Jet Lag Hacks to Enhance Orientation, Focus & Well-Being While Traveling

When common travel challenges like jet lag are strategized around, it not only lends to increased bandwidth and more time to be present in the moment, but it can mitigate stress and serve as a building block and opportunity for self-awareness in your journey.  
Time well-spent. Lounging in hammock.

Time Well-Spent

We each possess unique comfort levels, preferred learning environments, and characteristics that contribute to our continued personal growth, alongside those that prompt caution. As we strive to promote and embrace travel as an opportunity for personal development, we acknowledge the inherent challenges and occasional barriers that may arise, and the variables we might not always have control over.  

While obstacles that require problem-solving are inevitable in travel, just as in daily life, we wholeheartedly believe the potential gains far exceed the potential challenges. In our mission to transform roadblocks into avenues for growth, we are committed to equipping you with the necessary tools to facilitate progress and minimize deterrents, allowing time and energy to be directed toward your goals.

This month, Wellness Wednesday will focus on addressing common challenges encountered by travelers in various contexts, along with strategies to effectively manage and prepare for them. Preparation can not only lend to increased bandwidth and more time to be present in the moment, it can also mitigate stress and serve as a building block in your journey.  

Today, we delve into the phenomenon of jet lag and offer tips to assist travelers navigating multiple time zones.

Time Zone Tango

Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that arises when your internal body clock is out of sync with the time zone you find yourself in. This typically occurs after rapidly traversing multiple time zones disrupting your circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. 

Symptoms may include: 

  • Fatigue/daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia and other sleep pattern issues
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating or impaired judgment
  • Upset stomach or other digestive issues

The impact of jet lag may be more of a concern for some than others, and will usually resolve on its own, with about one day of recovery needed for each time zone crossed. That aside, who wants to spend their precious time jet lagged? 

Fortunately, Zeitgebers, also known as Time-Givers in the scientific world of chronobiology, can serve as external cues and aid in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Time-givers can include exposure to light, adjustment of sleep patterns, meal-timing, and incorporating a consistent exercise routine. While there’s no way to completely prevent or eliminate jet lag, apart from the obvious, if you choose to venture a bit further, we’ve got you. 

Read on for tips to curb symptoms and get over jet lag quickly.

Before embarking on your journey, consider the following:

Direction of Travel

Going east or west? Some studies suggest symptoms are lower for the majority of western-bound travelers.

Duration of Trip/Number of Time Zones

Determine how many time zones you’ll be passing through to gauge potential jet lag severity. 

Length of Time at Destination

How long will you remain at your destination?  For shorter trips lasting only a couple of days, adjusting to local time may not be necessary or beneficial.

Time of Flight Arrival

Consider the time of day you’ll arrive at your destination. This will help plan your approach to managing jet lag. 

Flight

  • If you plan to sleep during the flight, consider seating options that offer comfort and minimal disturbance, such as a window seat away from high-traffic areas (eg: the bathrooms). 
  • Prioritize sleep hygiene by bringing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, a supportive neck pillow, and an eye mask or sunglasses to create a conducive sleep environment and help control light exposure.
  • Consider your baseline sleep health and preferred patterns to tailor your preparations accordingly. 

Past Experiences

Have you experienced jet lag symptoms? If so, how did they impact you? Consider whether preparing for jet lag will empower you or if it will induce stress and anxiety. If the latter is the case, it may be beneficial to adopt a more relaxed approach.

In the days leading up to travel, try incorporating these Time-Givers into your itinerary and plan:

Light Exposure

Light is a powerful cue for our circadian rhythm. Some research supports tailoring exposure to light based on travel direction to help adjust to a new time zone. If traveling westward, aim to maximize evening light exposure while minimizing exposure to morning light. Conversely, if your journey takes you eastward, prioritize exposure to morning light and reduce exposure to evening light. This approach may aid in regulating your internal clock, though it can be quite nuanced and there are several considerations that may impact optimal light timing, such as length of travel in one direction. To simplify the planning process, there are various apps such as TimeShifter or Rise

Sleep Preparation

Begin adjusting your sleep patterns to align with your destination’s time zone. Gradually shifting your bedtime routine can help ease the transition and promote better rest during your travels.

