Jetting off for a relaxing beach vacation may sound like the perfect escape to combat stress right? Well not if you happen to suffer from jet lag. Jet lag is a physical reaction to a rapid change in time zones. It affects most travelers, including seasoned fliers like flight attendants and pilots. Common symptoms include disorientation, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, dry eyes, headaches, irregular bowels and general discomfort.
Your body gets used to a certain pattern when you are at home. You eat meals and sleep generally around the same time everyday, so when you travel to a new time zone you have to adjust to a new timetable. The following simple tips can help you avoid jet lag and help you make the most of your vacation.
Treat your body well before you fly. Exercise, stay hydrated and stay sober. The worst thing you can do is get on a long flight with a hangover. Be sure to get at least six hours sleep in the few days before your departure, as sleep derivation will make jet lag symptoms worse.
Adjust your habits before you leave. If you are traveling from the East to the West Coast, you're facing a three-hour time change and you should try to adjust your internal clock. A few days before you leave, start to stay up a little later than usual, and sleep in a little longer. That way, if you become accustomed to falling asleep at 1 a.m. and waking up at 9 a.m. on the East Coast, it will be the same as falling asleep at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. on the West Coast. Traveling west to east, do the opposite: get up and go to bed earlier.
During Your Flight
It's important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids. Don't be afraid to ask your flight attendant for extra water. Get up out of your seat at regular intervals to walk and stretch. You can also do exercises like toe raises and shoulder shrugs right in your seat. This keeps your blood flowing and prevents it from pooling at your extremities, a common phenomenon in pressurized cabins.
Other tips: Wear loose-fitting clothing that breathes. Bring a neck pillow, eye mask, ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones -- these can be invaluable on red-eye flights. Also, avoid any snug footwear (high heels or wingtips); it is quite possible that your feet will swell in transit, making your trek to baggage claim a nightmare.
Exposure to natural light can be the best way to reset your body's internal clock. Seek sunlight first thing in the morning at your destination. Wake up, go for a walk, then have a shower. This will rapidly shut off your melatonin production and give your body the cue that the day has begun.
Jet Lag Apps
For help adjusting your sleep schedule, try a free app. Several smartphone apps have been developed to help travelers fight jet lag. Enter your flight details into Jet Lag Rooster or Entrain, and they'll create a suggested schedule of when to sleep, eat and/or take melatonin to prepare for the time change. Both apps are available for iPhone and Android.