The 4 simple steps to avoid feeling jet lagged and make the most of your trip
Jet lag is caused by your body not being prepared for a new time zone. Your internal circadian rhythm isn’t synced up to your new time zone. It’s that feeling when your brain’s telling you it’s time to eat but it’s 3 am or time to sleep when it’s 10 am. You’ll often feel tired, foggy, unfocused, or even angry, sick, or nauseous. The more time zones you cross the more you’ll typically feel the effects.
The key to beating jet lag is to trick your brain and your body into thinking you’re in your new time zone. Don’t let it get confused by being in your old time zone. You’re going to act as if you’re already 6 hours ahead by starting to eat, sleep, and think in UK time, for example. You’re going to be adjusting to your new time zone right away so you can skip the jet lag.
Pick the right flight or travel time
Comparing arrival times for your time zones is the first step in preventing jet lag. You can skip a lot of the crappy feelings from jet lag by understanding the best way to get from your current time zone to your new time zone. Think about whether you can sleep on the plane and whether that will reset your internal time to your new time zone. If not, a daytime trip might be better, or you might need to take strategic naps during your trip.
For example, flying to Asia from the US on a red eye is very difficult to adjust to. You spend 12 hours on a plane and arrive at the same time you left, or so your body thinks. It’s morning where you are but all you want to do is sleep.
But if you leave on a later flight and arrive at night, you’ll probably want to crash as soon as your head hits the hotel pillow. You’ll wake up after a few hours’ sleep to a good meal and sunshine, which is exactly what your body needs to get adjusted. That’s an almost instant time zone adjustment, no jet lag needed.
Adjust your schedule the day before or the day you leave
You know those sayings like “I’m on island time” or “I’m in vacation mode?” That’s your goal to skip jet lag. This is the easiest but most important step, but a lot of people get it wrong.
You’re now on London time, Bangkok time, Tokyo time, Paris time, or wherever you’re going to. You’re going to actively set your watch and brain on your new time zone before you’re even there.
Stop converting your new time to your old time. Limit your thinking of “I would be waking up right now” or “It’s the middle of the night back home.” Your goal is to forget about your old time zone and only think in terms of your new time.
Adjust your clock as soon as you get on your plane or train. You can even add your new time zone to your phone’s clock or apps before you leave. If possible, change your sleep schedule a little the day before your trip. Getting up an hour early or an hour late is like skipping one whole time zone, and it’ll help you get into your new routine.
Eat the right foods at the right time
You’re tricking your body into adjusting to the new time zone, but don’t think of this process as you versus your body. You’re helping your body feel better faster, so give it the right fuel to function better. Many times you might feel terrible when traveling even without jet lag because you’re not used to the food you’re eating or you’re forced to eat fast food on the run.
Make the healthiest choice you can for each meal. It’s hard to eat healthy for every meal, but do your best to include healthy options without too much rich, salty, or heavy food. Indulge in that McDonald’s burger, but get a side salad and skip the soda. For an in-flight meal, eat all the veggies on your plate and avoid heavy carbs or salty meals.
You might need to plan ahead for this one if you have special dietary requirements. Bring some healthy vegetarian or gluten-free snacks or prepped meals, or even an energy bar. You can reserve special meals in advance for most airlines, so do your research in advance and pick the healthiest looking one. For example, Delta offers multiple vegetarian options on flights to Europe, so you might be able to choose an Indian vegetarian meal if you like curry or an Asian vegetarian meal if you prefer rice and soy sauce.
Mimosa DIY: Ask for orange juice and champagne if it’s an international flight. Carbonation could help you digest those terrible airplane meals, and a little alcohol could help you relax and fall asleep and get adjusted to your new timezone faster. Plus the OJ has vitamins and cold-fighting power to combat all those germy airport surfaces.
Tell yourself you won’t get jet lagged
We’re going to let you in on a secret technique that can help you overcome jet lag.
Here’s the trick: Use the power of positive thinking to tell yourself you’re not going to feel jet lagged.
Why does this work? You’re reminding yourself you’re in control of how you feel, not some spark or chemical in your brain telling you it’s time to go bed. You’re also reminding yourself of all the things you’re doing to combat jet lag and how prepared you are.
It won’t work as well without doing the steps above, but it could help you if you’re already suffering jet lag or you’ve just arrived and it’s too late to do any prep work. And it might not work for everyone, but give it a try and see if it works for you.