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Tips for Avoiding and Getting Over Jetlag

jet lag

Few things are nicer than getting away on an extended vacation, and when it involves crossing several time zones it is especially relaxing since so much distance between you and home makes it easier to let go of the stress and hustle of daily life.

The only thing that can take away from the long-looked-forward-to holiday is feeling exhausted all day long and then being wide awake at 3 a.m. And then when it comes time to head back to real life, it’s not just the stack of unread emails and small disasters that occurred at work in your absence that can cause stress, because getting back into a normal sleep routine often take a few days or even a couple of weeks for many people. So, to enjoy that much needed break without feeling like a train wreck when you get there or get home, here are a few tips to combat the dreaded jetlag.

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1. Sleep Less

It may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the best ways to adjust to another time zone before getting there is to start adjusting your sleep pattern before you even board the plane. Most of us can’t start sleeping all day and staying up all night before heading out, but going to bed a few hours later for two or three nights before you depart will help you start to adjust your body clock (or at least make you more tired) so that you can more easily adopt the new day/night cycle of your destination.


2. Know Your Destination Time When You Board Your Flight

If you start thinking in terms of what time it is in your destination as soon as you board the plane you will be able to calculate how much or how little sleep you should permit yourself to have on the flight. This way if you arrive late in the evening, you will be able to decide to stay awake for the entire travel and then go to bed when the locals do. Or, conversely, if you will be traveling during your destination’s sleep hours try to sleep for a good portion of your flight and then you will be ready to face the day when you land in the morning.


3. Fight the Urge to Sleep in the Daytime

Sometimes our schedules simply don’t allow for much adjustment prior to arrival in a new time zone. In this case, just try to force yourself to stay up until at least 10 p.m. when you arrive, fighting the urge to head to bed early simply because you are exhausted. Then, even if you feel like you could sleep until noon the next day, set your alarm to wake up at 8 a.m. the following morning and stay awake all day. You still probably feel pretty groggy for the first full day if you did a marathon stretch without sleep prior to departure and in transit, but at least you will be able to fall asleep at a normal time by the second or third day.


4. Avoid Too Much Alcohol or Sleep Aids

Long flights, stress, and free booze are a bad combination. The natural inclination is to have a few drinks and try to catch a few Zs, thinking that the alcohol or a sleeping pill will help you relax enough to fall asleep on an uncomfortable flight. And then when you reach your accommodations or get back home, you might assume that a nightcap or a sedative should do the trick and knock you out nicely. The problem is that alcohol is a diuretic, meaning your body will require more trips to the toilet, often in the middle of your sleep. But more importantly, alcohol and sleep aids cause people to immediately fall directly into a deep sleep period for a few hours followed by a lighter REM session that most people awake from feeling exhausted, rather than a series of REM cycles and deep sleep cycles which create normal, restful sleep. So in the end, the chemically-induced sleep doesn’t produce much restful sleep at all and can leave a person feeling just as tired as when they went to sleep the night before.


5. Get Outside In The Sunlight

There are lots of beat-the-jet-lag-blues products, most of which contain “herbal sleep remedies to allow you to fall asleep the way nature intended,” but the bottom line is that humans are programmed to sleep when it is dark and be awake when it is light. And the way to reset your body clock is to show it what time it is outside. So getting out in the daylight is critical to resetting your circadian cycle when it gets disrupted. Going out in the morning and then periodically throughout the day is best, and doing some cardiovascular exercise such as jogging to burn off extra energy helps too. And don’t think that the halogen glow of an office cubicle will have the same effect, because your subconscious mind knows the difference: you need natural light.

Above all, if you are jet-lagged and only seeing limited success with the tips above, don’t try to “power through it.” Feeling tired at work for a couple of days is understandable, but depriving your body of sleep for many days on end can have serious consequences, since it not only causes headaches and those dark circles under your eyes, but can lead to illness due to a weakened immune system. Additionally, carelessness, distraction, and irritability from being exhausted can result in accidents or unintended emotional outbursts. So, pace yourself and rest when you can. Even the worst jet lag symptoms will subside eventually.

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