Vanessa Chiasson is a wimpy traveller with a weak stomach but that hasn’t stopped her from sailing to the Aran Islands, running a marathon in Paris, and working on Malawian fish farms. She blogs about affordable travel and culinary adventures at TurnipseedTravel.com and her freelance work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, USA Today, FlightNetwork.com, Plum Deluxe, and The Establishment. Follow her on Twitter @Turnipseeds.
Every year, millions of travelers cross dozens of time zones in their quest to get home for the holidays or experience life in more exotic climes. In 2017, an estimated 51 million Americans boarded a plane just in the holiday season alone. But there are more than presents waiting for them at the gate. Jet lag can be a real drag on international or even domestic trips, no matter your travel motivations.
The swampy, sluggish feeling of jet lag is primarily caused by disrupted circadian rhythms. It can be provoked bycrossing as few as two time zones and is exacerbated by many other factors, including sleep hygiene, diet, hydration, and stress. The good news is that tired travelers can control many of these factors to minimize the effects. But to do so, we’ll need some fresh advice.
Take care in the air.
Flying economy means stressful surroundings that aren’t exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep, but you can create your own luxurious sleep experience by taking just a few easy measures. Environmental light cues play a big role in the sleep and wakefulness cycle. One easy fix is to treat yourself to a high-quality eye mask before your trip, but — if you’re desperate — a scarf or sweater will do to block out the sun. And while you’re at it, why not make your journey extra cozy with some warm socks, a great travel pillow, and some extra earplugs? The more comfortable you are, the more restful your journey will be.
Practice happy, healthy sleep.
Have you ever struggled to fall asleep in a strange hotel room? It’s an incredibly frustrating experience — especially if you did everything you could to rest on the plane to no avail. The Mayo Clinic endorses the importance of a sleep routine not just for babies but for adults too. It’s a comforting way to adjust to new time zones and sleep under challenging circumstances.
In the weeks leading up to a big trip, practice a soothing bedtime routine. Enjoy a cup of camomile tea and listen to some classical music. Change into soft pyjamas, or even just looser, more comfortable clothing, and draw the shades. Resist the temptation to check your phone one more time, as the Mayo Clinic reports that media use before bed may interfere with sleep quality. Once you arrive at your destination and start thinking about bed, put your routine into motion. The familiar actions will put you at ease and send a signal to your brain that it’s time to fall asleep.
Be crafty about caffeine.
To avoid the dehydrating, sleep-interrupting effects of caffeine is time-honoured travel advice. But who among us can make it through the day without some java? You just have to be strategic when you indulge.
According to the journal of Science Translational Medicine, scientists from the University of Colorado and the Medical Research Council in Cambridge have found a relationship between caffeine and the circadian rhythm. Travelers heading west can rejoice: a double espresso at night may actually help fight jet lag by delaying the rise in the level of melatonin, the main sleep hormone released by the body, keeping travelers awake for a few more hours to help them adjust to west coast time.
Eastbound travelers aren’t as lucky, but that doesn’t mean they have to swear off the café scene. Ask yourself if it’s caffeine you’re craving or something else. If you want the comfort of a hot drink, try steamed milk or hot apple cider. If you want the stimulation of people-watching in a foreign café, do so with a low caffeine tea latte.
Follow the locals’ schedule — most of the time.
A new time zone means a new schedule, and you’ll want to sleep and eat as the locals do. That’s the strategy of travel writer Emma Higgins, who shared her tried and tested methods with me over the phone. “Once you’ve landed in your destination, try to get on the local schedule as soon as possible – not only with the times you go to sleep and get up, but also with when you eat. Getting your stomach on the right time zone will quickly sync the rest of your body up. While you’re adjusting, take advantage of being away early or late by exploring a city at night or going on a refreshing early morning hike.”
With this practical advice in mind, it doesn’t hurt to always have some snacks and water on hand. As your body adjusts, hunger might strike at odd times and it’s a good idea to have things on hand to replenish your energy.
And above all else….
Take care of yourself and go at your own pace. And enjoy your trip! You’ll be back in your own bed before you know it.