Jet lag can get the best of even the most expert sleeper. So, in this season of summer travel, here is how you can stop jet lag before it stops you.
Does this sound like you?
You are a stickler for following the rules for maintaining good sleep hygiene:
- Before you go to sleep, you make sure to dim the lights.
- You avoid blue-light emitting electronic devices in the hour or so before bedtime.
- You limit beverages.
- You set your alarm for the same time every day.
You’re livin’ the dream! You get a great night’s sleep and awaken refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
Jet Leg: Throwing a Monkey Wrench Into Your Routine
So, you’re doing sleep right. Then, your boss throws a monkey wrench into the perfect clockwork gears of your sleep life. She decides to send you to an International Conference of Importance halfway across the world in Gdansk, Poland. You will wake up at 2 a.m. for your 6 a.m. flight. When you arrive at your destination, you won’t know what time it is, what day it is, and you won’t be entirely confident what your name is. All you know is that your bedtime was 12 hours ago. Or is it 12 hours from now? Jet lag has set up shop in your brain and hung up an “Open For Business” sign leaving you slack-jawed, droopy-eyed. What to do (or what should you have done)?
Jet lag is a disturbance to our circadian rhythm, which is governed by light.
How to Deal With Jet Lag
Review the length of your trip. Use an online calculator like Jet Lag Rooster to plan times of day to seek or avoid light. Expose yourself to bright lights in the evening if you plan to travel west, and in the morning if you travel east. You may find yourself adjusting light exposure several days before and into your trip.
- Pack a familiar pillow to help avoid “first night effect” insomnia.
- Avoid eating large or spicy meals. Your body will not metabolize them as quickly with your circadian rhythm thrown off.
- Reduce dehydration, and the associated headache. Regularly drink water in the days leading up to your trip and during the flight.
- As soon as you are on your flight, switch your watch to “destination time.”
- If it is night time at your destination during your flight, attempt some shut-eye, using an eye mask or earplugs. Avoid electronics or movies.
- If it is daytime at your destination when you arrive, get outdoors while the sun is out. Light helps regulate your system. Avoid naps longer than 30 minutes during daylight hours in your new location.
- Try melatonin supplements. Taking 0.5-3 milligrams of melatonin about 2 hours before your destination’s bedtime helps you fall asleep if the time conflicts with your own sleep cycle. Consult a doctor before taking sleep aides, including melatonin.
- A warm bath an hour before bed can help raise your body temperature, helping you feel sleepy.
With the handy-dandy tips above, you’ll wow them in Gdansk, arrive back home to a huge promotion, and be sleeping like a baby before you know it. Take that, jet lag!
Claire Barker, RPSGT, CCSH, clinical sleep educator at the UVM Medical Center Sleep Program. She is a registered sleep technologist and certified in sleep health.