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How to Survive Even the WORST Jet Lag Symptoms

On long-haul flights, jet lag is a given. Try these 9 expert tips to lesson the symptoms.

Whether it’s a business trip or longed-awaited vacation, travelling is a part of life for global citizens. So is jet lag. (Or it used to be before Covid!)

Those long-haul flights can really wear your body down with jet lag: light-headedness, exhaustion, being more irritable than usual, poor appetite… The list of woes goes on. With some help from International Medical Clinic’s Dr. Nandini Shah, we’ve put together the 9 most useful tips to help you cope with the symptoms of jet lag as quickly and painlessly as possible. So while an easy cure-all may not exist, and for the most part we’re going nowhere fast these days, taken together this advice is worth your time. What have you got to lose? Certainly not more shut-eye.

Before you leave…

1. Make micro-adjustments to your sleep routine

Though it is difficult to prevent jet lag, gradually adapting your sleep cycle a few days prior to departure stacks the deck in your favor. This includes getting up and going to sleep earlier (if travelling east) or later (if travelling west) to minimise the time difference when you arrive.

On the plane…

2. To sleep or not to sleep?

Experts agree that, in general, you should aim to adjust to the time at your destination as soon as possible. That’s why you should sleep in your seat only if it’s nighttime where you’re headed.

3. Skip too much screen time

If you are trying to catch some shut-eye, skip the movies, hoping they’ll put you to sleep. For the same reasons you’re encouraged to put down your iPad, smartphone and any other screens before heading to bed, the light from the flicks can have a stimulating effect and keep you wide awake.

4. Avoid overdoing the alcohol

Do yourself a favor and try to avoid drinking too much alcohol (yes, even if the drinks are free). Not only is it dehydrating (as is flying – double whammy!), it can also make you feel groggy, which can hinder your attempts at acclimating on arrival. Instead, try to drink lots of water.

5. What about taking meds?

Many people hope a sleep pill is the magic bullet for jet lag, but be careful: Most sleeping pills are designed to last at least 7 to 8 hours. If your flight is shorter than that, it’s best to avoid, as you will still be feeling the effects at your destination. If you do have a long flight ahead of you, the experts suggest consulting your doctor and trying the medication at home first. This way, you will have an idea how effective the medication is and how your body will react to it. For long-distance trips, sleeping tablets can be used for one to two nights. Less intense than sleeping pills are solutions rooted in nature. Melatonin is a form of the natural hormone produced by the body when it is dark, which can cause a person to feel sleepy. Try the smallest dose to tire yourself out. Lavender oil has long been touted as a sleep enhancer, too. In a small 2005 study by Wesleyan University psychologists, lavender was found to be a mild sedative. Consider traveling with a small roll-on and apply it to your neck or temples.

At your destination…

6. Nap not

Naps are probably the most universally agreed upon rule of avoiding jet lag. Waking from a nap when fatigued to this extent can be nearly impossible (especially for kids!). You’ll most likely sleep the day away and in turn, be up all night, further fueling the vicious cycle. Try to stay awake as long as possible without a nap, even if that means a much earlier bedtime. Each day, try to stay awake later and later without napping. While you’re at it, try to adapt to your new time zone as soon as possible when you arrive at your destination by avoiding sleep until it’s a reasonable time for bed. Use eye shades or earplugs if necessary, but do not oversleep in the morning.

7. Walk it off

Sunshine can work wonders at resetting your internal clock. When you arrive, try to expose yourself to as much natural light as possible. Not only will this help you to adjust but if you’re feeling particularly sleepy, the sunshine can help keep you awake. No time like the present to start sightseeing!

8. You may want to consider fasting

Fasting has not yet become one of the go-to tips to beat jet lag, but it is gaining some momentum. In a 2008 issue of the journal Science, researchers from Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that mice had an internal food clock that could be adjusted by a period of fasting (similar to your body’s circadian rhythm, which is driven primarily by light). Essentially, you can “reset” you body’s clock by fasting for a period of about 16 hours. (You can read a more technical explanation here.)

9. Just give in

Sometimes, even following these tips to a tee is futile when dealing with little human balls of energy. The realistic solution? Tailor these solutions to your kid. If you know you can push bedtime back, do it. If you know they need to eat, don’t wait. Mums and dads who’ve been there and done that know it all too well: When the wee ones sleep well, you sleep well. So try your best to do all of the above and find what works for you and yours. If you strike out, reach for the coffee and/or liquor of your choice and know that eventually – like, say, the day before you’re headed off again – everyone will be back on track. Originally by Kathleen Siddell, January 2016 / Last updated by Brooke Glassberg 

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