CONQUER THE JET LAG DRAGON IN 5 EASY STEPS

When I travel internationally, I don’t get over jet-lag because I don’t ever get it. Here are my five best practices to help you chase horizons the second you hit the ground.

Don’t waste a minute of your trip sleeping off jet lag. Read how to avoid it below!

1. Hydrate everything, early and then late 

Hydration is key to resetting your circadian rhythm to reduce jet-lag. But if you’re like me, you really hate having to go to the bathroom on planes. So I devised a system that minimizes the awkward time spent in the flying outhouse.  

I hydrate really, really well BEFORE the flight. Think chugging water on the way to the airport. TMI alert: My goal is to have a pale yellow to nearly clear pee in the airport bathroom before the flight. (I also love to throw a Nuun tablet into my water before I fly, as the electrolytes help me hang on to hydration a little longer.)  

While I do enjoy an airport coffee, once on the plane I avoid caffeine until close to landing time. (Be mindful of caffeine’s laxative properties.) I sip liquids (primarily water) at regular intervals. It’s also best to avoid alcohol, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t take the complimentary glass of red wine offered on many international flights. Just don’t overdo it. Landing with a hangover is a silly way to start a vacation, IMHO. And if you choose to take something to aid sleep later, be mindful of possible drug interactions. 

When I’m about an hour out from the destination, I start drinking water in earnest again. Of course, you know your own body, so time your water consumption accordingly. Don’t get stuck in your seat during the landing sequence with a full bladder. 

In addition to water, you also need to consider how plane air (drier because it’s recycled from outside) can steal moisture from your skin. Keep a good lip balm handy, and use a lotion that minimizes moisture loss through the skin. I like to use this for lips and this for my skin. Be kind to other travelers and use products with minimal to no fragrance. 

2. Compress for success

Sitting in one position for a long time on a plane causes swelling through the feet, ankles, and calves. That’s why even when I go on short flights, I wear compression socks like these ones. Compression socks help keep the swelling to a minimum and can help reduce the risk of blood clots (rare, but a possibility).  

It’s a good idea to try and move around a bit during the fight. The planes flying internationally tend to offer spaces throughout the cabin where you can stand. I like to use those areas to do some light stretching. Of course, please follow all flight crew directions and be mindful to not hover over those whose seats are located near those areas.  

In addition to the socks, I wear leggings that have compression. Ironically, it helps me feel the urge to urinate less frequently and minimizes swelling and tired legs. Other people recommend looser clothing for flights, but I’m just sharing what works for me. I also advise lots of layers, so you can shed or pile on clothing depending on your temperature preference. 

3. Sleep: Fake it til you make it…or just keep faking it 

I bet if you polled most people, they’ll tell you they can’t sleep on a plane. If you are this person, stop worrying about sleeping on the plane and focus on resting. Whether or not you can actually sleep in your seat, you must start the reset to your destination’s time zone.  

I get on the plane ready for the day: my hair and makeup are done. I’m awake and alert. But as the flight wears on, I’m going to simulate getting ready for bed. 

There are three weapons in your arsenal here: medicine, dark, and a good travel pillow. 

This is not sanctioned medical advice, so please work with your own body and your doctor to decide if medicine makes sense for you. Some medications I find effective include: Advil/Tylenol PM, Benadryl, NyQuil, or Unisom. If you have access to prescription sleep medications (always keep these in their original bottle), then take it. I have a prescription for muscle relaxers for back spasms. This works like a charm for me. I feel sleepy and relaxed but not groggy or knocked out. (Keep non-prescription meds, labelled carefully, in this handy container.) 

I always have face wipes, a toothbrush, and toothpaste in an easy-to-access pouch when I travel. After I take sleep-inducing medicine, I use the bathroom: I brush my teeth, wash off my makeup, and put on a nice night cream. I’m telling my body it’s time to rest. 

Once I feel snoozy, I turn off the screens and get my eyes covered. Many international flights provide simple eye-shades and if those work for you, then go for it. I am a huge fan of the NodPod for eye coverage–it’s like a weighted blanket for your eyes, or neck, or whatever. Get in as comfortable a position as you are able and then…rest. If you can sleep, even off-and-on, great. But you need to simulate sleep, even if you never fully drop off.  

If you have a good travel pillow that works for you, then use it. I swear by this one, which got me through several 10+ hour flights and allowed me to actually sleep.  

If listening to music helps, go for it. I love this AirFly device so I can use the plane’s built-in entertainment center minus the tangle of the provided earbuds. The on-flight entertainment system usually has a great selection of calming music to aid rest.  If you are a light sleeper, consider buying some earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. Whatever you do at home to get relaxed (minus being horizontal), do it.  

The plane is designed to help you adjust to a new time zone. Eat when they feed you. Rest when they dim the cabin lights. And when the lights come back up, it’s time to get ready to GO. 

4. Wakie, wakie…

As you begin nearing your destination, you will notice the flight crew and plane environment working to help you wake up. Now is a great time to put away your eye mask and head to the bathroom. If you want to really wake up, do what you do in the morning: get out of bed, brush your teeth, and wash your face.   

Eat the breakfast they provide (you paid for it) and consider some caffeine. Depending on timing and your bladder capacity, begin drinking water. I often use this time to read, watch one last movie, or play a game. I need my brain awake. 

In preparation for landing, I try to move around a bit. I stretch and spend some time standing in the dedicated room to do so. I want my body ready to get going the minute I’m off the plane. 

5. I like to move it, move it…

Then the plane is on the ground. I’m 100% that person who stands up as soon as possible once we’re on the ground. Sorry, not sorry. I need my body to get ready. I don’t  push ahead of others to get off the plane, mind you, I simply get up as soon as I’m able. Sometimes this is standing in the aisle, sometimes this is kneeling on my seat. Either way, I’m up. 

Once off the plane, I walk. I’m not taking escalators if there are stairs, I’m not using the moving walkways if I can walk alongside. (Of course everyone’s mobility is different, and you should use every aid available if you feel unsteady or need supported walking.) 

Once I exit the concourse, I find the least-crowded bathroom where I change and freshen up. Put on some makeup and new clothes. Fresh slap of deodorant. Take the hair down if it’s in braids, or put it back up. Reorganize myself and my bag. NOW I’m ready to go. (If you’re headed straight to your accommodations, you might do this there. Showering is a brilliant way to reset. Just. don’t. lie. down.) 

If I land midmorning, I have activities planned to keep me outside as much as possible. (Daylight helps reset the circadian rhythm.)  If it’s midafternoon, I’m also outside and plan for a later dinner before crashing. I eat light snacks or meals and avoid alcohol. Prioritize movement. Walk whenever and wherever possible.  

Then, get to sleep at a normal time. Even when the crazy travel party energy kicks in, use that first night to really reset fully. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up with the sun or shortly thereafter.  

Now you can enjoy every second of the rest of your trip! 

The Reset Mindset

A lot of resetting has to do with mindset. If you go into travel anxious about the time difference and emphasizing how you can’t sleep on planes or you don’t like turning off your screens or sleeping medicine never works for you, you will struggle and waste precious moments of your trip being sluggish. Be willing to try a few of these tips and tricks, and let me know what helps.  

Do you have any other methods to help conquer jet-lag? Share below! 

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