I love to travel…
That feeling of bubbling excitement when you walk out of the airport, step off the boat, or even just climb out of the car, is absolutely irreplaceable for me. What I don’t love about traveling – time differences. I always get so sleepy at the wrong moment and, fight as I might, I don’t always stay awake when I should. In fact, when I landed in India on a humanitarian trip back in 2013, I discovered I was scheduled to give a health talk that same night. We had just flown all day and I hadn’t slept a wink (I learned how to sleep on a plane later). By the time I got on stage, I was fighting yawns constantly. The organizer of the event gave a lovely introduction and when it was my turn to speak… I was fast asleep, on stage, in front of about 60 Tamil villagers. Needless to say, the kids reminded me every night after that.
In the years since, I’ve learned a few things about conquering jet lag, both on the way there, and on the way back home. Below, I’ve listed my best methods for recovering from jet lag once you’ve gotten back home from your adventure abroad. Hopefully, they’ll get you through the first two weeks of life back home.
1. Don’t take naps!
This is the most essential, most important, cannot-be-stressed enough thing. Go to bed when it’s ‘bedtime’ and get up in the morning, even if you are exhausted in the morning and not sleepy at all at night. Resist the urge to sleep half-way through the day. Seriously. You have to force your body back into this time zone. When I moved to the Marshall Islands, I napped every day for about three weeks and it took me almost a month to adjust to the new time zone. Lesson learned.
2. Drink tons of water – and skip caffeine and alcohol.
Keeping hydrated helps the body adjust in lots of different ways, one of them being to new time zones. Drinking water throughout the day also helps keep your internal systems awake at the right time. Caffeine and alcohol both dehydrate you – which isn’t great when you’re already putting your body under some stress. They also affect your ability to stay awake (either by exciting you or depressing you). Just wait a week before getting that double-double.
3. Eat at meal times.
Food is one of the best ways to indicate to your body what time it is. You will adjust so much faster if you eat three times a day at the ‘regular’ hours. And just like no naps – no snacks. Another mistake I made when I moved abroad. I never ate breakfast, but I ate lunch, an early supper and a late supper. It took me weeks to get settled. Don’t confuse your digestive system. Even if you aren’t hungry, eat something at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Within a couple days, your digestive system will be back on track.
4. Keep yourself occupied.
Don’t let your brain fall asleep, because your brain controls your body. Be active, even if you’re tired. Wash all your laundry from the trip. Write thank-you letters to people who helped support the cost. Send pictures to your grandma. Write a summary of the trip before you start to forget things. Read a book (but don’t fall asleep!). Just do something to keep you occupied so that your body learns what time to be active and what time to relax.
5. Go outside.
No matter what the season is when you get back, go outside. Get that fresh air, the sunshine, the change in temperature – all of it will wake up your body and give it cues to stay awake. The oxygen in the air will help your brain function better, the sunshine will trigger dopamine releases that will make you feel great and the (presumably) colder temperatures will give you a wake-up shock like a cold shower. Don’t stay inside and get all cozy on the couch – you’ll just feel sluggish all week. Go for a walk and start readjusting!
I hope these tips were helpful for your readjustment phase. Last one is to be patient – always a helpful thing. It will take some time to get used to the time zone, especially if you were gone a while. Just push through the first few days and you’ll be back on track.
What are some of your best methods for tackling jet lag? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know – I’d love to hear from you!
– Cheyanne Welch