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Whether you are headed to warmer climes for a beach vacation or on a far-flung city break, the threat of jet lag - and its ability to make insomnia your worst enemy - is always there. The internet is full of advice on how to avoid it – sleeping well the night before, setting your watch to destination time as soon as possible and avoiding arriving at night are just some practical examples. However, after years of research it is generally accepted that you can’t actually avoid it, only minimize its impact and learn how to deal with it. So being the realists we are, we’ve prepared some great tips on how to recover from jet lag as quickly as possible.
1. Get with the local program
As quickly as possible, you should get yourself into the routine of the destination you have arrived at. Absorbing yourself into local time will help your body adjust to the new schedule. If you arrive in the morning, resist the urge to sleep. Likewise staying awake until the bedtime of your new destination is THE best way to combat jet lag. Make a point of eating at the correct meal time, not when you feel hungry (you can even start this routine on the plane before you reach your destination). If you must eat something, then reach for fruit or another small snack to see you through. Also, make sure you are eating the right meal because it’s easy to fall into consuming what your body is used to, rather than what is appropriate. For example, if it’s breakfast time in your location but dinner time at home, reach for the pancakes, not the meatloaf. On that point….
2. Don’t overload on food and drink
If you followed our advice and waited a few hours until it’s officially ‘dinner time’ you may be a lot hungrier than normal. However, filling up on the hotel buffet or eating an enormous meal will result in bloating and an unwelcome sense of lethargy. Stick to something light that won’t risk a post-meal snooze.
The same goes for drinks. Water is your friend, as dehydration will also cause undue tiredness. Consuming a glass of H20 or juice regularly will actually increase your alertness and energy levels. However, be wary of reaching for caffeine unless you’re certain how it will affect your body. For many people, a cup of coffee will turn back your body’s natural circadian rhythms by approximately one hour. This effect will help relieve your jet lag if you’re traveling west but may increase your jet lag if you’re traveling east.
If you’ve stayed awake all day and made it to dinner, by all means have alcohol with your meal if you typically enjoy drinks. The relaxation may well be a welcome distraction - but overdo it and the alcohol may interrupt that evening’s sleep and all your hard work during your first day will be for naught.
3. Create a sleep-friendly space for that all-important first night
Just as staying awake during daylight hours is key to beating jet lag, so is getting a good night’s sleep after dark. Sleeping tips vary but it is best to create the most inviting bedtime environment possible. It’s important to consider two elements – falling asleep and staying asleep.
A good quality back-support mattress will provide comfort and ensure aches and pains are kept at bay, meaning you are more likely to fall asleep and less likely to be woken from your slumber. Laying your head on a pillow that provides familiar comfort will also help you in your quests for downtime. Whether you prefer the comfort of a feather, foam or memory pillow, it’s worth asking your host if they have alternatives or, if space permits, it’s definitely worth taking your own pillow with you when traveling for a guaranteed great night’s rest.
High quality 100% cotton bedding will also encourage a good night’s sleep. Hotel-grade sheets and pillowcases are typically made with long-staple cotton and feature a high thread count. Fine cotton is considered the best fabric for sheets because not only is it smooth and luxurious to the touch, it’s completely breathable -- which means, you can keep cool in a hot climate and warm in a colder one. Since temperature regulation is so important to falling asleep, high-quality bedding makes a noticeable difference when fighting jet lag.
With this in mind, if you’re fearful of jet lag in a new destination, it’s wise to make sure your first night is spent in a sleep-friendly place, such as a high-end hotel that is known for paying attention to a guest’s sleep quality. If jet lag is affecting you on your return home, make sure you have chosen your mattress, pillows, and sheets wisely and you will have a distinct advantage when it comes to resetting your natural biorhythms.
4. Go into the light
As soon as it is daylight (and you are awake!) open the curtains, take a shower and get outside. The light and fresh air will reset your body’s circadian rhythms to align with your new destination. In addition, natural light inhibits the body’s production of melatonin, the ‘sleepy’ hormone, so go for a walk, take a gentle jog if that’s your thing…. Just stay in the sunshine as long as you can if you want to avoid napping in the afternoon.
5. Equip yourself properly
Planning ahead could make the difference between beating or suffering from jet lag. We’ve mentioned bringing home comforts such as your pillow to your new destination, but there are other practical items that will help. If jet lag is affecting you at your foreign destination, a favorite pair of pyjamas may bring a welcome touch of home to any unfamiliar surroundings and, no matter how comfortable you have made your sleeping arrangements, earplugs are invaluable if you are not sure what may go bump in the night.
6. Pills or no pills?
If at all possible, you should just ease into your first few days and let your body adjust on its own accord. However, there are circumstances where you need to get yourself fully functional quickly as quickly as possible – if you are traveling for work for example.
In such cases, the use of medication may help. There are generally two types that travelers choose to take when combatting the effects of jet lag: Melatonin supplements, available OTC in some countries, provide a short-term boost to your body’s levels of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. Sleeping tablets, whether prescription or OTC, will use different medicines to artificially induce sleep. The mechanisms by which each medicine works is different, so if you’re considering taking a sleeping tablet, it’s best to speak with a doctor first.
In either case, pills are a short-term solution. The other natural remedies for jet lag are safe and known to work, so please bear that in mind if you feel like you’re constantly in a situation where you rely on pills. You may in fact be introducing another complicating factor to your confused body!
Give yourself time
Whatever other tips you read, this is probably one of the easiest to adhere to. Simply don’t rush and give it time. Don’t plan anything too adventurous or strenuous in the first 48 hours. Just relax, go with the flow and don’t be too harsh on yourself if you find yourself enjoying a sneaky snooze. Just make sure you set an alarm!
Certified Wellness Consultant &
Co-founder of Hush Home
As a certified health and wellness consultant, Stephanie is on a mission to inspire everyone to live a fuller life by sleeping better.
Stephanie designs and leads Hush Home's sleep workshops for Fortune Global 500 Companies such as Citibank, Manulife, and Standard Chartered to boost their employee performance and productivity with sleep science.
When Stephanie is not getting her 8 hours of snooze in, or reading and writing about sleep & wellness, she’s probably somewhere hiking with her little pomeranian, Dookie!