Holiday Travel: How to Time Zone Adjust Like a Boss!
Many of us have experienced it. The multi-hour, overseas flight topped off by the hangover feeling of being awake for 24 hours or more. Your body is saying the world has obviously come to an end because it’s time for bed – yet it’s still light outside. The longest, never-ending afternoon, ever.
In the days ahead, you’ll coax and plead with your body to just adjust. After all, your mind has to, right? On the last day of your trip, you finally feel refreshed and rested…then you get on the plane and the cycle begins again.
The problem is that you can’t force your body into accepting a new sleep schedule without a period of adjustment – the harder you try to force it, the more it will seem to betray you. It is literally a fight against human nature. We are born with built-in clocks, Circadian Rhythm, that tell us when to sleep and when to be awake. Telling your body to suck it up and deal with a new time zone after years of habit and instinct? Well, your body will let you know in obvious ways that it will take its own. sweet. time.
In fact, that the amount of time that it takes for your body to adjust is approximately 24 hours per time zone. So, if you’re traveling to Japan from San Francisco, expect to have that hangover feeling for at least seven days into your trip, since you’ll be crossing seven time zones.
“Factor in one day of recovery for every time zone shifted. From the East Coast of the U.S. to Europe, a six-hour time difference, you can thus expect six days to recover fully, which might well be the entire length of your trip…” writes Gabi Logan.
So how can you blast away the foggy-head feeling? Can you snap-out-of-it sooner?
Project “Jet-Lag Jettison”
It comes down to practicing a few basic things before you’re ready to jet-set: exercise, sleep well, stay hydrated and stay sober. The worst thing you can treat your body to before a long-haul flight, is a hangover.
If at all possible, prepare your body for the change before you leave. Visiting grandma in Uzbekistan for the holidays? That’s a 12 hour time-ahead difference, if you’re on the West Coast. So, start preparing your body before the trip by waking up and going to bed earlier than normal. For a flight going west to east, take the opposite approach: go to bed later, and wake up earlier.
Once they close those cabin doors, you still have to have to be intentional about treating your body well. After all, you will be in a cramped space for a very lo-o-ong time, so firstly – stay hydrated.
That means plenty of H20, and no C8H10N4O2 or C2H5OH (caffeine or alcohol, for those of you who’ve never had to cram for a chemistry exam). You may be tempted to zone out with a cocktail – but you’re just increasing the chance that you’ll end up wide-eyed and dry a few hours after.
Be sure to wear loose fitting clothing for your flight. You will be seated for a long time, so it’s important not to wear anything restrictive. That said, get the blood flowing from time to time. Get up and walk around, stretch out, do isometric (muscle-isolating) exercises like stomach crunches and shoulder shrugs in your seat. Ask the flight attendant for a hot towel to refresh your skin and make sure you bring sleep aids (eye mask, pillow, noise cancelling headsets) that can help the process of falling to sleep.
Things That Make You Go ZZZZ
Some are avid fans of certain vitamin supplements or medicinal aids that can help you relax or even sleep for greater lengths of time on planes. Many swear by melatonin, a natural substance that helps regulate sleep cycles and is available in a pill. However, the supplement has recently has gotten a bad rap for causing even more fatigue if the proper dosage isn’t taken, or if it’s not taken correctly. Other common medicinal aids include prescribed or over-the-counter sleeping pills and motion sickness pills. These can help while you’re on the plane, but many complain of grogginess for days after they land, so use judiciously.
It’s the holidays. You’re on a plane and need comfort food, so diet-schmiet, right? Wrong. Your body’s reaction to being cooped up for so long means hydration and nutrition are important to recovering from jet lag quickly. Avoid any salty foods – Your extremities (hands/feet) will already swell after being seated for so long, don’t add to your discomfort by eating foods that will contribute to the bloat.
Limit yourself to foods that are easy to digest. No complex proteins or very rich meals.
Finally – caffeine can be useful toward the end of your flight if you’re trying to be in wake mode when you land, but give your body clock time to adjust to the new time zone.
Hit the Ground Running
If you land during daylight hours, try getting some light exercise – going for a walk and seeing the sights. You’ll adjust faster to the sunlight and it will help with your internal clock’s reset process. Also, when in Rome…or wherever you land, you may not feel that social, but use local social cues (dinnertime, breakfast, etc.) to help your body adapt to local time. If you land at night, take advantage of the dark and go to bed.
Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday with you and your loved ones, from ASTI.
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