How To Get Over Jet Lag
During the three years that Ryan and I worked as engineers in China, we got used to our constant companion, jet lag. Learning how to get over jet lag or beat it altogether was essential.
My coworkers were always amazed because I rarely, if ever, felt any effects of jet lag. The best way to overcome jet lag is to learn and apply the science behind getting over jet lag.
In this post, we’ll share five jet lag tips to help you prevent jet lag, or get over it quickly.
how to get over jet lag
After a refreshing 12-hour time difference, you’re often expected to roll off a flight and straight into work. Outside of feeling sleepy in a business meeting, throwing off our body’s time zone messes with our circadian rhythm.
Recent research shows that our circadian rhythm is more than just an internal biological clock. It is linked to both weight gain and increased cancer risk.
While jet lag is often a necessary evil of travel, there are scientifically proven methods to get over jet lag more quickly. The first method is hydration.
1. Keep Hydrated
Staying well hydrated seems to be a cure-all from altitude sickness to jet lag. To avoid jet lag, stay hydrated well before (2-3 days), during, and after your flight. Getting over jet leg is really that simple. Here’s why.
Flying inevitably leads to mild dehydration because the climate-controlled cabin is 10-15% humidity. That’s 2X drier than the Sahara desert!
In an average 10-hour flight, men can lose up to 2 liters of water while women up to 1.6 liters. This amount is approximately 4% of your bodily fluids. Even a 1% decrease in hydration can affect critical thinking, attention, and irritability.
To stay well hydrated, pack a refillable water bottle (here is my classic go-to bottle) and fill it up at the airport before departure. When you’re traveling through countries without potable water in their airport, use this sterilization pen.
Throughout long haul flights, flight attendants typically keep out large bottles of water in the galleys. If not, ask. Be selfish and take as much as possible. On the long flights, you might need two bottles.
Avoid anything that dehydrates you, especially alcohol. On international flights, beer and wine are often free. Avoid the temptation, because alcohol further disrupts sleep while simultaneously dehydrating you.
Drinking alcohol will make jet lag unavoidable. To get over jet lag once you’ve arrived home, the Mayo Clinic recommends caffeinated beverages to keep you fueled throughout the day. It’s also not recommended to drink while taking melatonin…. which you need!
2. Melatonin is Your Friend
This was our secret weapon to learning how to get over jet lag. While it’s not good to supplement your sleep every night, it’s essential to supplement while traveling across time zones.
Melatonin is the hormone secreted to tell your body when to go to bed and when to wake up. When in need, take a natural melatonin vitamin (5 mg) around 30-minutes before bed. Studies confirm that melatonin up to 5 mg minimizes the effects of jet lag.
Also, to ensure restful sleep on the go, we never left for the airport without these three sleep tools.
- The world’s most comfortable and black out face mask
- Ear plugs or noise dampening head phones and a sound machine for the hotel.
- A travel pillow
Melatonin not only helps you fall asleep when your body is telling you it’s not tired, but it also helps you stay in your new time zone.
3. Stay in Your New Time Zone
To avoid jet lag, start adjusting to your new time zone (staying up really late or waking earlier) 2-3 nights before your flight. Then, as soon as you step foot onto the plane, set your watch to the new time zone.
You’re right, this isn’t a tip for how to get over jet lag, it’s a way to prevent it altogether. Unfortunately, staying in your new time zone is harder than it sounds.
If it’s day time in your future time zone, keep your overhead light on and watch an energetic movie while the rest of the plane sleeps. I have done this many times and have even had seat-mates complain and try to turn off my light! But I stay strong and it’s always worth it.
Or, if it’s night time in your future time zone, pop a melatonin and put your face mask on to sleep while the rest of the plane watches movies.
To get over jet lag, staying in your new time zone is most important after arrival. Get outside in natural light as much as possible to set your circadian rhythm. Do your best to avoid naps. Any nap longer than 30 minutes is dangerous!
I had a former colleague who would bring small LEGO boxes to quiet nearby children on the plane. I witness this once and they worked amazingly!
4. Don’t Skip Your Workout
Nope, jet lag is not an excuse to sleep in for two reasons.
Firstly, not only do airplanes limit humidity, your oxygen saturation levels are reduced. Cabin pressure on a flight simulates an environment below sea level, which means your body absorbs less oxygen.
This lack of oxygen makes you feel foggy and lethargic. Therefore, it’s necessary to get your blood flowing and lungs pumping with a workout. At the very least, work at a standing desk.
Secondly, the University of Toronto performed a study on hamsters and the effects of an 8-hour jet lag. The control group of hamsters was allowed to sleep while the other group was put into an exercise wheel.
The results? The exercised hamsters overcame jet lag in 1.6 days while the sleepers took 5.4 days, over 3X faster! No, we’re not hamsters, but research further connects exercise and circadian rhythm.
Stick to a routine and work out at the same time as you would at home. When we exercise both before the flight and after arriving, we seldom feel the effects of jet lag.
Our workouts which we can stream anywhere are critical to overcome jet lag on trips east, to Europe and Africa, as well as trips west, to Asia and Hawaii. If you want to keep exercise really simple, pack some resistance bands and follow this workout routine at your gate or in your hotel room.
5. What You Eat Matters
If you’re serious about learning how to get over get lag, you need to fuel your body properly.
New research brings to light how different types of food can affect your sleep. If you experience insomnia along with jet lag, focus on this. Eating a diet high in vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, and high-fiber carbohydrates promotes longer time in slow-wave sleep.
They also promote healthy digestion, which is something often not agreeable with flying.
Request vegetarian meals on your flight and avoided simple, salty carbohydrates. Just note that, with some airlines, choosing a special-order meal such as gluten-free, vegetarian, kosher, etc. may make you ineligible for upgrades.
Despite what airlines claim, a colleague of mine found this out the hard way. His gluten-free meal, already allocated for him on the plane, was not allowed to enter the first-class cabin.
He was tipped off at check-in and removed his special-order meal to receive the upgrade (and just brought his food onto the plane!)
From more tips, read our article titled: ‘Health Tips for Business Travelers.’
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