When I go back to Europe, I try to be as fit and well-rested as possible. As good as my intentions are, this is not always possible. To make matters worse, traveling east seems to have a larger effect on the body than going the opposite direction. According to science, this is due to our natural circadian rhythms. It’s like an internal clock that lets us know when it is time to eat and sleep.
Since (vacation) time is money, you need all of the hours you can get to enjoy that foreign getaway. Luckily there are some things you can do to fend off that jet lag.
Before Your Flight
It’s always nice to hit that “sweet spot” when transferring between connecting flights. You need just enough time to get off the plane, use the restroom, grab a bite and reach your departure gate. In reality, you end up with either too much or too little time. Making the layover part of your vacation can make for a more relaxed experience, while it can also ease you into your new time zone.
Adjust to Your Destination
Not many of us have the luxury to easily settle into our vacation time zone ahead of time. I used to work for a company that was open all the time, so I would volunteer for several night shifts as a means to get ready for an event that would take place throughout the night. For those of us with a nine-to-five job, it could be helpful to start going to bed earlier when you are traveling east, or go to bed later when traveling west.
During Your Flight
Drink With a Purpose
My beverage of choice on any given day is coffee, but it’s not just the lackluster quality of the airline cup that makes me skip a cup during a flight. You’ll dehydrate much quicker on a plane, so the last thing you want to do is go overboard with coffee and alcohol. Drink the cups of water that the flight attendants hand out, or better still, bring your own bottle of water, so you can take a sip whenever you want to.
Value Your Nutrition
Some foods can aid your circadian rhythm and combat jet lag. Bananas are on top of the list because they have doses of magnesium, melatonin and serotonin in them. Lemons can give you an edge when it comes to hydration. When you eat is likely more important than what you eat, as you can trick your body into thinking it is a different time of day. The meal service on transatlantic flights clearly follows the time at the departure location, so you may want to skip that lasagna if you want to prepare your body for the correct time.
After Your Flight
Exercise to Energize
Jumping into a workout may not be on your mind at the beginning of your vacation, but it may help with getting over a nagging jet lag. A classic study found that “jet-lagged” hamsters got back to their normal routine much quicker after having done a running session than their non-active counterparts. And remember, you don’t need to bring those weights with you to still get a good workout.
Almost all of my flights from the US to Europe have been overnighters. You arrive early in the morning, but far from ready to tackle the day on a different continent. I usually do the best I can to make it through the day by not making too many plans at first and settling for an early night. But that’s a shame because you are on vacation! Many flight attendants feel the same about fighting the urge to go to bed. So if you want to stay up, don’t sit down for too long, but walk around and get some fresh air.
The stress of long distance travel, waiting around airports and being confined to uncomfortable airplane seats (economy flyers unite) can affect the best of us. Reset your watch to the local time of your destination and, with the proper planning, you will adapt to your vacation routine in no time.
How does jet lag affect your vacation, and how do you deal with it? We are eager to find out, so share your insights with us in the comments below!