Tschüss, Jet Lag!

For many expats, long distance air travel is just a regular part of our lifestyle. Whether you travel “home” sporadically for visits, or if you essentially live between two or more places, overseas travel, and all that comes with it, is just another challenge that we expats must learn to manage. I spend about eight or nine months here in Europe, and three or four back in Canada. This is now my sixth year living this way and have subsequently  banked eleven overseas flights so far. If you are anything like me, such an endeavour can really take a toll on your body. That exhausted, jet laggy feeling can ruin the first few days at your destination and can lead to a state of dread regarding all future travel.

Jet lag has always been a problem for me. Whether I’m returning home and trying my best to stay up past 10 pm, or if I’m back in Europe staring at the clock at 4 am, I have always had an issue with time change. Just the process of flying for so long leaves me feeling ill, especially nauseated. Coupled with that “bubble” feeling of jet lag, I end up having what feels like a flu for at least the first three or four days. Long distance travel and jet lag also have a big impact on guests. While some of us may have the luxury of taking a few days to get used to the time difference, people coming in for a week or two to visit, do not want to waste such time. So, over my years of traveling and hosting, I have worked at developing a method for easing the woes of overseas travel, and this year I believe I have perfected it! I gloriously experienced zero symptoms of jet lag this time around,  and avoided getting any sort of ill. And so, of course, it is a must that I share this method with all of you.

I first must note that I am not a doctor or health care professional in any way. This is a method I use for myself and one which I suggest to family and friends. Please take these tips as you would simply from a helpful friend.

1. Melatonin: This is a natural supplement that can be found in any drugstore. Its purpose is to help regulate sleep patterns. Important points regarding melatonin are that it must be taken for a few weeks prior to travel, must be dissolved not swallowed, and is to be taken just before your natural sleep time. When traveling, if you are to arrive at your destination in the early morning, as most North America- Europe flights work, then you want your body to believe that those eight or more hours on the plane is your natural sleep time. When on the plane, after your meal, take your regular dose of bedtime melatonin, directing your body to believe it’s that time. It may or may not make you sleepy, but either way it is doing its job. When you arrive at your destination, the melatonin is to continue being taken before your new bedtime, for a couple of weeks. Again, the intent is to make your body feel as though it is engaged in a natural behavior, leading to a regular (full!) night’s sleep.

2. Sleeping pills: Of course, this is different for everyone. I find that the heavy-duty pills, prescription or OTC, tend to give me a hangover-feeling worse than the jet lag itself. Natural sleeping pills like valerian root supplements, or mild drugs like Gravol, do the trick for me and don’t leave me with any grogginess (important if you have connecting flights). Getting even a few hours of sleep on the flight helps not only to pass the time, but gets your sleeping pattern on the right track, and also gives you the energy necessary for all those things that need doing when you land: connections, customs, baggage, etc.

3. Probiotics: Digestive enzymes, especially acidophilus (that trendy ingredient found in yogurt), help to regulate the environmental balance in your digestive system. I don’t know about you, but sitting still for eight or more hours, eating airplane food plus whatever snacks I end up eating out of boredom, and dealing with mild motion sickness, leaves my stomach in a ravaged state. When you are already exhausted from the hours of travel, an upset stomach can really add to that fluey feeling. Taking a probiotic supplement before, during, and after the flight can help keep your stomach working properly, and ease that queasy feeling.

4. Water: This one may seem like a given, and yet watch how many people turn down a  glass a water when the flight attendant comes around for the third or fourth time. As a rule of thumb, take water each and every time it is offered to you, whether you are thirsty or not. Keeping hydrated is necessary for a ton of reasons, one of which is to help flush out the many viruses circulating throughout the plane. On that note, make a point also of washing your hands each time you get up for a break or take a little stroll.

5. Napping: Once you are settled in your home or hotel, resist the urge to crash. Give yourself a few hours to rest, but no more than three; set an alarm. Your body knows what a nap is, and so the hope is that it will recognize your short sleep as such, and will then still allow you to go to bed later that night, sleeping through as you naturally would.

There are many tips and products out there claiming to aid people in staying healthy during air travel (echinatia is a popular one). Testing out what works for you is the only way to discover your own successful method. If you have any proven tips of your own, please feel free to share in the comment box below.

One thought on “Tschüss, Jet Lag!

  1. These are all great strategies, Jessica. I particularly used to use valerian root (referred to as Baldrian in Germany) to help with jet lag. And then I had… kids. Kids with jet lag are at the mercy of nature as their bodies adjust to the time change, and I am at the mercy of my kids! I discovered that there is no point in trying to “beat” jet lag with small children in tow – they are up in the middle of the night and I have to be up with them. We’ve done this 5 or 6 times now and actually, it’s not that bad. It takes about 3 days and then we’re back on track, but we definitely have to plan for those few days of adjustment. I’ve taught them: when it’s dark outside, just roll over and try to sleep!

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