If you’ve ever had a long-haul flight, you know one of the biggest challenges is dealing with the jet lag when you arrive. It’d be so great if we could travel without feeling so fatigued when we arrive at our destination, but since we can’t say “Beam me up, Scotty” and teleport across the world yet, we’re left with finding ways to beat jet lag at it’s own game.
I exhausted myself on my first trip to Europe and learned a few hard lessons. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad for a 20-something year old. Nope! Jet lag affects everyone, but especially older travelers.
The good news is there are several options that can really help you feel less exhausted after your long flight, and I’ve compiled the best of them in this ultimate guide to beat jet lag. They are super helpful things I’ve used for how to beat jet lag before, during, and after a long flight.
First let’s make sure we understand jet lag.
What exactly causes jet lag?
You know it has something to do with time zones. Sure enough, as you cross over several time zones, your body’s regular sleep pattern, or circadian rhythm, gets disrupted. Your body struggles to figure out what the natural sleep/wake pattern is the longer you’re traveling across the globe.
Hormone production goes wacky as your melatonin and serotonin productions get confused. You might land in Paris at night, but your body thinks it needs to stay awake for six more hours. Or perhaps you land in Fiji in the early morning, and you want nothing more than to crash in your bungalow bed.
Traveling from west to east tends to be the hardest because you’re losing more time as you fly against the rotation of the earth. It’s easier for us to handle a longer day than a shorter day. (Don’t tell your boss that when you’re leaving for an early weekend. Ha!)
On to the best ways to beat jet lag before, during, and after your flight.
1. Get a full night of sleep before you leave
It can be tempting to fly exhausted, hoping to catch some z’s on the plane, but it’s a big mistake. Unless you knock yourself out with a heavy duty sleeping pill (and guarantee you’ll wake up feeling groggy and unprepared for the new timezone), you won’t sleep nearly as well as if you were in your own bed. Even the premium seats aren’t nearly comfy enough for that.
If you deprive yourself of all that rest before you arrive, imagine how much more tired you’ll feel having missed TWO great nights of sleep. I know that sometimes things come up–a kid gets sick in the night, your boss wants something else done before you leave–but do your best to get fully rested before you head off into the sunrise.
You can adjust your sleep pattern by a few hours depending on where you’re traveling to (stay up late if going west or go to bed early if going east). Jet Lag Rooster can help determine the best times for you.
Your amazing body is filled with about 60% water—when you’re not dehydrated! Make sure to drink lots of water the day before you leave.
Why? Well, the plane is full of compressed, recirculated air that’s low in humidity. It’s the perfect storm to create a dehydrated body that feels groggy, has a scratchy throat, and dry eyes.
Bring an empty, reusable water bottle to the airport and use a filling station to load up on fresh water for the plane. You’ll appreciate the better-tasting water and avoid the filthy ice cubes from the airplane. So gross…
When you land, refill that bottle and keep the hydration process going! Fatigue is the most common symptom of dehydration, so give your body a chance to prevent jet lag by staying well hydrated. Your skin will thank you too.
3. Avoid alcohol
You may think that alcohol will help you fall asleep on a plane, but the real issues are more important than trying to pass out, and avoiding it will help you beat jet lag.
Drinking alcoholic beverages at high, compressed altitudes will cause you to become drunk much more quickly. And no one likes to sit next to a stinky drunk for 8 hours. Please be kind to your fellow passengers…
Just as importantly, alcohol is known to dehydrate your body, and that goes ten-fold for flying. Remember how we just talked about staying hydrated to beat jet lag? Don’t counteract your water consumption by tanking yourself with the mini booze bottles.
4. Avoid heavy carbs and sugars before your flight
Ever eaten a carb-loaded meal super late at night, then spent the rest of your night restlessly trying to sleep? When we eat a lot of carbs, our body wants to work them off. Otherwise, we feel bloated and sluggish. Jet lag can already make you feel that way, so don’t contribute to it with heavy foods.
Those are two things I never like feeling on a 10 hour flight. I try to opt for something lighter that’s packed with protein to fill me up. Maybe a turkey wrap or protein bowl and a smoothie.
Now if I’m just flying for a few hours, I admit that I do succumb to a burger or pizza on a layover. Particularly after a long business trip when I just want to reward myself for surviving another trade show. Just remember to avoid them on the long flights.
5. Pack your own healthy snacks
The snacks on a plane are often not appetizing or filling. If you plan ahead and pack your own snacks, you’ll feel a lot better.
Bring a couple protein bars, some nuts and dried fruit, and even some apple slices. If you keep a bag at your feet, make sure you stash your snacks there so you can get to them easily. They’ll taste so refreshing after the airplane meals that are usually just mediocre in flavor and texture.
An added benefit of eating raw nuts or goji berries on your flight is that some nuts are filled with magnesium, which can trigger relaxation and sleep.
Another great way to get your magnesium is to eat rich, leafy greens before the flight, so grab a green smoothie and bring it with you to your seat. Enjoy that delicious smoothie, and its natural benefits to help you feel more rested so you can overcome jet lag.
6. Use essential oils
I love my essential oils. Not all essential oils are created the same—cheap oils are just that. Cheap knock offs that don’t provide real benefits because they aren’t pure. When you have good, quality essential oils, they provide some amazing benefits, including helping people rest better.
