Have you ever been on an international vacation, where time zones are virtually opposite of your own? Then you know the woes of Combatting Jet Lag. Being a Physician Assistant, I have heard a lot of old wives tales, tall tales, and some downright strange things that people claim helps their Jet Lag. Here are my tips that I feel are legitimate, tried, tested and true to work in combatting jet lag.
What To Bring
See my packing tips post on what to bring with you on the plane. But for sleeping get a stuff sack, here is what to include in it: put your contacts/glasses, sleep aid, water bottle (filled inside the airport), eye mask, earplugs, pillow, and blanket. I like this J-pillow because my head always falls forward or to the side & when I bring the head wings (what I call them) out then it holds my head in place perfectly. Also, place a small bag at your feet so you can use it as a footrest, or if you have the room you can buy one of these footrests – but I found them to be hard to get into and out of.
Here are my top 16 ways of combating Jet Lag.
1- Avoid or Minimize Caffeine As Much As Possible
few days before your trip. If you need the energy to be able to make it through the workday prior to your trip; try Natural Energy Supplements from an Organic store or health foods store. This method alone will significantly help with combatting jet lag.
2- Choose An Overnight Flight
Overnight flights typically turn all the lights off on the plane at night which makes it easier to fall asleep. I wear my eye mask even if the lights are off because there is always one or two people that turn their reading lights on & wakes me up (#lightsleeper).
3- Choose a seat away from the bathrooms
Even with earplugs, the carts and bathroom visitors will wake you up. I also choose a window seat so I don’t inadvertently get hit by an elbow, a cart, or woken up by the person next to me to visit the restroom.
4- Bring a Treat for the Restless Children
Make sure to bring some candy, suckers, or freeze-dried fruit to give to children who wake up and start screaming. It saves the mom from embarrassment, the flight attendants stress (because of grouchy passengers) and helps everyone get back to sleep. I’m not a mom, but the few times I have done this, it works like a charm. One mom friend of mine actually suggested dried fruit, or crackers so it doesn’t give them a sugar high and make it worse. You can also have little packets of crayons or paper in your bag as well. As a passenger, you also have to remember that Benedryl for kids doesn’t always work….sometimes it has the opposite effect on the kid and then you have a crazy person.
5- Exercise Before Your Flight
Doing this before your flight gives you the natural relaxation of the muscles, keeps the blood pumping and staves off blood clots as well. The rule of thumb for my patients is I advise them to get up every hour to stretch their legs and do some calf raises for about 5-10 minutes.
6- Wear compression stockings
These stockings can be found at any Walgreens, but the really good ones are the ones that you measure from your ankle to the knee and around the calf. I prefer the open toes because they seem cooler & don’t squish my toes if my legs start to swell slightly.
When you sit down the blood vessels in your groin and behind your knees get cut off resulting in fluid retention in your feet and calves. It can set you up for a blood clot as well (no matter your age), unless you plan on walking every 30 minutes — which isn’t always possible because of the risk of running into turbulence. When I sit for long periods of time even at work the compression stockings save my life. You will be amazed at how much this helps your energy level by the time you reach your destination.
7- Utilize Jet Lag Rooster
This is an App to properly plan your sleeping times make sure you start this at least 2 days prior to your departure. This was developed by a psychologist in Florida.
8- Sleep When You Are Tired
Some flight attendants do suggest that you just sleep when you are tired, and try to stay awake when the sun is up. I find that this method works for me as well as just sleeping as much as possible when I’m on the plane.
9- Set Your Clock To The Destination
By setting your clock to the time of the destination it will help you keep doing your daily routine by the destination time zone. Thus circumventing hungry, tired, or other cycles.
10- Don’t Overeat or Drink Alcohol
Let’s be honest….unless you are flying some fancy airline in first class….airplane food is no better for you than hospital food. Try to stick with water and the healthier options when your flying as this will help fight off fatigue when you land. The body releases cortisol when it is stressed and can cause fatigue feelings when traveling. Eating healthy will boost your natural defenses, provide ample water to flush out the Cortisol and nutrients to help keep the energy needed to explore up as well.
11- Don’t Go Straight To Bed On Arrival
Decide on a tourist-y site with lots of people. Preferably interactive sites, this will force yourself to stimulate your mind and your legs and blood flow. I typically pick the most popular museum, then get an audio guide so I don’t have to concentrate on reading & wander through all the spaces.
12- Keep Your Routine You Have At Home
Once you have toured a little, have dinner at the typical time for your destination, go take a shower/check-in at the hotel. Watch a movie, and then fall to sleep a little bit early — or lay there until its time to sleep (whichever works). I typically don’t do much the first day I’m at my international destination. It really helps to keep the first day easy, it allows my mind to accept that I’m on vacation and that it is ok to relax and not constantly look at my to-do list.
13- Over The Counter Sleep Aids
When I am traveling back home, that’s when the JetLag is really bad. I will typically take an over the counter sleep aid (Melatonin, 5-HTP, or if you aren’t on any blood thinners then consider St John’s Wort or Valerian Root) — Don’t combine all of these sleep aids, just take the recommended dose for ONE these herbal supplements. I typically will buy my supplements from an Organic Food store and look for one that has some sort of certification on it. Typically supplements and herbs are not FDA regulated, so that means you typically don’t know what you’re going to be putting in your body. I take the sleep aid the minute I get on my longest flight (so if I have a transfer or something, I’m not too groggy).
- I would not suggest getting any of these with Magnesium if you take more magnesium than your body requires it can actually cause some pretty gnarly diarrhea (a known side effect of oral Magnesium).
14- When You Get Home
Immediately unpack your suitcase, I typically will take a 30-minute nap to tide me over until my usual pre-vacation bedtime. The key here is, to sleep when you’re tired, but if it is during normal wakeful hours– limit it to 20-30min naps.
15 – What To Do When You Wake Up In The Middle of the Night
If you wake up in the middle of the night when you get home, I will look at a few social media sites, watch a YouTube Video on Classical Music or Yo-yo Ma & let that help me fall back asleep. Please realize if you do use your phone it can stimulate your frontal cortex and make you feel more awake, but for me, reading always puts me to sleep no matter what it is. So whatever typically makes you feel sleepy, do that and then try going back to bed….warm milk and Turkey also works if I’m desperate.
Happy Travels — Happy Tales — and good luck sleeping 😉
Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 22 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 18 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is devoted to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at email@example.com