Enjoy every last second of your next international jaunt by planning ahead to fight jet lag. With the proper preparations, you can maximize the most of your time away and soak up as much sunlight as possible.
Follow these 10 tips to beat jet lag:
1. Make a sleep schedule: I'm what you would call a bad sleeper, at best. But what I am good at is planning, so for my trip to Portugal next month, I logged onto Jetlag Rooster to create a free sleep schedule for myself while I'm exploring Lisbon. On the day I depart, I've been instructed to sleep as much as needed on the plane, and the online tool has sliced each hour of my day into categories, instructing me when to avoid light, when to seek light, and when my ideal sleep times should be. I also put the free app on my iPhone so I will always have access to my customized plan. Jetlag Rooster also has printable schedules and email attachments that sync with your calendar on your smartphone.
2. Start adjusting in the comfort of your own home: Look at your calendar the week before the trip and see what you can alter in your evening routine before traveling. A good rule is this: try to alter your sleep schedule gradually, starting three days before departing. By changing your sleep schedule one hour each day, it should make for a smoother transition once you land at your destination.
3. Consider buying supplements: Low-dose melatonin is a popular supplement for travelers. Common uses include treating insomnia and controlling sleep patterns. Adults should check with their doctor before traveling to see if this is a good option for them and what dosage they should take. For most people taking it, the supplement causes drowsiness. People planning on doing a lot of driving should avoid taking it, as should children and pregnant women. If you're looking for something stronger, at this doctor's appointment you can discuss the option of stronger prescription sleep aids, like Ambien, as well.
On the plane
4. Avoid alcohol: The World Health Organization recommends that travelers limit their alcohol consumption during the flight to make sure people arrive at their destinations rested and relaxed. Booze might help some people sleep, but it also impairs the quality of sleep, which can do more harm than good. Also, having to get up to go to the restroom more frequently disturbs your sleep cycle as well as the person sitting next you to if he or she needs to move as well.
5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: The smarties at Harvard Medical School say that dehydration worsens the symptoms of jet lag, and because mild dehydration is common for flyers, it's best to combat this by drinking even more water than usual. Start by having more water even before stepping foot on the plane and you'll be in good shape. Don't forget to continue to hydrate for the first 48 hours after arrival as well. Remember to pack an empty water bottle in your carry-on so you can fill up before getting on the plane.
On the trip
6. Plan your first day in the new time zone: Although it may be very tempting to just immediately head to bed, the best way to acclimate is to dive right into the day. Make a schedule so that you have lots of walking and planned activities. But, that said, keep things simple and don't push yourself too hard. Nothing is worse than trying to navigate a new city on the verge of exhausted tears. If you're visiting a city with a few museums, this is a great way to check those out while staying awake until you've reached an appropriate time to take a nap or just go to bed. It's key to get as much sunlight as possible on that first day if you arrive in the daytime.
7. Or, plan your first night's sleep upon touch down: After your e-ticket has been issued, double check to see what time you are arriving. If it's in the evening, you should approach the flight entirely differently than if you were arriving in the daytime. Try to tire yourself out on the plane, be it by binge watching a show on your iPad or finishing the last 500 pages of Infinite Jest while enjoying some healthy snacks and water. Whatever it takes to keep yourself awake before landing will be beneficial once your head hits the pillow. Once you're in the room, it can help to put on a white noise phone app to help soothe yourself to sleep.
8. Good morning, sunshine: An easier and more gentle way to wake up that first morning is being greeted by the sun itself, not from a hotel wake-up call or a buzzing iPhone alarm. Once you check into your hotel or apartment, throw back the shades in the bedroom before going to bed. By keeping the blinds/shades open in the room, it will force your body to wake up naturally with the light or make that wake-up call a little easier.
9. Fit in a workout on your first day: Endorphins are a great way to fight tiredness, and a run around the new neighborhood is a good way to see the sights. The World Health Organization recommends exercise for all travelers, saying that a workout during the day helps promote a good night's sleep and helps get people on a schedule. For travelers, however, the organization recommends avoiding strenuous exercise within two hours of trying to go to sleep to ease people into the time transition.
10. Food for thought: There's no better way to get acclimated and get accustomed to the local culture than to break bread as the locals do. But what's key here is to eat when they do as well. It's commonly found that eating on schedule as soon as possible is the best way to keep up your energy and try to adapt to the local time. Frequent travelers on overnight flights often skip the often-gross airplane breakfast (which is usually some sort of bread with a side of bread) and wait till they have landed to have a real breakfast in their destinations. This gets me on the local food schedule sooner.
Smaller, light meals are recommended throughout the duration of the trip to stay active and alert. Also, ease off the caffeine when you're traveling -- especially if you're going "backwards" when you're away. This way travelers will not be wired when it's bedtime. If you rely on coffee, fewer small cups throughout the day is the best way to go.