Traveling at high speeds across multiple time zones has become normalized in today’s culture. Although “jet lag,” our body’s adjustment to a new time and location, does not typically dissuade us from exploring new places and cultures, it can still be a struggle. When we experience jet lag, our body’s internal clock, or “circadian rhythm,” is basically disrupted by unpredictable changes in our exposure to sunlight and darkness. Read on for five ways to outsmart jet lag by tricking your circadian rhythm.
Jet lag is not something that ‘just happens’ once we arrive at our destination. Generally, we notice its effect once we’ve arrived because we did not prepare our body before we left. Before you leave and while you are in transit, do the following to diminish symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety and insomnia.
I know I sound like your mom, but mother knows best! All of our body systems work better when they are well-hydrated; it’s like topping up the oil in your car. Hydration is not just drinking anything, either. Coffee, caffeinated and carbonated drinks and alcohol dehydrate you, so opt for water, tea, or sugar-free juice. (But nothing beats water for prime hydration!)
Got a flight at 3am? Don’t skip a “breakfast” banana. Not a fan of overcooked airline pasta? Eat something else on the tray; there’s a reason airlines serve meals. Skipping them and/or not eating at defined periods (i.e. snacking your way to a destination) will not help your body fall comfortably into a new rhythm as food also functions as sleep/wake cues for our brain.
Since our circadian rhythm functions on a 24-hour cycle of light and dark, or day and night, traveling to a different time zone throws it off big time. No matter where you are in your travels, whether just departing or newly arrived, make it a point to watch the sun rise or set. The ocular nerve in your eyes connects to systems within your brain that regulate the release of the hormone melatonin, which dictates your sleep-wake cycle. Sunset is our body’s cue to sleep, just as sunrise is our cue to wake up.
Once you’ve arrived (YAY!), you get a little adrenaline rush of excitement, then all of a sudden feel like you could just crash for hours. Don’t give in! Napping for more than 20–30 minutes once you arrive is the number one mistake that lets jet lag win. Instead, fight the urge and do the following:
Get outside, feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. This is so healthy after long travel hours, during which much of your time was spent in stale air. Again, syncing with the sun helps our circadian rhythm realign to the new time zone, which generally involves new sleeping, eating and activity patterns.
Likewise, after sitting or waiting for long periods of time, make a conscious choice to move, stretch, get out and walk, maybe even run or bike around your new environment (outdoors). Activity helps to circulate endorphins and tires you out just enough so that you can hopefully get a better night’s rest. Walking to get a meal or a coffee can help with, and also distract you from, any jet lag symptoms you may be feeling.