How to prevent jet lag: expert strategies and tips

prevent jet lag

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Do you know this situation: you have arrived at the destination and the sun is laughing. But you feel exhausted, dull and your concentration leaves something to be desired? We call this phenomenon “jet lag” and this makes most travelers and long-haul fliers do poorly during the first days in the “new country” and after crossing several time zones. Our guide will show you how to prevent jet lag.

The time difference confuses your usual sleep-wake rhythm. This leads to symptoms such as sleep disturbances (hell yeah, I am always awake at night around 3 –4 o’clock), severe fatigue and lack of concentration.

With a few tricks and tips you can prevent jet lag or at least reduce the symptoms. You can also find tips on what to do if jet lag has you in full control.

Your body can cope with time shifts of up to two hours without unpleasant side effects, it says. On some days, a time difference of two hours completely gets me out of rhythm. But if it is more than two hours of time difference, almost everyone has the typical jet lag symptoms (which are, I will tell later).

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Causes: Why do you have jet lag?

Jet lag is mainly caused on long-haul flights. Due to time difference, your biorhythm no longer matches the external conditions such as day and night. When you cross several time zones, day and night often shift significantly compared to the country of origin. Your biorhythm, such as bedtimes and meal times, are mixed up.

Incidentally, the direction of flight plays an important role in the development of jet lag. In general, the body tolerates flights to the west better than to the east. This is due to the fact that your body does not run exactly in the 24-hour rhythm, but in slightly longer phases.

Travelling west to extend your day is more appropriate to your inner clock than to travel east, where the day gets shorter.

Did you know that…

… Jet lag is a recognised sleep disorder? No? I didn’t until my doctor told me about it!

The typical effects and symptoms of jet lag

I’m sure you know the symptoms: in the middle of the day you are suddenly dog-tired, in the middle of the night then awake. At meal times, everyone just doesn’t eat, as your appetite starts sometime later. The altered day-night rhythm leads to a state of exhaustion and nightless insomnia or night awakening. Your inner clock, i.e. your sleep and wake rhythm, continues to run after the usual “old” time.

You are often moody and cannot concentrate. For many, the digestion is also messed up – bad enough if the body has to adjust to other food. Fortunately, I almost never have any problems with the latter.

Other bodily functions such as blood pressure, body temperature and hormone release also have to adapt to the new rhythm.

Are you prone to jet lag?

If you always master your days according to a strict schedule, you are probably one of those people who suffer more from the time difference. Children are often less vulnerable than adults. Jet lag is particularly difficult for seniors.

It can take between two and fourteen days for your body to adjust to the new day-night rhythm. It also depends on your health condition, age and also the number of time zones flown over.

Jet lag on air travel to the west

Air travel to the west is easier: we come for hours as a gift. If you fly from Frankfurt to New York (approx. 6 hours flight time) and arrive there in the morning, it is already in the afternoon in Germany. If you keep awake until 9 pm on the first day (that shouldn’t be hard for you), you’ll be awake early the next day, but you’ll get used to the new local time relatively quickly.

Prevent jet lag for air travel to the east

Jet lag on air travel to Asia and Oceania hits a fierceer one. Because on the long-haul flight to the east, your day shortens and during the flight you lose hours. This confuses your biorhythm. But since I am always curious and keen to explore on arrival on my travels, a shower, a coffee often helps me and then I try to keep myself awake for as long as possible.

In contrast to the outward flights to Asia, jet lag on return flights from the USA, Canada, Cuba or, most recently, Mexico and Guatemala always hits me quite hard. I always try to get night flights. That worked out very well last time. But when you arrive back in Germany in the freezing grey winter, it’s really hard for me to stay awake.

If your return flight arrives in Germany in the evening, you will find it harder to get into the normal rhythm. Because if you land at 8 p.m., it’s still 2 p.m. in Chicago. You probably won’t think about sleeping for many hours.

Avoid jet lag

I no longer have jet lag, or rarely. How do I prevent jet lag? Here are my tips. Pay attention to this, then the fight with the time can no longer blow away so quickly.

Before the trip:

  • You can slowly get used to the other rhythm before your journey by going to bed a little later a few days before the journey to the west and getting up a little earlier on a trip to the east.
  • Pay attention to a balanced amount of sleep and book the flight if possible so that it does not shorten your sleep before the trip.
  • Easy food before the flight! I have long underestimated this fact. But it is true!
  • Power out properly! Before long flights and time change I usually go jogging or mountain biking. After that I’m really k.o. But in the fight the jet lag has always helped!

During the flight:

  • No alcohol, coffee or black tea. Drink plenty of water or fruit juices during the flight (I only drink water) and preferably no alcohol to counteract the dehydration of your body on long-haul flights. I still drink red wine on night flights so I can fall asleep. Nevertheless, before turning off the light in the plane, I still let myself give myself a small water bottle.
  • Change your clocks all to the time at the destination! Few people pay attention to this tip, as they always want to know how much watch is at home with the family. That’s stupid. Because that’s how you automatically calculate back/forward and the body remembers that it should actually sleep.
  • Try to adapt to the time of day at the destination. This is especially true for bedtime and meal times.
  • Try to book a night flight, that helps me tremendously. Even though I almost never sleep on the plane and always just dothety.
  • Try to sleep in the plane already adapted to the new local time.
  • I now rarely eat on a plane (on night flights). The food is always so heavy in the stomach and comes quite late. I eat in front of it at the airport.

On arrival:

  • Don’t give in to the urge of your tiredness to have a midday nap.
  • Since your hormonal system is also sensitive to the time change, it helps to do physical activities outdoors in daylight and go to sleep after sunset.
  • Let it go quietly. Don’t take care of yourself on the first days and avoid effort. Give your body time to get used to the time change.
  • If the trip is only very short (48 hours) it is not worth getting used to a different rhythm.
  • Also through your diet you can influence the sleep-wake rhythm by taking only small snacks when the hunger comes over you at unusual times.
  • Don’t eat anything heavy on the first day. Avoid greasy dishes.

Special tips to prevent jet lag for trips to the west:

I haven’t tested this yet, but my friend has offered the following tip:

  • Drink a lot and move on board the plane. To do this, you should make sure that you eat a lot of protein. For example, meat, fish or dairy products. Why? This keeps you awake for longer. Avoid eating with carbohydrates (noodles, potatoes, rice). These foods make you tired.
  • Stay awake as long as it’s bright outside and try to sleep when it gets dark.