can keep exploring.
The further across the globe you travel, the more intense your jet lag will be. But by drinking plenty of water, sleeping and eating at strategic times, and continuing to practice your self-care routines, you can keep the effects from lingering your entire trip. With these simple jet lag recovery tips, we hope you can bounce back quickly and enjoy your well-deserved getaway.
Photos: Ian Schneider / Unsplash, Toni Osmundson / Unsplash, Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock