my first trip to Europe as a 15 year-old, I spent much of the trip in a zombie state. The problem: a bad case of jet lag! Since then I’ve developed a routine which makes fighting jet lag a lot easier.
The goal when dealing with jet lag: allow your body to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible. So, you have to treat your body well and help it along with a few easy steps:
1. Drink water. On an international flight, I generally board the plane with a full liter of water. And I drink the entire bottle. And sometimes more. Why? The air on a plane is extremely dry. The food served is full of salt. And my body, like yours, is mostly water. So I approach an international flight like I would an athletic event. I drink a lot of water the day before I fly, while I am in the air, and when I land as well.
2. Don’t drink alcohol. Give up free booze? I know. It’s hard. But all alcohol does is dehydrate your body. And it keeps you from drinking the water you really need. I’ve been known to have a cocktail with dinner on the plane, but only one. And then I’m done.
3. Sleep when flying TO Europe. There’s a reason the flight attendants turn off the lights after dinner. It is time to snooze. Now, you’ll have to get up and go to the bathroom once or twice since you are well-hydrated, but that’s good for you. Get up. Walk a little bit. Stretch. And rotate your ankles. Then settle back in and sleep again. Having said that: I can’t sleep on planes. If you’re like me, just use the time to relax. Watch movies. Read. Rest. I’ve found that the more I can just relax and veg out, the better off I am in the end.
4. Stay awake. When you get to your European destination whether it is London, Liechtenstein, or Lucca, chances are it will be morning or mid-afternoon (depending on how many connections you have made). Before you leave, plan a day that will keep you out of your hotel or apartment and out on the streets. This isn’t the day to see the Vatican Museums or to go to the theater, but it is a great day for a walking tour of a city’s center. Do something active but not taxing.
5. Go to bed. On my first night in Europe, my goal is always to stay awake until 8 pm. In Italy, the restaurants are just opening for dinner as I snuggle down into bed, but I know that I’ll enjoy many more leisurely plates of pasta if I sleep well that first night.
6. For 3-4 nights: take Tylenol PM (or something similar). That first night, you will think, “Oh, I am so tired. I’ve just walked all over Rome after being on a plane for 12 hours. I won’t need anything to make me sleep.” And you’ll be right. You don’t need anything to make you sleep. What you need is something that will KEEP you asleep. Otherwise, about 4 am, you will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as my mom says. And unless you really like to keep baker’s hours on vacation... well, I’ve found that Tylenol PM does the trick for me. I usually take it for four nights straight. After that, I’m sleeping through the night just fine.
7. No napping. On that first trip to Europe, my biggest mistake was taking naps. The more you take them, the more you need them. When you nap you interfere with your body’s adaptation to the light and dark of your new location. Now, I love a good nap! If napping was an Olympic sport, I’d be on the US team. But when traveling, napping can really inhibit your ability to adjust quickly.
Traveling from Europe to North America? Do the very same things! The only difference: you should stay awake on the plane to North America rather than sleeping. That’s why the cabin crew keeps the lights on. Generally, your plane will land in the late afternoon or evening. Again, stay awake until 8 pm, and then head to Dream Land.
What are your best strategies for beating jet lag?