If you’ve ever gone on a long airplane trip, it’s rare that after reaching you’re destination you are jet lag free. Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice, just go on with your vacation like you didn’t just travel for the last 10 hours lol. Well, there are things you can do to prevent, or, at least curb your jet lag. Luckily for me, my recent flights haven’t been more than 4 hours or so. 🙂
Although you can’t avoid it entirely (especially when traveling such long distances), it doesn’t have to be as bad as it often is. There are things you can do before you get on the plane, while you’re flying, and after you land to take the effects from completely debilitating to just mildly annoying.
Give a few of these a shot, and enjoy your trip! -GM
1. Adjust your clock before you leave, but don’t go overboard.
Moving your schedule around before you leave can limit the impacts of jet lag, according to Mark J. Muehlbach, Ph.D., fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, registered polysomnographic technologist with CSI Clinics, and director of the CSI Insomnia Center.
If you’re traveling west to east, say, from California to New York, you’ll want to push your schedule forward. So if you normally go to sleep at 10 P.M., move your bedtime up 15 minutes each day for several days before you leave. That way your bedtime will be more in line with when you’re supposed to be sleeping in New York when you arrive. If you’re traveling east to west, you’ll want to do just the opposite and move your schedule backward.
Unfortunately, if you’re traveling further to somewhere like Asia or Australia, this trick is unlikely to help as much, Sanjeev Kothare, M.D., a professor with the department of neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells me. Setting your clock one to two hours might help a little, he explains, but setting it back or forward any more than that will make it hard to function in your own time zone.
2. Do everything in your power to catch some zzz’s on the flight.
If you’re headed toward a morning arrival, sleeping on your flight is crucial, says Muehlbach. “Even some sleep may help with adjusting to the new time zone and help you feel better, especially if you have a long day ahead of you,” he says.
Of course, getting some shut-eye while traveling is hard for a lot of people, no matter how many special neck pillows you try. If this is the case for you, Muehlbach suggests talking to your general doctor about obtaining a light sleep aid to help you fall asleep. If you’d rather avoid sleep aids, make yourself as comfortable as possible with a sleep mask, earplugs, and a travel pillow.
One thing you definitely shouldn’t do? Have a hard drink. Alcohol may knock you out, but the quality of sleep you get won’t be very good (which could make you more tired than you might have been otherwise).
3. Drink a lot of water, move around as much as you can, and keep what you eat as healthy as possible. Taking all of these steps will keep away any unwanted gastrointestinal side effects.
There are a handful of ways to combat the bloating and constipation that often happen on a long journey, says Lisa Ganjhu, D.O., gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
First, you’ll want to drink as much water as you can. Dry cabin air can often lead to dehydration, which in turn can result in adverse gastrointestinal effects like constipation. In addition, you’ll want to avoid drinking alcohol, which can dehydrate you further.
Moving around is also key to avoiding constipation. Obviously you can’t go for an extended walk while you’re trapped in the tin can otherwise known as an airplane. But Ganjhu says that even just making the occasional walk to the restroom can be enough to keep things moving and prevent constipation.
Of course, even if you use all these tips, you might still wind up constipated. Ganjhu says the reason for this is because our GI tracts largely function on our circadian rhythm—the internal clock that tells our bodies when to sleep and when to wake up. When our circadian rhythm gets messed up, it throws our bodies completely out of whack, including our digestive systems. Some travelers are super sensitive to these changes, and others aren’t, she explains. If you know you’re susceptible to traveler’s constipation, take all the necessary precautions and hope for the best.
As for bloating, the best way to avoid this in the air is the same as how you might on the ground. Avoid drinking things like liquor, seltzer, or diet soda (bubbles, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol are all known to cause bloating). Try to eat as healthy as you can—high-fat, high-salt foods might both make things worse. And if you’re on the flight and greasy airplane food is all you have, eat it by all means. She says it’s never worth it to be hungry, and as long as you’re not overdoing it on the greasier food, you should be mostly fine in terms of bloating and constipation.
4. When you arrive at your destination, try to throw yourself into the local time.
If it’s daytime when you land, expose yourself to sunlight. “Bright light exposure after landing can help delay sleep onset by a few hours,” Neomi Shah, M.D., associate professor, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells SELF. The reason for this, she explains, is because light exposure increases serotonin production (the hormone that keeps you awake) and decreases melatonin production (the hormone that puts you to sleep). This can help align your circadian rhythm with the current time zone, which can limit the negative effects of jet lag.
And no matter how tired you might feel, don’t go to bed until regular sleeping hours, says Muehlbach. If you go to bed too early, you might wake up in the middle of the night or vice versa. If your bedtime is six or eight hours away, he says caffeine can help a lot. (Don’t drink it too close to bedtime, though, because it can stay in your system for up to eight hours and interfere with sleep.)
If you have trouble falling asleep, Muehlbach recommends taking a melatonin supplement three hours before your intended bedtime. Though taking melatonin supplements isn’t something you should do all the time—as it can mess with your circadian rhythm down the line—there’s no harm in using it once in a while for jet lag. Though there’s not a lot sufficient research on the recommend dosing, Kothare suggests taking no more than 0.3 milligrams of melatonin at a time.
5. But if you’re absolutely, horribly exhausted, a short nap might do you some good.
Don’t torture yourself if you’re super tired when you land at your destination at 11 A.M. Muehlbach says you can totally take a nap, provided it’s a short one and you’re taking it before 4 P.M. Anything longer than an hour or later than that time might end up making you feel more tired and can interfere with the quality of sleep you get when you do lay down to sleep.