Travelling: Best Tips for Fighting Jet Lag
Growing up as an international student, it is no surprise that I constantly have to travel and learn to adjust my body to different time zones during the holiday seasons. For most college students living in Ithaca, it is a necessity for them to travel to different places, and even across the globe for vacation, family visit, or other reasons several times of the year. Today, I want to share my tips for fighting jet lag and adjusting my body to different time zones and hopefully they will help you during your travels too!
1. Plan ahead
As soon as you know your travel itinerary, start planning your schedule to adjust your body to the local time zone. Depending on your schedule and lifestyle, this trick can be done a few days prior to departure, and even a week ahead. While this is not always possible, I try to adjust my sleeping schedule a few days before my flight. For example, I started adjusting my sleep schedule about five days ahead to prepare for my flight from Ithaca to Philadelphia then Seattle for this winter break. While the time difference is only three hours between Seattle and Ithaca, I still made sure I was well-rested and hydrated when I arrived at the destination. I would recommend making incremental changes by shifting your sleep schedule by 20 to 30 minutes instead of any more than that in a day. Overtime, your body will be able to adapt to the time change slowly. This trick also works when you are about to start school from the holiday season and need to change your biological clock to wake up for that 8:00 a.m. class.
2. Sleep better
One of the most important things I learned about myself after coming to college is that I am a very light sleeper. There have been countless nights when I lie in bed with my eyes wide open even if I went to bed an hour early. I am so sensitive to light and sound that I have even been woken up by my neighbor’s alarm in the morning! Since I don’t sleep a lot, I try to improve my sleep quality with a few tricks. About an hour before I go to bed, I would drink some hot lavender tea and spray lavender mist in my room to create a comfortable environment for sleeping. I also use lavender butter as a moisturizer and for its pleasant aroma. Not only does lavender have such a wonderful smell, it also induces sleep and helps with relaxation. For those who have serious problems falling asleep when fighting jetlag, I would recommend taking melatonin supplements to treat jet lag or sleep problems.
3. Get outside as much as you can
Once you arrive at the destination, decide how much light exposure you should get to fight jet lag. While you might feel very sleepy during the day, try taking a stroll in the local area. I learned this trick from my dad: as a frequent flyer, he would always try to expose himself to sunlight by walking around the area to stay awake. During our trip from Shanghai to the City this summer, my parents and I walked around the City and explore cool places together in the morning to fight jet lag. Even if you are travelling to an urban area, you could still explore the area and even visit the breakfast places before they are packed!
4. Relax and mediate
While you might feel pressured and stressed en route, it is important to take care of yourself. Before boarding and take-off, I would always take deep breaths to relieve stress and mediate to relax my muscles. If you are a frequent flyer, I would recommend investing in noise-cancelling earphones and listening to soft music to block off the distractions.
5. Stay hydrated at all times
This is probably the best tip for fighting jet lag but is so commonly forgotten. I always carry a water bottle with me to the airport and fill it up once I get through the Customs. I drink a lot of water on the plane to stay hydrated and it also reminds me to keep moving on the plane for bathroom breaks. If you don’t like drinking water, try decaffeinated hot tea! Most airlines provide a great selection of tea that you can choose from. Some of my favorite tea are chamomile, earl grey, and green tea.
6. Go light on the food
You might feel tempted to reward yourself with a big meal prior or after you arrive at your destination; however, some recent studies have shown that fasting from food for 12 to 16 hours prior to your planned wake time can seriously speed your adjustment. Therefore, try to consume your meals in small portions and keep them light. Once you arrive at the destination, eat small meals to get on the local dining schedule as soon as possible. If you don’t like airplane food, bring some healthy snacks and supplements to stay energized!
7. Lastly, be creative
There are plenty of things you can do on the plane to stay awake. For long flights, I usually listen to music and peek out the window to enjoy the beautiful view. On my flight from Philadelphia to Seattle, I even had the opportunity to talk to the gentleman next to me for more than 2 hours. Although we came from very different background, we shared our experiences and reasons for coming to the States. From our conversation, I learned that he is currently an army helicopter instructor in Virginia and wants to visit Washington to see if the military base there would be a good fit for him. He shared his stories about training his students and how proud he is for teaching them. From the military life, U.S. politics, to education, we talked about a range of topics as if we have known each other for years. It was an unexpected, yet one of the best conversations I had this year and all I did was staying open-minded and being a good listener. You might feel intimidated to reach out to others on a long flight but I would definitely recommend finding something to do to stay entertained.
As you come back from the holiday season, I hope these tips will help you to make a smooth transition for fighting jet lag! Happy holidays and safe travels!