Bring along some lavender or vetiver oils to use as aromatherapy on your overseas flight. Both scents are highly relaxing and grounding, which will help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Simply rub a drop or two on the backs of your hands or on your neck. The scent will fill your nose and help calm you to sleep.
7. Get some sleep
With airlines cramming us together, it can be hard to get comfortable during your flight. Bringing a few items along will help reduce distractions and increase your chances of getting some much-needed rest. Especially now that you’re full of magnesium! (wink, wink)
Bring an eye mask to block out light. Light makes your circadian rhythm think you need to be awake, so keep it dark to induce some sleep.
Use ear plugs to block the sound of your snoring seat mate. Or pop in your ear buds and turn on some soothing sounds from nature or some binaural beats tuned for deep sleep.
Wear layers and bring a wrap or blanket to keep warm. Airplanes are notoriously chilly at high altitude, and you won’t get restful sleep if you keep shivering.
Wear compression socks to help prevent swollen ankles and legs, and more importantly, deep vein thrombosis. Nobody wants to ruin a trip with a potentially life-threatening blood clot. The risk goes up if you fly long distances so grab a pair before your next flight.
Use a neck support pillow to keep your head from falling at an awkward angle. It’s never fun to wake up with a crick in your neck. Keep it supported to promote uninterrupted sleep.
8. Use anti-jet lag pills
This is my secret weapon. I discovered these homeopathic pills and decided it couldn’t hurt to try them. Boy, was I grateful I did. They made such a huge difference in how I handled my last long-haul flight to Germany.
They are designed to alleviate the symptoms of jet lag. Follow the directions for taking them regularly on your flight, combine it with the tricks above, and you’ll land at your destination ready to knock jet lag on it’s butt. Even if you end up sleeping for several hours on your flight, you can take these pills and find relief from jet lag.
The best part is that when you arrive at your destination and fall asleep at the proper time, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed, rather than sluggish from delayed jet lag. Try them out!
9. Get some sun and get moving
Though you got up several times during your flight to stretch your legs (you did that, right?), you’re bound to still feel the need to get your circulation flowing. Listen to your body and enjoy the long trip from the plane to your baggage carousel.
As soon as you can, get outside and soak in some sun. The vitamin D will help refresh you, and the sun will help to reset your circadian rhythm as well by producing more serotonin. Rather than taking a taxi or Uber to your second stop (you’ll probably need it to get out of the airport), take advantage of the chance to get moving and enjoy the walk to dinner or the theatre.
If you’re a gym person, make sure to hit the gym soon after you land. Or take some time to do some delightful yoga stretches.
Moving with intention will help you combat the onslaught of jet lag because you remind your body that it’s time to be moving not sleeping.
10. Eat at the local mealtime
One of the fastest ways to get your body in tune with your new location is to force it to adjust to the local schedule. If you arrive in the afternoon, wait to eat until your normal dinner hour, local time. Eating can trigger your body to stay awake because it needs to process the food. The boost to your metabolism will help prevent jet lag by making you want to keep awake and stay moving.
Besides, you want to get out and start exploring, right? Just don’t forget to keep hydrating!
11. Arrive in the afternoon or early evening
Even if you do all the things on this list that are great, successful tips for how to prevent jet lag, if you arrive in the early morning, you may still get pretty tired by early evening. A sure-fire way to keep your body from adjusting would be to fall asleep early in the evening. You’ll probably wake up at 3 or 4 am.
If you arrive later in the day, your body has a shorter time to adjust to the new timezone. Jump into your normal routine as soon as you land (eat at dinner, go to bed as close to the same time as normal) and you’ll find great success at avoiding jet lag. Your body will be more rested the next day and ready to dive into your next adventure.
12. Try meditation
Many people swear by the power of meditation during a flight to prevent the symptoms of jet lag. I’ve found it beneficial for falling into a restful sleep, along with my lavender essential oil.
If you’re new to meditating, just take some time on the flight to do some deep breathing exercises and get really mindful with the intention you want to set. Is it to have a stress-free and restful flight? Is it to feel rejuvenated when you land because you slept well?
Meditation can calm the chaos around you and help you focus on the moment you’re in. It’s great at relieving anxiety as well if you’re a nervous traveler.
13. Filter out blue light
You’re probably tempted like I am to spend most of my flight zoning out as I binge watch my favorite show on Netflix. It’s also a big mistake for a long-haul flight, partly because of the impact the blue light has on our bodies.
If your phone or tablet has a setting to filter out blue light, turn it on when you get on your flight. Your eyes will thank you and so will your body. Blue light tends to keep our circadian rhythm active and that’s the last thing we want when we’re trying to get rest.
If you’re using a laptop, use F.lux to filter the light. It’s best feature is that it can adjust to your natural sunrise and sunset time when you’re not traveling.
Armed with these ultimate tips for how to beat jet lag, you’re ready to head off on your next adventure! I’m sure you’ll feel the benefit of these tips to prevent and beat jet lag just like I have.
What’s your favorite tip on this list for beating jet lag? Share in the comments below!
Make sure to send this post to family or friends who may be traveling overseas soon!