Article at a Glance:
- Traveling is supposed to be fun, but jet lag is a serious problem can creep up on you and throw off your plans.
- The reality is that when you fly across several time zones, you’re shifting your body’s internal clock faster than it can adjust. This can leave travelers feeling fatigued — so much so that they don’t have enough energy to cross items off of their bucket list that they have been looking forward to all year.
- The light in your environment, especially in airports, on airplanes, and in hotels, has a huge impact on your body’s ability to adjust to your local time zone while traveling.
- Fortunately, there are ways to take more control over the lighting in your environment so that you can support your mind and body as your travel across time zones.
If you’ve ever crossed timezones before, then you’re probably felt the effects of jet lag — that lethargic feeling that takes control of your body after traveling — whether it be by planes, trains or automobiles. But did you know: the light in your environment while traveling has a huge impact your body’s ability to adjust to the local timezone of your destination? Jet lag is a common occurrence but easily preventable if you’re proactive and take the proper precautions to preserve your natural body clock before, during and after your travels.
Offhand, your body needs one day per time zone to beat jet lag and adjust to the local time in your travel destination. So, before you begin traveling, work backwards and count how many days ahead of your travel day you should start going to bed earlier or later. Then proceed with shifting your bedtime earlier (or later, as appropriate) than you normally would. Note that you may need to continue adding another hour with each day leading up to your departure.
Get Your Light Right at Airports
Airports are notoriously bad for illuminating their terminals and planes with artificial junk light (conventional LEDs and fluorescent bulbs). They not only emit too much intense blue light, they also flicker at a rate that your eye can’t see — but your brain can feel. At the very least, this can cause circadian rhythm disruption and jet lag. It can also lead to psychological stress.(1) To help mitigate the effects of overexposure to junk light, invest in blue light blocking glasses for daytime and/or nighttime. And remember that you’re trying to sync your body to the local time in your destination. If you need to sleep on the plane, TrueDark’s sleep-hacking glasses in particular are designed to support natural melatonin production and quality sleep, even while you’re crossing timezones. You can also use a hat (with a brim) to block out excess lighting from overhead on the plane. And yes, these lighting hacks work for kids too!
Go With the [Local] Flow
Ideally, you want your body to sync up with the local schedule. If it’s going to be morning time when you land, make sure that you sleep on the plane. If it’s later in the day when you arrive, do what you can to stay awake so that you can fall asleep easily once evening comes. With that said, not all trips are long enough to really get in the groove of the local time zone. In some cases, by the time you do become adjusted, it’s already time to head back home. If you’re only visiting a place for a couple of days, on a business trip for example, then be mindful about when you have meetings and other important activities. Schedule these during your peak wake hours so that your mind and body aren’t in limbo between different time zones.
Move Your Body
Given that light and temperature are primary cues for the body, something as simple as going for a walk outside under natural sunlight can help regulate your circadian rhythm and keep you in sync with the local timezone. Other forms of exercise will also help increase your core body temperature, so it doesn’t hurt to add more active experiences to your travel bucket list.
Hack Hotel Lighting
Hotels are businesses, and they want to save money where they can. So, it’s typically safe to assume that they are using cheaper LED or fluorescent lighting in their rooms and lobbies as opposed to healthy circadian-friendly lighting that’s good for your brain and body. To hack your hotel lighting, focus on what you control. Use sleep-hacking glasses to block up to 100% of sleep-stealing blue, green, and violet light. You can wear these while watching tv in your room or using other digital devices with LED screens. Junk Light Dots are another simple but very effective hack that can cover up those pesky green or blue power source lights on smoke alarms, clocks, tvs, and other electronics that you often see glowing at night.
Turn Your Hotel Room Into a Cave
It’s best to keep your hotel room cool and dark at night like a cave to promote sleep onset. So check the thermostat and make sure that it is set to approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). This may vary by a few degrees from person to person, but most doctors recommend keeping the thermostat set between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 to 19.4 degrees Celsius) for the most comfortable sleep.(2)
Take Melatonin Temporarily
The goal is really to help your body produce melatonin naturally, but sometimes taking a pill can give your body a healthy nudge that it needs to relax into a deep sleep. Melatonin is available as nonprescription sleep aid in doses of up to 10 milligrams.(3) Just be mindful that you aren’t taking melatonin pills regularly, as your body may become dependent on them or eventually need stronger sleep aids.
Consume Stimulants Responsibly
Vacations are often associated with relaxing and even indulging. But when it comes to stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, these things can actually make jet lag symptoms worse. The bottom line is: be mindful of the quantity and timing of your consumption so that you can enjoy your travels and still feel great once your vacation is over.