If you’ve ever traveled through at least two time zones, you know how rough jet lag can hit you. And if you haven’t dealt with it first-hand, you’ve heard enough horror stories to know you want to avoid it.
The reason we get jet lag is biological. Your biorhythms are confused when your watch says one thing, but your body expects something else. Your sleep and awake cycles run on a biological clock you’ve built for years. Understandably, this switch is hard to adjust to.
The good news is it’s possible to beat travel jet lag and not lose those first precious days of your trip. Use these three tips to trick your body enough that you can minimize the symptoms and maximize your productivity.
1. Adjust to the Changes Gradually
Jet lag happens when your body is jolted into a substantial time change. You’ve prepared mentally for the adjustment but can’t force your body to “get over it.” So, you must let it get acclimated gradually to avoid severe travel jet lag.
You can do this by slowly adjusting your schedule in the direction of the time change. As soon as you can, at least a few weeks before your trip, if possible, begin staying awake and sleeping in as you would when you get to your destination.
For instance, if you’re heading west and the time will be going backward (say, New York to California), you’ll need to stay up a bit later each night. A normal bedtime of 10 pm EST is only 7 pm PDT.
If you want to enjoy your trip and pack as much into your day as possible, you won’t want to go to sleep at 7. A normal 6 am wake-up then becomes 3 am, and no one but the earliest of the early birds wants that!
Instead, adjust your sleep schedule to stay up until 10:15 and wake up at 6:15, then move to 10:30 and 6:30, and so on, as long as it’s convenient to your current lifestyle. Of course, you may need to switch your daily schedule to accommodate this sleep switch, but it’s only for a few weeks. And if your travel is business-related, your job should encourage this small change.
2. Sleep on the Flight
It takes a professional slumberer or a special act of contortionism to sleep on a plane. If you’re not in one of those two categories, you likely spend your flight scrunched, uncomfortable, and ready to land.
But if you’re stuck on the plane for hours flying across time zones, catching a few z’s will help you stay awake when you get to your destination (and decrease jet lag).
For those of us who can’t fall asleep at the drop of a hat, especially on a plane, there are some scientifically-backed methods to increase your rest potential. Try some or all of these suggestions the next time you’re on an extended flight:
- Wear compression socks to keep your circulation flowing and your temperature regulated.
- Stay off your electronic devices (they keep your mind alert).
- Wear light-blocking eye masks and noise-canceling headphones. If earplugs or headphones are uncomfortable, check into the kinds designed as comfy, soft headbands or those that embed in a neck pillow.
- Use footrests and lean your chair back. Consider spending the extra $50 or so for the extra roomy seats.
The night before your flight, try to stay up as though you’re in the new time zone. This is dually beneficial. You’ll be more tired throughout your travels and more likely to sleep, and your body won’t be in as much shock when you get there.
3. Check-In Early
Most hotels have a 3 or 4 pm check-in schedule. If you’re heading out on a business trip, it’s wise to try to check in well before your first meeting. You’ll have time to shower, freshen up, and familiarize yourself with your surroundings.
If your company uses platforms like Hotel Engine, you can easily set up early check-ins and other preferences on the site. Log into your account, input your flight information, and schedule your intended arrival time. You can even check in and -out of many places digitally.
Give yourself this extra time to decompress, get some nutritious food, and adjust to the time zone. You’ll avoid the major side effects of jet lag and the stress of rushing straight into a meeting where your brain must be fully operational.
Jet lag is a purely physical reaction to what your body sees as an “instant” change. Make that adjustment gradually and give yourself a little wiggle room to get used to the new time zone.
You’ll be happy you did when you get there and get productive without the inconvenience of travel jet lag symptoms.