Do you experience jet lag when you travel? It’s just about the worst: You arrive at your destination, many time zones away from home, and all you want to do is sleep. But sleep doesn’t come— your body is confused, and then frustrated, and then desperate… and then it’s morning. If you’re on a work trip and need to be on your game the next day, it can be devastating.
Jet lag is a disruption to your circadian rhythm— your internal clock that tells your body when it’s time to sleep and time to wake. You’re flying through the night, and not fully able to shut down (because you’re in a noisy, lit-up Boeing 747 instead of your quiet dark bedroom). So your body gets the message that it’s not time for sleep, and then when you get to your hotel hours later, it’s confused and may take a couple days to figure out when the right times are to sleep and eat. Hence the middle-of-the-night sleeplessness and hunger for breakfast at 3AM.
I travel a lot of work, and have been lucky enough to see so many great places all across with US with the work I do for HGTV Smart Home, but most of my trips are to New York, and I feel like I have that down: I can do 48 hours there, west coast to east coast and back, without falling prey to jet lag. I’ve built up a lot of habits and rituals that keep me from getting too out of whack while there, or when I get back, through a lot of trial and error.
Of course, it’s all individual, and when I’m feeling more run down, I find I’m more susceptible to jet lag than when my energy and immunity are top notch. But here are a few tricks that are part of my regular travel routine that help keep jet lag at bay.
The air on an airplane can suck the life (and the moisture) right out of you, making you feel dehydrated (and really sleepy). You might relish this— ”I’ll sleep on the plane and be in great shape when I land!”— but if it’s not nighttime at your destination while you’re in the air, you’ll be screwing up your internal clock before you even land. Best to drink tons of water on the plane to keep yourself hydrated— it doesn’t help jet lag directly, but it will help you be less tired (and all those trips to the bathroom will keep you awake, saving sleep for when it’s the right time.
Shop the Drop bottle above here.
Light exposure at the wrong time is a surefire way to mess up your body’s sleep cycle. If you think about it, before there was electric lighting, we knew it was time for bed when it got dark, and it was time to wake up when the sun was out. So anything you can do to help your body get on the right light-dark routine will help. For example, if I know I need to sleep on the plane in order to arrive awake, I will wear sunglasses through the airport (in spite of the fact that it makes me look like a total a-hole). This helps my body get into sleep mode, rather than be overstimulated by the fluorescent lights. Conversely, I try to sleep with the curtains open on my first night— that sun exposure helps me get on the schedule of my destination as soon as possible.
I do not travel without my noise-cancelling headphones. They can be a bit of an investment, but they make all the difference when you’re over-stimulated. Having help tuning things out means less effort on your brain and body to do all the work— it can make the difference between arriving tired and cranky and feeling like you had your own peaceful pod to fly in.
Shop my favorite noise-cancelling headphones here.
If I am traveling during the day, I’m plowing through emails and watching Adam Sandler movies like nobody’s business. If I need to sleep on the plane, however, I avoid watching the movie… and my laptop, and phone, and any other screen I might have on me for at least an hour before shut-eye. The blue light that any of these screens emit can impact your ability to sleep. You might doze off to a movie at home, but that’s when all the other parameters are in your favor (ie. you’re on your couch or bed, and not a chair in the sky). Read a book instead. The more boring, the better.
Be absolutely no fun
I am all business when it comes to staying healthy and dodging jet lag (especially on a business trip), so I avoid anything that’s going to further mess with my body’s natural ability to balance itself. That means no alcohol, no caffeine, and no pills.
Alcohol will just dehydrate you (see tip #1), and even if a glass of wine sometimes makes you sleepy, it could make your sleep less restful, making you feel groggy when you wake up. A glass of water will help you sleep better, I can attest.
When it comes to caffeine, you might think you need it for an early-morning airport jaunt, just realize that it will stay in your system for hours after you drink it. If you do need to sleep on the plane to get in sync with your destination city, you might have trouble getting yourself settled. I stick with a glass of iced green tea in the morning, and shift to water after that.
And when it comes to sleeping pills, I have never been a subscriber: If I was desperate (ie. I needed to take a red eye, sleep through the flight, and give a speech first-thing the next morning), I might consider it, but otherwise it’s such risky business— if you don’t time it right, you could end up showing up to your destination zombie-style.
This sleep mask by Neuroon (currently sold out) supposedly has a “jet lag blocker” that helps you adjust your body clock to the timezone of your destination. I’ve tested Neuroon, but not specifically to battle jet lag, and while the mask is a bit clunky to wear and the lights inside are a bit jarring, I’d be curious to know how effective this would be.
My sleep kit
In addition to the above, here are some things I’ve come to rely on for a good night’s sleep, in the air on in my hotel:
For me, the key to sleep is blocking out the light. An eye mask is essential.
I go nowhere without my travel blanket (which doubles as a scarf), because I’m always always cold on the plane, and I don’t want to leave getting a blanket to chance.
This is my off switch: I associate this dreamy scent with hitting the pillow, and a simple spray can send my body into sleep mode.
I try to forgo makeup when I travel (ok, maybe a little concealer…) and I opt for a hydrating mask instead. This is my new favorite for cross-country jaunts.
A dry hotel room can wreck your sleep. This humidifier is travel sized and works like a charm.
How do you beat jet lag? Let me know your solutions in the comments!