How To Cope With Jet-lag: Avoiding Travel Fatigue

Anyone who has ever taken a transcontinental flight knows just how bad jet-lag can be. I woke up this morning in Minneapolis, Minnesota after 24+ hours of door-to-door travel from London, England, and I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. As I lay in bed thinking back through the blur of cab rides, airport security, baggage claim, customs, and flight transfers, my halfhearted attempt to avoid jet-lag came back to haunt me. There were definitely things I could’ve done to lessen the full force of skipping a time difference, but right now my body is on 7pm London time and not 1pm Minnesota time. I should’ve known better. Oops.

If you’re flying transcontinental and you don’t have enough time to lay in bed the next day, try some of these tactics to bounce back more quickly. Perhaps I should’ve taken a dose of my own medicine, but too little, too late, I’m going back to bed. Happy traveling.

#1: Avoid Alcohol

It’s so tempting to dull the backache and speed up flight time by over indulging in the crappy airline “house” wine, but if you can avoid it, don’t. Since altitude changes and cabin pressurization already dehydrates you, alcohol just makes it all worse. Plus, airline wine is so terrible anyway that choking down with your rubber chicken dinner isn’t really worth it when you take overall energy deficit effects into account.

#2: Drink More Water

If you have a window seat, it’s super annoying to have to climb over everyone to hit the toilet every hour. But drinking lots of H2O makes all the difference in the world. So fill up your water bottle, book an isle seat and drink up.

#3: Invest in a Good Pair of Blinders

Most airports have travel stores where you can spend 10 bucks and pick up a travel eye blinder. It should fit your eyes so it shuts out all the light and give you the illusion of complete darkness. These are so worth wearing if you’re trying to get sleep on a flight–also consider a neck pillow. I don’t have one (although I’m always debating getting one). They’re bulky and a pain to carry but I’m definitely getting one for my next trans-con flight. It might be a good one-time-use purchase that you could ditch in a trash can on the flip side.

#4: Push Through the Fatigue

If you land several hours before it’s the natural night time/bed time, even though you’re tired, try to stay awake and push through the fatigue. This way your body basically skips a whole day, but then when you fall asleep, you’ll sleep hard and wake up refreshed at a natural hour the next morning. This is the worst part of jet-lag, but the quickest way to get over it.

#5: Exercise

If it’s daytime when you land, try to spend a lot of time outside. Walk around and let your brain adjust to the idea that your body is jumping forward or backward a day. Make sure you’re not stumbling around a foreign city totally exhausted, (don’t get hit by a bus or a car!) but just head out for a stroll around the neighborhood–trust me, it actually helps.

#6: Eat like You’re There

Airplane  food is one of the things that really messes my timing-system up. Since airlines serve food according to the destination you’re leaving, you could be having breakfast when technically you’re supposed to be asleep. Instead, set your watch to your destination time as soon as you take off, and try to push through the hunger to get on the right food schedule.

#7: Avoid Sugary Foods and Caffeine

Airports are populated with newsstands that sell candy bars, and when you’re rushing through security to your gate, it’s tempting to grab-and-go. But, remember that sugary foods give your body a quick burst of energy and then you crash–since you’re already going through a series of highs and crashes with the altitude changes and time changes, go easy on yourself and choose more sustainable foods. Also, when you land, try to avoid coffee if you can and go for the protein-rich foods like eggs, peanut butter, and nuts.

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