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There’s nothing worse than traveling only to find yourself too tired and groggy to enjoy the destination once you arrive. Jet lag isn’t something that lasts for an hour or two—sometimes it lasts for days—but there are jet lag remedies to combat the travel fog.
What Is Jet Lag?
To beat it, we must understand it, so what exactly causes jet lag? For a long time jet lag was written off as a product of the mind but scientists now know that the body runs on a 24 hour clock that varies all kinds of chemicals in the body. These changes are called circadian rhythms and when they get disrupted, we feel the effects of jet lag. You’ll feel sleepy, irritable, brain fog, hunger at strange times, and even gastrointestinal upset.
Don’t Fall for Schemes
Now that we know what it is, how do we combat it? There are more herbal treatments, diets, and old wive's tales on the Internet than there are time zones. Most won’t offer any help. Don’t waste your money. Instead try some of these ideas.
Jet Lag Remedies That Work
Before you leave, follow what doctors probably tell you at every visit—get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and exercise. The better your health, the lighter the effects of jet lag, according to professionals.
Leading up to the trip, start adjusting your bed time. If you’re heading east, go to bed one hour earlier each night for a few nights. If you’re heading west, go to bed one hour later. By the time you take the trip you will have already adjusted at least partially to the time zone changes.
And the night before you leave, resist the urge to have a wild sendoff complete with alcoholic beverages. Alcohol will dehydrate you and make the effects of jet lag worse. It also acts as a stimulant and might keep you from sleeping.
Especially if you’re traveling west to east, try to sleep on the plane. You may not realize it but traveling is extremely stressful on the body and you’ll need energy when you arrive to start counteracting jet lag.
While on the plane and soon after you arrive, stick with safe foods that won’t irritate your stomach. A big burrito might not be the best idea while your body is fighting to adjust to the new time zone. Although studies show that certain foods don’t help to reduce jet lag, irresponsible eating can certainly make it worse. And sorry to ruin your fun, but save the alcohol for at least day 2. If you’re feeling that jet lag brain fog, alcohol will only make it worse.
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When in Rome
Once you get to your destination, don’t let your body tell you what to do. It will want to operate on your home time zone time but your job is to get it acclimated to the new, temporary reality. If you’re tired go for a walk, drink a cup of coffee, get out in the sun and see some sights, or head to a restaurant. Don’t take a nap or head to the hotel room and lie around. If you absolutely must take a nap, try and limit it to 20 to 30 minutes. If the nap is too long, going to bed on the new schedule won’t be happening that night.
You Need Light
Of all the cures out there, light is the single best one. That means that controlling jet lag comes down to controlling light and darkness, according to experts. If you’re traveling east, expose yourself to light earlier. If you’re traveling west, expose yourself to light later. For example, if you board a plane at 6:00pm that will arrive in London at 6:00am local time (which would be 1 am if you were still in NY), you need to advance your internal clock for London time. To do that, you need to avoid light on the flight. One way is to wear sunglasses on the plane. You might even wear them when you get off the plane. This is what Steven W. Lockley, a consulting member of NASA’s fatigue management team, does, according to the New York Times.
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He also suggests using eye masks, earplugs and sleep aids to sleep on the plane.
But overall, experts say to be patient. The further you travel the longer it will take your body to acclimate itself to the new time zone. For the first few days, you may be a little foggy, irritable, and your body may react differently than you’re used to. As you follow these tips and allow yourself ample time to settle in, you’ll feel better. And then you’ll travel home and go through it all over again, but with a lot of great memories of a fun trip!
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