Updated: Jun 1
After months of travel restrictions due to covid, many travelers will be traveling again this summer. For those who will by flying over several time zones – this sometimes leads to what many call "jet lag." Jet lag is not inevitable and can be totally avoided!
With personal experience of traveling numerous transatlantic flights and having traveled long hauls (20+ hours) with 3 children at various ages, I have learned that I and my family do not have to suffer from jet lag. You do, however, need to follow a few important guidelines to prevent feeling the symptoms of what we refer to as jet lag.
If you or the person you are traveling with gets disoriented and/or has memory loss, it's important to prevent jet lag to make the flight and adaption to the new surroundings easier. Jet lag makes makes us confused and tired and this can lead to stress and anxiety. Cut out the jet lag for an easier and more pleasant trip.
Jet Lag from Dehydration
Staying hydrated is probably the most important factor to prevent jet lag. When you fly you dehydrate. Dehydration causes tiredness which contributes to the feeling of jet lag.
The air you breathe while flying is compressed air that is dry. Also - for your in-flight meal to be edible, large amounts of salt are added. In higher elevations our taste buds don't work as well. If you save your meal and eat it on the ground, you will realize how salty it is! You must drink plenty of water to prevent over come the dryness as well as the higher salt consumption.
Sadly since fluids have been restricted on planes, many people don’t want to pay for bottled water at the airport, but drinking during the flight can make all the difference in how your feel at the end of the flight.
We should be demanding that free drinking water is available in all airports. In the Hong-Kong Airport, besides having over 50 drinking fountains throughout the terminals, they also have “Water Rooms” where you can easily fill up water bottles and thermoses with clean drinking water at different temperatures!
If you depart or transfer at an airport without drinking fountains, I suggest taking an empty bottle on the plane (make sure you empty it before going through security) and then once on the plane ask the flight attendant to fill it up with water. Sip constantly and fill up the bottle with water every time you finish it.
You can also help prevent dehydration by sipping water during the days before you fly. As a runner, I always make sure to hydrate myself well 3 days before a race or long run. It can make all the difference in how I feel while running. Fill up a bottle of water and slowly sip the water during the day. Drinking large amounts of water at once just makes the fluids go through you and don’t hydrate your cells.
By drinking water you will also have to get up and use the lavatory on the plane which is why I always request an aisle seat on my flights. Getting up often during the flight leads to another important factor that prevents jet lag.
Move to Prevent Jet Lag
Getting up, moving, and stretching on the plane can also help you arrive without jet lag. Sitting for long periods of time is unhealthy and can even be dangerous for those who have circulation challenges.
Get up and move around the plane. Go talk to the cabin crew in the back, visit the lavatory or just take a walk up and down the aisle.
In most of the newer planes there is an area near the back of the plane where you can do some stretching exercises. Raise your arms up and out, twist, bend over to stretch the back of your legs and lower calves. Rise up on your toes several times (that's relevé for you ex-ballerinas) to stretch your calves. Spend at least 15 minutes standing up and stretching and moving your feet and legs. Do this at least once every few hours during long flights.
While you are sitting in your seat you can also increase circulation in your legs. Remove your shoes and circle your feet at the ankle in both directions. Point and flex your toes so you feel your calf muscles.
You can also use reflexology to increase circulation by pressing with your thumbs and fingers all over the foot, especially on the ball of the foot. This area tends to get swollen after sitting for long periods.
If you have a short stopover, use the time to get up and walk around the airport. I have walked several kilometers around airports! You can discover some very interesting places. J If you arrive early at your departure gate, use the time to walk around rather than sit down at the gate.
Prevent Constipation While Traveling
Another symptom that is related to jet lag is feeling constipated. If you stay hydrated by drinking water before and during your flight, you will reduce you chances of having constipation. Moving around on the plane will also help.
You can also use hand reflexology help increase circulation to your internal organs. To prevent constipation, you can massage the hand reflex area for the descending colon and rectum, which is the last part of the colon where the remains of digested food is stored before it passes out for elimination.
