What does that getaway to the destination of your dreams have to do with some fascinating sleep science?

You’ve done it! You’ve finally gone on that trip halfway around the world you’ve dreamed about! Now, you’ve landed, and the jet lag sets in. Even with all the beautiful sights around you, it’s hard to stay awake and make that bike tour you booked. What are you to do!? Let’s get you some tools to keep jet lag from ruining your trip.

Whether you’re flying to a time zone 6 hours different or even just one, adjusting to new rhythms can be tough. Suddenly, it’s the middle of the day but all your body wants is to be deep asleep. Why is this? And are there any ways we can outwit our body’s internal clocks?

Luckily, our understanding of how our body’s clocks work is finally starting to catch up with our ability to jump time zones in a matter of hours! Fasten your seatbelt low and tight across your lap, we’ve got some amazing insights to share with you.

Image: Image taken from inside a plane of a plane wing with a sunset behind it

What’s going on with jet lag?

Our bodies have many fascinating mechanisms that keep us alive. Very often though, we fail to appreciate the wonders of our internal clocks. They regulate some of our most basic functions like when we eat and particularly when we sleep. When we cross multiple time zones our bodies don’t have time to adjust our sleep patterns to the new time we find ourselves in. This can make it difficult to fall asleep, or stay awake, and can impact our attention, mood, and digestion. 1

It can be a pretty miserable experience. Particularly if we only have a limited time to enjoy the new place we’re traveling to–or need to readjust our schedules quickly when we get back. So what are we to do about jet lag? Is it preventable? What can we do to adjust faster and get on to our fun vacations?

To run us through some of the science behind jet lag, and give some helpful tips that can help us recover faster, we have a great video for you from BrainCraft!

BrainCraft is an amazing resource for all things related to the brain, with some great biological life hacks thrown in to help us be our best selves. It’s a great YouTube channel to get lost in learning all about how our brains and our bodies impact our lives! Make sure you check them out.

Helpful tips!

Here’s what you can do to help prevent jet lag or at least reduce its effects.

Pro Tip #1

Double-check the number of time zones you’re crossing!

For every time zone crossed it usually takes about a day to recover. Jet lag is worse traveling east rather than west because it’s easier to delay sleep (and your circadian rhythms). So, make sure you account for the direction you’re flying in if you want to optimize your first few days of travel around how tired you might be. Also, if you’re older or a frequent flyer you may experience more jet lag and more difficulty recovering. 3

Pro Tip #2

Don’t pack or clean late into the night before your trip and start your journey sleep deprived.

Start well-rested. It’s easy to find yourself up late the night before a flight in a frenzy of your pre-trip to-do list. But if you really want to go pro, start adjusting your sleep and eating schedule before you leave. Getting your timing closer to your destination helps you start to adjust. (Okay, this might not be reasonable for a flight from New York to Hong Kong, but if you’re only going to be crossing two or three time zones it could really help!)

Pro Tip #3

Two days before your trip, start focusing on drinking a lot of water.

On the plane, the cabin humidity may be as low as 20% or lower on long flights, but you are accustomed to 30% or 60% humidity in your home, so this can worsen dehydration problems when flying. 4 Make sure you stay hydrated. Dehydration can make the symptoms of jet lag worse. So, keep your water bottle filled and pay extra attention to keeping hydrated! (This is a tip I live by now after trying it a few times. I really do think that it helps!)

Pro Tip #4

Take the leap to the time zone of your destination as soon as the jet pushes back from the gate!

While you’re flying, it helps to start adjusting your sleep schedule on the way. So, if it’s night time at your destination, sleep. If it’s not, try and stay awake as much as you can. This will give you a jump-start on adjusting.

Pro Tip #5

Power through that first day! Do whatever it takes to get through it in sync with their time zone.

When you arrive, stick to the schedule where you are. Yes, it can be super difficult to stay awake when your body is telling you to sleep. But resist the urge to nap. Setting your sleeping and eating times to the local time as soon as you arrive will help you cut jet lag time.

Growing up, we would always plan to be at a modern art museum the day after travel. It kept us active enough to stay awake but wasn’t something that required a lot of deep thought or attention. Plus, sometimes modern art can be better appreciated when your inhibitions are down from sleep deprivation. 5

Happy Travels!

So there you have it, some of the science and tips you need to take your best vacation ever and enjoy it from beginning to end. Even if you aren’t planning on jet setting off to a distant destination tomorrow, jet lag gives us some pretty incredible insights into the complexity of our body’s systems. Every time I travel, I’m reminded that we live in an extraordinary time. We can fly from New York to London in seven hours, a journey that once took us weeks. No wonder we feel a little groggy when we touch down!

If jet lag hits you a little harder than you wanted next trip, as long as you keep a good attitude you’ve got a great travel story to share with friends!

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Explore the world (without getting jet lag!)

Want to journey around the world without losing any sleep? Take a trip through our Saturdays Around the World archive. Each article takes you on a trip to new destinations all from the comfort of your computer!

Saturdays Around the World on EWC!

Notes:

  1. “Jet Lag Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/jet-lag/symptoms-causes/syc-20374027.
  2. BrainCraft. “The Science of Jet Lag (and How to Beat It).” YouTube, BrainCraft, 23 Sept. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xcm9BWa_4xc.
  3. “Jet Lag Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/jet-lag/symptoms-causes/syc-20374027.
  4. World Health Organization. “Cabin Humidity and Dehydration.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 11 Nov. 2011, www.who.int/ith/mode_of_travel/chad/en/.
  5. “Jet Lag Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/jet-lag/symptoms-causes/syc-20374027.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV