Jet lag is not a myth. Each organ has a gene known as the CLOCK (circadian locomotor output cycles kaput) gene. This gene regulates your organs’ internal clock and handles the speed at which the organs adapt to a new time zone. When the clocks of different organs are significantly out of sync, we may experience diverse symptoms of jet lag, including insomnia, depression, or gastrointestinal problems. Our flight habits often make matters worse. Here are strategies to help you arrive at your destination in the best shape possible:
- Robert Rosenberg, who runs the Sleep Disorder Center in Prescott Valley, AZ, focuses on preparation and suggests the following: For three nights before travelling east, go to sleep an hour earlier than usual and wake up an hour earlier. When travelling west, sleep an hour later and rise and hour later.
- Use the flight time wisely. Don’t strain your eyeballs on an eight-hour flight by watching two movies and reading your book. Moderate your down time on the plane and try to rest as much as you can.
- Set your watch to your destination time before take-off. On arrival, try your hardest to fit in with the new time and resist the temptation of going to sleep too early or getting up too early; see below.
- Regardless of how exhausting the journey may be, don’t hit the sack at your hotel, no matter what time you arrive. If you get to your destination in the morning, use the antidotes to jet lag: sunshine, fresh air, and perhaps even a brisk walk around town. Get outside to reset your clock! Try to stay up during the day and go to bed at a normal hour. If you arrive at nighttime, a little walk is a big help in telling your body, “You will not sleep.” Get outside, perhaps even barefoot, and get “grounded.”
- Skip the booze. Sorry! As tempting as it may be to score an extra one of those little wine bottles, alcohol can be a demon for jet lag, as it also dehydrates you quickly. Avoid caffeinated beverages, as well, for the same reason. Drink plenty of that magic water instead. Trust us.
- While we cannot make specific supplement recommendations or product endorsements, we have learned from various sources and our experience that a product like Emergen-C, loaded with a unique blend of vitamins and electrolytes in mineral ascorbates, gives a quick, non-caffeinated energy boost to the body. You can take a packet before and after a flight to help boost the immune system and mitigate jet lag symptoms.
- Try to avoid sleep medications. Although some people swear by Ambien and other prescription drugs, it’s a quick fix that won’t allow your body to adjust to new sleep patterns naturally.
- While many flights offer meals included in the ticket price or to be purchased, it is a good strategy to have healthy snacks (fruit and nuts, Larabars, etc.) and a bottle of water with you. This is in case of delays or other unexpected circumstances.
- Wear compression socks! While not unique to air travel, sitting for long periods in cramped positions frequently leads to swollen ankles and muscle cramps. Move around the cabin and stretch when possible. Drinking plenty of water will make you get up! Rotate your ankles and do calf raises to help avoid swelling. You may wear compression socks that can be purchased at your pharmacy or a sports store.