By Stella Taylor Bergan
Are you traveling across time zones this summer and hoping to escape that pesky energy drain otherwise known as “jet lag”? If you are one of the 60-70% of travelers who experience some disruption to their circadian rhythms due to traveling across time zones, there are steps you can take to make your next trip more enjoyable while avoiding unpleasant symptoms.
Jet lag occurs when you disrupt your body’s internal clock which regulates your sleep and wake cycles. As soon as you leave your time zone, it can be difficult for your body to self-regulate to the new one. Once that disruption occurs, if you don’t take steps quickly to adjust to the new time zone, your symptoms can worsen. This can leave you feeling tired and unwell, ultimately putting a damper on any vacation or business trip. No need to cancel your vacation just yet! I’m here to offer the best tips I’ve learned from many years as a flight attendant and avid traveler.
Start with a solid foundation of healthy habits: Prioritize sleep, fuel your body with nourishing foods, stay adequately hydrated, avoid caffeine after noon, move your body often, and get plenty of morning sunlight.
Commit to maintaining your foundational habits while traveling: I start my morning with warm lemon water and a pinch of Celtic sea salt. I bring both of them and my supplements with me when I travel. I find it’s extremely beneficial to maintain my healthy habits on the road.
Work backward to optimize that first night of sleep: The point here is to adjust to your new time zone quickly. I estimate how many hours of sleep I need on the flight and choose my flight times to arrive at my destination in the afternoon, so I can easily stay up until my desired bedtime, and sleep through the night which is a game-changer.
Get your rest on the plane: “But wait, I can’t sleep on an airplane,” you say. I hear you. I’ve created a list of tips for that too:
- Wear comfortable clothes and bring a pair of cozy socks to change into when you’re ready for sleep.
- Bring a full water bottle on your flight. Hydration is essential. Limit alcohol consumption on your flight as most studies show alcohol disrupts sleep.
- Aim for rest versus sleep. Commit to “resting” and focus on breathing. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 3-5 and exhale through your mouth for a count of 7-8 to maintain a state of calm. Don’t stress if you think you’re not falling asleep––you’re aiming for rest.
- Use an eye mask. They are the number one sleep aid on an airplane! Some people swear by earplugs as well.
- Create a footrest. If you are in economy, bring a backpack or other small bag to put under your feet. If you elevate your feet, you’ll be more comfortable.
- Use a travel pillow. I always bring a travel pillow. That way, I can use it for sleeping and put the pillow the airline provides behind my back for lumbar support.
- Consider supplements. Take melatonin if desired. I only take it when I travel internationally and take it with my other supplements about an hour before I plan on resting. I also take it the first night at my destination.
- Bring a small pack of essential toiletries. Toothbrush, toothpaste, contact lens care, mouth guard, face wash, whatever you need to signal to your body it’s time to rest.
Move your body upon arrival: When you reach your destination, get outside and walk as much as possible. Walk to dinner and around the hotel or Airbnb. The point is to move your body. The bare minimum should be 10 minutes.
Exercise on your first morning: For the past 33 years, my suitcase has not left the house without my running shoes and exercise clothes. I always make sure and get up and run or do yoga the morning after I arrive in a new location. It immediately helps my body adjust to the new time zone. Keeping your body moving can also help with any stiffness from the flight.
Once again, you can avoid some of the worst jet lag symptoms if you combine your healthy habits with figuring out how much sleep and wake time you need on the plane to optimize your first night’s sleep at your location. Remember, your flight crew had to figure this out long ago. I know you can do it too!
Stella Taylor Bergan is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Institute of Motion Applied Health and Human Performance Specialist. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Birmingham-Southern College and her graduate degree from the University of Virginia. Her training as a therapist and a background in executive coaching/organizational strategy provide the foundation for helping her clients make the changes they need to live healthier, more productive lives and perform at their optimal levels. Stella takes an integrative approach to wellness and performance and believes that making small, sustainable changes over time can lead to profound improvements in overall health and performance. She works with some of Silicon Valley’s top executives. She is a mom, an avid trail runner, loves traveling, and really enjoys converting teenagers into green smoothie drinkers.
Throughout the “Sandwich Years” section of this blog, we will provide you support for launching children into adulthood while caring for aging parents.