Travel, especially when crossing multiple time zones, can be exhausting. Everyone experiences jetlag a bit differently, but most people feel tired during the day and have trouble concentrating on mental tasks. Thankfully, several small steps can be taken to ease the transition.
Traveling east means losing time when you arrive at your destination, so try going to bed half an hour earlier every night for the week leading up to the flight. On the other hand, traveling in a westerly direction means gaining time, so go to bed half an hour later. For example, when I’m preparing to fly home from Beijing to Toronto (west), I should sleep and wake up 30 minutes later every day for a week until I’m going to bed around 2am.
However, it’s not always possible to adjust your internal clock before the flight. If that’s the case, start on the plane. To minimize the effects of jet lag, drink plenty of water; getting up regularly to drink fluids helps counteract the dehydrating effect of recycled cabin air and keeps the blood flowing in your legs. Avoid dehydrating drinks like coffee, caffeinated tea, and alcohol.
When you arrive at your destination, immediately take measures to adjust to the new time zone. Eating and sleeping in sync with the local time is particularly important. If you feel hungry between meals, drink water first to ensure you’re not simply dehydrated. If you’re still hungry 20 minutes later, have a small snack; an apple and a few almonds should suffice. Likewise, if it’s lunch time but you’re not really hungry, force yourself to eat something anyway.
Immediately upon waking, seek exposure to sunlight and continue doing so throughout the day; have breakfast on the balcony or go for an early morning walk. Avoid taking naps.
After 9pm, dim the lights; this promotes natural melatonin production in sync with the new time zone. To maximize melatonin production, go to sleep before midnight – ideally, before 11pm; this is a good habit to get into even when not traveling.
Some studies show that melatonin supplementation can help with jetlag. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone, though what we buy over-the-counter is synthetically produced. It plays an important role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm or biological clock.
I recommend taking the smallest amount effective, beginning with 0.5 to 1mg an hour before bedtime. The sublingual form is best, as it’s absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Melatonin should only be taken for a short period of time, not as a long-term sleep aid. It’s very safe, but if you have any conditions or health concerns, it’s best to check with your naturopath or doctor before self-prescribing.
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