If you are a long distance traveler, you are probably well acquainted with jet lag. Almost everyone who takes a flight that covers at least three time zones will feel jet lagged in one form or another. Jet lag has nothing to do with how long you’ve been on the plane, but rather how far forward or backward you’ve gone in your day thanks to the time changes.
What is Jet lag?
Many people confuse being tired from a flight with being jet lagged. On my first flight I crossed only one time zone, but I was so tired I had to take a nap shortly after arriving at my destination. I wasn’t jet lagged; I was just exhausted from the terror of my first time in the air. I was so worked up about flying that when I landed safe and sound I was suddenly exhausted. Don’t mistake this for jet lag.
True jet lag will leave you feeling tired, a bit confused, and cranky. You may develop insomnia, headaches, and swelling in your arms and legs. If you are traveling internationally, the effects can knock a day off of your vacation. You may spend your first day lying in your hotel room trying to feel human again.
Causes of Jet Lag
There are many factors that contribute to jet lag. Being in poor health can mean you get hit harder and it will take you longer to recover. The pressure within the plane can leave you feeling tired and confused. The air within the plane is very dry and recycled, which will be irritating to your system.
The biggest problem that causes jet lag is your internal clock and the time zone changes. Your body is used to certain night and day schedule. If you fly from New York to Los Angeles there is a three-hour time difference. If you leave New York at one PM it is only ten AM In Los Angeles. If your flight takes six hours you arrive at seven PM your time but it is only four PM in Los Angeles. Your body still thinks it’s seven and may be winding down for the night. By eight PM Los Angeles time, you feel completely exhausted.
Preparing For Your Flight
The first thing you should do to help lessen the effects of jet lag is to be in tip-top shape before you go. Refrain from drinking the night before you leave. You should also avoid caffeine if possible. Instead, try drinking at least eight cups of water throughout the twenty-four hours before take off time so you are adequately hydrated. It is also recommended you eat light meals high in vegetable content leading up to your flight.
Get plenty of rest before your flight and dress as comfortably as possible. Tight clothing will get even tighter during the flight because swelling is common on long flights. This is especially important with footwear. Do not take your shoes of during the flight or you may not get them back on again when you land.
If your trip is taking you east, try to fall asleep a few hours early for a few nights leading up to departure time. If you are going west, try to stay up a few hours later. This can help you adjust to the time difference once you land.
During the Flight
Set your watch to your destination time as soon as you board the plane. Then, try to eat your meals in accordance with the time of your destination. Try to rest when it will be nighttime and stay awake when it will be daylight. Even if you aren’t tired you should at least try to get some sleep. Make things as dark as you can. Take along eyeshades or a ski cap you can pull down over your eyes. The darkness will help you reset your internal clock.
Drink plenty of water and get up and move around. Exercise will help with circulation and will help you remain awake if you feel tired but shouldn’t be sleeping. It is also recommended you get up every few hours to walk around on a long flight to avoid blood clots from forming in your legs.
When You Arrive
If it is night when you arrive do your best to sleep or at least rest. If it’s morning do everything you can to stay awake. If you find that you are totally exhausted try to hold out for a short afternoon nap.
Don’t set any important meetings or activities on your arrival day. Give yourself a day to recover from your flight and for your internal clock to adjust to the time difference. The same would apply on your return flight. Don’t fly in on Sunday if you have to be at work bright and early on Monday morning.
Jet lag will affect everyone differently. Even with the best-laid plans, you may still feel out of sorts when you arrive. Our bodies don’t always cooperate, but doing a few simple things before you leave will shorten the time it takes to adjust.