Every year, millions of travelers cross dozens of time zones in their quest to get home for the holidays – or to more exotic locales. In 2014, an estimated 2.5 million people boarded a plane on the Friday before Christmas alone. And there’s more than presents waiting for them at the gate.
Jet lag’s swampy, sluggish feeling is primarily caused by disrupted circadian rhythms when crossing as few as two time zones, and is exacerbated by many factors, including #sleep hygiene, diet, hydration, and stress. The good news is that tired travelers can control many of these factors. But to do so they need some fresh advice.
Take care while in the air. Flying economy means stressful surroundings but you can create your own frugal first class sleep experience by taking just a few easy measures. Environmental light cues play a big role in the sleep and wakefulness process, so treat yourself to a high quality eye mask. And while you’re at it, why not make your journey extra cosy with some warm socks, a great travel pillow, and some extra ear plugs?
Practice happy, healthy sleep. Have you ever struggled to fall asleep on the plane or a strange hotel room? The Mayo Clinic endorses the importance of a sleep routine not just for babies but for adults too. It’s a comforting way to adjust to new time zones and sleep under challenging circumstances. Before bed, enjoy camomile tea and classical music, change into soft pyjamas, and draw the shades. Just resist the temptation to check your phone one more time, as the Mayo Clinic reports that media use before bed may interfere with sleep quality.
Embrace walks, not worries. It’s easy to get caught up in health and dietary worries when we travel. Should we be running more? What about eating less salt and sugar? Physician and travel writer Dr. Jo Karnaghan has the following advice: “When I arrive at my destination I get out into the fresh air and sunshine. I find a nice long walk is a great way to get acclimatized to a new time zone as well as getting in some early sightseeing.
Be crafty about caffeine. Avoiding the dehydrating, sleep interrupting effects of caffeine is time honoured travel advice. But who among us can make it through the day without some java?
Be strategic when you indulge. According to the journal of Science Translational Medicine, scientists from the University of Colorado and the Medical Research council in Cambridge have found a relationship between caffeine and the circadian rhythm. Travelers heading west can rejoice – a double espresso at night can actually help fight jet lag by delaying the rise in the level of melatonin, the main sleep hormone released by the body, keeping travelers awake for a few more hours to help them adjust to west coast time.
East bound travelers aren’t as lucky but that doesn’t mean they have to swear off the café scene. Ask yourself if it’s caffeine you’re craving or something else. If you want the comfort of a hot drink, try steamed milk or hot apple cider. If you want the stimulation of people watching in a foreign café, do so with a low caffeine tea latte.
Follow the locals’ schedule – most of the time. A new time zone means a new schedule and you’ll want to sleep and eat as the locals do. That’s the strategy of travel writer Emma Higgins, who shared her tried and tested methods with me over the phone. “Once you’ve landed in your destination, try to get on the local schedule as soon as possible – not only with the times you go to sleep and get up, but also with when you eat. Getting your stomach on the right time zone will quicky sync the rest of your body up. While you’re adjusting, take advantage of being away early or late by exploring a city at night or going on a refreshing early morning hike.”
And above all else….
Take care of yourself and go at your own pace. And enjoy your trip! You’ll be back in your own bed before you know it.