Jet Lag: How To Deal With Long-Haul Flights

man looking out window on a plane
man looking out window on a plane

Long-haul flights can take you to the farthest corners of the globe, but they often come with an unwelcome companion: jet lag. This disrupts your body’s internal clock, leaving you groggy and disoriented. According to the World Health Organization, jet lag can trigger a range of unpleasant symptoms. The list includes indigestion and disturbances in bowel function, a sense of general malaise, daytime sleepiness, and nighttime insomnia. Jet lag can also impact physical and mental performance. These effects often overlap with the natural weariness brought on by the journey itself.

As you embark on your travels, remember that jet lag isn’t an insurmountable foe; it’s a challenge that can be met with effective tactics. These aren’t mere clichés or generic advice but a curated set of creative solutions to tackle jet lag head-on. From adjusting your sleep schedule to embracing natural light upon arrival, these tips are your arsenal for success.

1. Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

Your body operates like a well-tuned clock. When you know your destination’s time zone, you can start the adjustment process before you even set foot on the plane. If you’re flying east, try hitting the sack an hour earlier for a few nights leading up to your flight. Conversely, if you’re heading west, stay up an hour later. This subtle shift will help your internal clock get in sync with your destination’s time zone, making the transition smoother when you arrive.

2. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a silent enemy on long-haul flights. The dry cabin air can zap your body of essential moisture, intensifying the effects of jet lag. To keep your body in top form, stay well-hydrated during your journey. Sip water regularly, and steer clear of the tempting allure of alcohol and caffeine. You might consider bringing an empty reusable water bottle through security and filling it up before boarding, ensuring you have easy access to hydration during the flight.

3. Opt for Overnight Flights

The choice of flight can significantly impact your ability to tackle jet lag. Whenever possible, opt for overnight flights that mimic your natural sleep patterns. Try to snooze during the hours when you’d typically be catching your z’s at your destination. Equip yourself with essential sleep aids like eye masks, earplugs, and a neck pillow to create a cozy in-flight cocoon.

4. Set Your Watch

Time is a potent influencer, and you can wield it to your advantage. As soon as you board the plane, set your watch to the time zone of your destination. This simple act helps you mentally transition to your upcoming schedule. Rather than clinging to the past, you’ll be embracing the future, and your body will be better prepared for the shift.

5. Avoid Heavy Meals

Long flights can tempt you with a cornucopia of sumptuous meals, but indulging in a heavy feast is not your best ally in the battle against jet lag. Instead, opt for lighter, easily digestible fare. Try to eat in alignment with your destination’s mealtime, not the one you left behind. By treating your stomach kindly, you’ll help your body focus on adjusting to the new time zone.

6. Move and Stretch

Sitting in a confined space for hours can make your body feel like it’s on the fast track to Stiffsville. Yet, with a bit of creativity, you can defy the monotony. Make an effort to get up and stretch your legs. Walking around the cabin, even briefly, can work wonders. In-seat exercises are another savior—simple movements like ankle circles, knee lifts, and shoulder rolls keep your blood flowing and ensure you step off the plane feeling invigorated rather than like a human pretzel.

7. Limit Screen Time

Screen time might seem like a saving grace to pass the hours, but the radiant glow of screens can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. In the quest for quality rest, minimize your screen exposure, especially close to bedtime. Instead, consider activities like reading a book, engaging in mindful reflection, or working on a crossword puzzle. These screen-free activities soothe your mind and ease you into a state of relaxation that’s conducive to restful sleep.

8. Gradual Exposure to Light

Light is your body’s natural clockkeeper. To recalibrate your internal clock, expose yourself to natural light upon arrival. If you land during the morning, take a stroll in the invigorating sunlight. This direct exposure to daylight helps your body recognize the local time and readjust accordingly. If you arrive at night, minimize artificial lighting, allowing your body to recognize the dimness and promote the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep.

9. Stay Awake Until Local Bedtime

When you finally touch down at your destination, the overwhelming urge to nap may be hard to resist, especially if your eyelids feel as heavy as lead. However, the secret to conquering jet lag is to push through that initial fatigue and stay awake until the local bedtime hour rolls around. While it may seem like a herculean task, the reward is synchronization with the new time zone. This mental discipline aids in making the shift more seamless and reduces the throes of jet lag.

10. Over-the-Counter Remedies

In certain circumstances, you may want to consider over-the-counter remedies to assist in managing jet lag. Melatonin supplements, for instance, can help regulate your sleep patterns in a new time zone. However, before reaching for any medication, it’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider. If you decide to use over-the-counter options, always follow the recommended dosage instructions. While they can be beneficial, they should be used judiciously and as a part of a comprehensive strategy for managing jet lag.