Meal Timing

Similarly, start to adjust your eating schedule to align with the destination time zone. This subtle shift may provide cues to your body, aiding in smoother adjustment upon arrival.

A bit of planning ahead to ensure you have nutrient rich options available can go a long way. 

Hydration

Prioritize hydration leading up to travel. This will not only support overall health, but also contributes to maintaining energy levels.

Exercise

Although there is still limited supporting evidence that pre-conditioning types of exercise leading up to a trip has extra wellness perks, our gut tells us that maintaining an exercise routine we already have during daylight hours will only be good for our systems. We do not recommend starting a completely, new routine pre-travel (unless you have consulted with a physical therapist or physician), but if exercise is part of a regular habit for you, keep doing your thang!

During Flight or While Traveling

Light Exposure

Consider optimizing exposure to light during the flight. Certain airlines, like Qantas through Project Sunrise, are exploring light-optimized flights to better understand their impact on jet lag. While such flights may not be widely available yet, advancements in this area may emerge in the future.

Sleep

Align your sleep schedule with the time at your destination. If you anticipate arriving in the morning, attempt to rest during the flight whenever possible. Minimize distractions from electronic devices if you’re trying to sleep, and use an eye mask to block out light. 

Meal Timing

Follow the eating pattern you plan to adopt at your destination. While most flights over six hours include meals and snacks in the ticket cost, US airlines are not obligated to provide food or beverages, except in the case of on ground flight delays. Keep in mind low-cost carriers often offer limited options to minimize costs or may only offer items for purchase.

Nutrition

  • Pass on the caffeine and alcohol, especially if you are trying to get some quality rest. 
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Choose water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables to maintain overall hydration levels. 
  • A carbohydrate-rich meal or snack prior to sleep may aid in promoting rest. An article from John’s Hopkins Medicine offers complex carbohydrates prior to bed such as oatmeal may assist with sleep. 
  • Smaller portions can help alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort if experienced. 

Upon Arrival

It may not be completely possible to achieve a seamless transition, but striving to have some continuity in self-care routines between point A and point B will make all the difference. Again, the important focus areas would be carrying over good sleep-promoting habits (which include short naps), getting in as much exposure to natural light to acclimate to your new environment and schedule, and aligning your meals with the local time zone.

Exercise

Engage in easy to moderate intensity exercise upon arrival, unless it’s close to bedtime. The 2021 Review and Consensus Statement on managing travel fatigue and jet lag in athletes suggests limiting exercise intensity during the initial days.

Activities

Consider moving activities that require high levels of concentration to later in the week if jet lag impacts your ability to concentrate. 

Supplements

Melatonin supplements have been studied for their impact on jet lag, but optimal dosage and timing recommendations vary. Melatonin may be more effective for travelers heading east. Foods rich in melatonin include eggs, fish, nuts, mushrooms, cereals, walnut seeds, and tart cherries.

There are currently many products on the market claiming to combat jet-lag with variable research to support use. If you decide to use one of these, make sure to check ingredients and consider purported use. For example if the product claims to manage stomach upset, but this is not something you experience commonly with jet lag, it probably is a waste of money.

Consult with your health care team to determine the best approach for supplements, medication and to limit potential for drug-herb interactions, such as with blood thinners and melatonin.

Medications

Prescription or over-the-counter medications may also be considered to manage symptoms such as insomnia if necessary. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any medication regimen.

Best Practices

Best practices for management of jet lag is an ever evolving area and more research is needed. However, incorporating a balanced and mindful strategy toward adjusting to a new time zone has the potential to greatly reduce symptoms, enabling a more immersive travel experience.

Keep in mind that individual needs differ, so it’s crucial to tailor practices according to your specific travel goals, needs, preferences, and requirements. If this is your first multi time zone journey, pay attention to your body’s signals and experiment with different methods to discover what works best for you. 

What questions do you have about travel? Let us know if there is a topic you would like Create Joy to address!

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