Evolution equipped us with many amazing abilities but traveling through several time zones within a few hours is something we were clearly not made for. It actually challenges us so much we even invented a word for our inability to adapt after a long flight. Jet lag can last several days and it can really affect your stay abroad if it leaves you feeling drowsy all day. Is there a way to prevent this from happening? Yes, there is! I wish someone had told me before my first long flight to the US in 2007…
1. Preventing jet lag starts at home
If you get the chance to decide at which local time you’re going to arrive at your destination you should opt for early evening. This will give you enough time to get settled in your new place and to calm down after the long journey before you go to sleep.
If you’re going to be traveling very far (for instance, I traveled through 12 time zones on my 32 hour flight to New Zealand) you can already start adapting to the time at your destination a couple of days in advance. Try going to sleep earlier or later depending on your destination so the difference isn’t that huge anymore when you arrive.
2. On the plane
Adapting to the time at your destination can be hard while you’re on the plane. At some point during my longest flight I just lost track of how many sunrises and sunsets I had watched during the past 30 hours. Having several watches on your phone with your home time, local time and destination time can help you adapt your sleeping and waking hours during the flight. After the third breakfast in a row you might start questioning your sanity but hey, eating properly and staying hydrated during the flight is super important to avoid feeling even more worn out when you arrive.
3. At your destination
The ultimate tip to prevent jet lag is this: when you arrive at your destination stay awake until 10 pm no matter what time it is and no matter how tired you are. That’s easy if you arrive in the evening (like I recommended before) but it’s kinda tough when you arrive in the morning. Don’t take a nap! No matter how tired you are – grab a coffee, start exploring your new surroundings, keep yourself busy but stay awake by all means. Spend as much time as you can outside as the sunlight will tell your body it’s daytime. Remember to eat according to the local time as well.
The next morning you’ll most likely wake up exceptionally early. Be assured that this is completely normal. Try to get up at a somewhat reasonable time even if it still appears a bit too early. The worst part is already over now. Again, refrain from taking naps during the day and don’t go to sleep before 10 pm and your body will soon adapt.
4. Jet lag and birth control
Wait, what? Yep, I really want to get this last tip out to the ladies and guys traveling with their wife or girlfriend. If you’re on birth control you’ll know that you should take your pill roughly at the same time every day. This isn’t a problem when traveling through one or two time zones but a long flight through a lot of time zones can seriously mess up your schedule. You really want to make sure you do the math in advance using a time zone map: at what time do you usually take your pill? What time is that at your destination? If your flight is longer than 24 hours: where are you going to be and what time is it going to be when you have to take your pill during the flight? Having your home time, local time and destination time on your phone can be super useful here as well. Depending on when your “pill time” is going to be at your destination you might want to start adapting it at home as well by taking your pill an hour earlier or later every day. I strongly recommend that you get this particular jet lag related issue sorted in advance to avoid… surprises.
Did you ever have a really bad jet lag? Let me know in the comments!