It’s one thing to keep a regular sleep schedule at home, but what about when traveling through multiple time zones in one day? The human body and mind were not designed to fly multiple time zones away in a matter of hours. If all our travel were done by walking, we would have plenty of time to adjust naturally. Modern society does not always allow for such a gradual change. It’s wonderful to be able to get to faraway places relatively conveniently, until it’s time to sleep. Jet lag, the negative consequences of a rapid change of time zones, can wreak havoc on the mind and body.
Symptoms of jet lag can be so severe that they significantly affect the trip. The good news is that there are things you can do to prepare, and to help alleviate the effects, so you can enjoy your trip!
This tends to be the more difficult direction for most people, but we are going to provide the best tips before your next trip.
- If it fits into your schedule and you have time to prepare before leaving, start adjusting to the new time zone. Try to go to bed earlier, and wake up earlier. Ideally, you should begin to adjust at least a week before departure.
- When you get to your destination, if it’s morning or a time of day that you should be awake, try to expose yourself to natural sunlight. You may even find it beneficial to put your sunglasses away for a little while.
- Try to engage in some type of physical activity, preferably outdoors in the sun, even if it’s just a walk.
- Avoid alcohol, as it makes it more difficult to adjust to a new time zone.
- If you want to drink a little caffeine, take small sips throughout the morning. Make sure to stop drinking it in the afternoon, as it will make it even more difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Try taking 3 mg of melatonin 3 hours before you want to fall asleep. We posted another article about the dangers of melatonin, but travel is the one exception. Keep in mind that the use of melatonin in this case is only temporary!
Many travelers don’t need to do anything to prepare and adjust when heading west because it is more natural for the internal clock, but the same ideas do still apply.
- Use natural light and dark cues to help adjust. Expose yourself to light in the morning, and dim the lights before bed.
- Plan your sleep times. If you arrive at your destination around the time you need to go to bed, try not to sleep while traveling. If you do need to sleep, try to sleep only during the first half so you will still be able to sleep when you arrive.
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