The descending colon reflex is found below the little finger on the left hand. Massage downward from under the ball of the little finger to above the wrist.
Stay Present to Prevent Jet Lag
One of the mistakes travelers make is to think about the time in the country they left. Many travelers have the tendency to say "Oh, of course I’m tired now because it's the middle of the night in country x." This just confuses the mind and doesn't allow you to adjust to your new time zone.
Once you get on the plane set your watch to the time of your destination. To help prevent jet lag, it is crucial to not think about the time zone you were in.
Let Light Prevent Jet Lag
To prevent jet lag, you need to help your body and mind understand whether it is day of night. You can do this by being in the light during the day and in the dark at night.
When it is daytime in your new destination, go out and be in the sun. This allows your body to realize that it is daytime and understand that you should now be awake and up.
If you have a long flight and have a stop-over during the day for several hours, try to go outside of the airport terminal. It's tempting to just sit at the airport and use the wifi connection for your phone or computer, but your body needs to be outside and to move.
Being outside in the sun will help your body get used to the time change. It is also important to get as much fresh air as you can after being cooped up in a plane and terminal where there is only circulated air.
Finally, while you are outside walk as much as you can. If you only have carry-on luggage and enough time between flights, walk from terminal to terminal rather than sit on the shuttle bus or sky train. If you have a longer stopover, see if you can take a bus or train into town and walk. However, always check with the airport staff to see what time you need to be back at the terminal to have enough tie to pass through security so you make your flight.
When I have a long stopover at Heathrow Airport in London, I take the tube for a few stations to a nearby town and spend a few hours walking around there. At JFK Airport in New York, I just walk between the terminals to get some air. Even though the air by the airport is not the freshest, it is still better than breathing in closed planes and terminals.
When to Sleep to Avoid Jet Lag
Today our digital devices and the in-flight programs can keep us busy for hours with movies, television programs and games. It is important, however, to try to close your eyes and nap for a few hours on a long flight or take several short naps. It is also important not to sleep for too long especially if you are arriving to your destination at night and want to be able to go to sleep soon after landing.
The trick most people know to prevent jet lag, which really does work, is to try to stay up at least till 10:00 PM (22:00) at your new destination. This will help you sleep through the night. If you can stay up till 11:00 PM or midnight, then you will have a better chance of sleeping through the night.
After our last visit to the US in 2020, I do have to add a warning to this advice. My husband and I arrived early in the morning after a trans-Atlantic flight that passed through 9 time zones. We didn’t take a nap during the day, and we spent the evening with close friends at their house to make sure we would stay up till 10:00 PM.
My husband who kept closing his eyes while on the couch, stood up to stay awake. We were all talking and suddenly, we heard a boom. My husband had fallen asleep standing up and fell to the floor! Luckily my friends had a thick wall to wall carpet and my husband was fine. Every time I and my friends remember this moment we can’t stop laughing, but it could have been dangerous had my husband fallen on a hard surface. So stay up late after a flight to prevent jet lag – but perhaps do this sitting down. :-)
If you arrive early in the day and know you can't possibly stay up till late at night, allow yourself a very short nap. Take the nap with shades up so your body will understand it is not night, set an alarm and don't sleep for more than one hour. Then spend the rest of the day outside in the sunshine.
If you ever feel "I'm just going to close my eyes for a few minutes..." make sure you set your phone alarm. A few years ago my husband and I arrived on a long transatlantic flight to San Francisco at 6:00 in the morning. While spending time outside to adjust to the time change, we lay down on the grass to close our eyes "for a minute." Luckily, I set my alarm for 10 minutes. We were sound asleep and would have most probably slept for hours outside and gotten sunburned had I not set the alarm on my phone!
When you do go to sleep at night, try to darken the room as much as you can. If you or your kids do wake up during the night, keep the lights off and just speak quietly. In most cases you will probably fall back asleep in an hour or two.
So to prevent jet lag:
Stay in the Present
Get out in the light Sleep in the dark
Stay up till10:00 PM (safely)
Wishing everyone safe and wonderful travels. I hope to hear from all you travelers that you too agree that there is no such thing as jet lag!
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