The holiday season often means taking road trips to see relatives, but if you’ve been budgeting and planning for something a little more extravagant, it could also mean taking a trip overseas to a destination you’ve been dying to visit. But traveling long distances often means crossing several time zones, and nothing can put a damper on your dream vacation like jet lag.
Jet lag occurs when your circadian rhythm is totally thrown off—your body is in one time zone, but your brain feels like it’s in another. It can mess with your sleep schedule, your digestion, and, of course, your overall mood. And unfortunately, there is no way to completely avoid it.
It can be tempting to rely on copious amounts of caffeine, countered by sleeping pills at the right time of night, to try to beat the effects of jet lag. While this might seem like a good quick fix, it’s only going to make you feel worse. But the good news is that there are a few natural ways to manage jet lag—no sleeping pills necessary.
1. Start adjusting your sleep schedule before the trip.
No, you don’t have to start waking up in the middle of the night just to match the time at your destination—but some small adjustments to your sleep schedule can make a huge difference. Try going to bed an hour earlier and waking up an hour earlier, and then making it two hours. When you’re overseas and on vacation, the time difference won’t feel quite as jarring. And whatever you do, don’t take a nap when you land if you arrive during the day—you’ll have no shot at recovering from it if you give in to the exhaustion right away.
2. Shift your mealtimes to match mealtimes in your destination.
Unless your schedule is so busy that you rarely have time to sit down for a meal, you’re probably used to eating at certain times of day. So when you land in your new destination and sit down to have dinner, but your body still feels like it’s 3 AM, you might feel a little bloated and uncomfortable afterwards. You might also find yourself waking up with hunger pangs in the middle of the night, expecting it to be breakfast time already. How can you remedy this problem? Shift your mealtimes before you leave (along with your bedtime). Yes, it might seem strange to be eating a little later or earlier than usual, but once you arrive, you’ll be grateful that you did.
3. Prioritize traveling in comfort over style.
You’ll want to arrive at your destination feeling well rested, so you want to be super comfy on the plane. Yoga pants, a casual sweater, a neck pillow, a sleep mask—make sure you’re prepared with this checklist! If you’re on a red-eye flight, you will definitely want to try your best to get some sleep on the way over, so a sleep mask will be a must. It might feel a little silly, but it will be dark on the plane and no one will notice.
4. Stay hydrated and eat healthy.
Dehydration will only make you feel more exhausted—you want to arrive at your exciting destination feeling energized and perky. Eat a healthy meal on the flight over, and make sure to drink plenty of water. It’s fine to have a little caffeine just to give yourself a boost, but you definitely don’t want to overdo it. Have a cup of coffee or green tea shortly before you arrive so you get an extra spring in your step as you head to the baggage claim. But don’t stay up for the length of your red eye and then start chugging lattes once you step off the plane. You’ll just end up crashing.
5. Bring some melatonin along for the flight.
Sleeping pills can be way too strong for many people. Plus, they can have some unpleasant side effects, and who wants to show up to their dream destination feeling groggy and out of it? But melatonin is a hormone that naturally occurs in our bodies when it gets dark outside. It’s the hormone that makes you feel tired and sleepy at the end of the day. If you need a little help adjusting your sleep schedule, pack some melatonin in your carry on and take it before you decide to doze off—you’ll start feeling a little sleepier in a short time, and although it can give you some interesting dreams, you’ll feel good when you wake up and it’s time for that airplane breakfast.
How do you avoid jet lag when you travel?
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