I never really experienced jet lag until the first time I travelled to England. The furthest away I had been was only the east coast, just two time zones ahead of Colorado and that never messed with me too badly. Now, long haul, transatlantic flights are all the more present in my life and I hate being jet lagged, so I'll do anything to beat it.
Jet lag happens because our bodies function on circadian rhythms, which naturally tells us normal times to do things like eat and sleep. Changing time zones, though, really throws things out of whack, so it can mess with you in a number of ways: fatigue, memory or concentration problems, bowel problems, loss of appetite, and indigestion. The first time I visited England, we left Denver around 21:00 on Saturday, flying through the night. I was able to get a decent night's sleep, you know, for an airplane, and woke up when we landed in London around 12:00 on Sunday. I thought I fell into an easy rhythm right away, but by Wednesday, I was incredibly jet lagged. I was clumsy and careless, dropping a container of freshly boiled water on the street and later a bowl of cookie dough which exploded all over the kitchen. Yikes.
People say west is best, east is a beast, but that hasn't exactly been my experience. Flying between Colorado and England, which are seven hours apart, I've almost always struggled more in Colorado, whether that's where I'm travelling from or where I'm travelling to. When Luke and I were there over the summer, we regularly woke up between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning, even taking care of a few things during usual business hours in the UK while we were up, since we were used to it being mid-morning. When I've travelled to England, I've been able to get on a decent sleeping schedule right away every time and that's made a world of difference.
No matter how jet lag shows up for you, there are things you can do to try to combat it, even starting before you leave.
CHOOSE THE BEST ARRIVAL TIME
Most people will tell you to try to arrive during daylight and I agree. I'll just take it one step further. My advice to people is to try to arrive around midday. I understand that with flight prices, you need to do what's best for your budget, but if at all possible, shoot for an arrival time around 12:00. If you're checking into a hotel, you'll only have a few hours before check in (usually around 15:00-16:00) and the hotel might be more lenient on letting you check in early or just letting you leave your bags at the front desk until you are able to check in. I would also advise that you fill your first day with sight seeing, something that will both keep you up and wear you out. My first day on that very first trip was perfect. We landed at noon, stored our bags at the train station, grabbed lunch, walked around London, took a lively train journey to Birmingham, and did even more walking. By the time we got to where we were staying late that evening, we were all worn out and fell asleep easily. Staying busy and on your feet will ensure that you stay up until a normal time to go to bed (even if it's a bit early) and make sure you're ready to sleep when you get there. And only having to fill half a day with activities, only having to stay up a few more hours, makes all of that a lot more bearable.
GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Most people will say this is actually the most important part of prepping for a trip. Try to avoid staying up late to finish all your last minute tasks the night before and get to bed at a reasonable time. No matter what happens on the flight or your first day travelling, at least you got a decent night of sleep before you left.
You've probably heard that hydration is key in beating jet lag. That includes before your flight, during your flight, and after your flight. Water is so essential to our health and it's truly amazing what your body can do when you properly hydrate yourself. This also means, though, avoiding the bar. I certainly wouldn't say no to one drink at the beginning of the flight if it helps you sleep, but consuming alcohol in access will dehydrate you significantly. And toasting to your trip as soon as you land probably won't help you stay up either. Also, I saw that one of my friends recently did a hydrating face mask on her transatlantic flight to help keep her skin feeling good while she travelled.
KEEP YOUR ROUTINE
You know I love a good nighttime routine. I think everyone should have an established routine before going to bed and there's no reason why you can't keep that routine when you're travelling, even if you have to modify it slightly. Take that 21:00 flight for example. I usually go to bed around 21:30 (later on weekends), so if close to the beginning of the flight, I head to the bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, etc. like I would at home, my body should get the signal to start winding down for the night, helping me to fall asleep more easily. This means you'll likely have to pack some toiletries in your carry on (assuming you've checked a bag), but you can pop over to Target to pick up some travel sized containers to only take on what you need. That'll come in handy later anyway...
FRESHEN UP WHEN YOU LAND
If I've just landed on a trip and I know we're going to be out all day, the first thing I'll do is head to the bathroom to freshen up. Since I've packed toiletries in my carry on (including a washcloth in a baggie), I just need to do three things to make me instantly feel better: brush my teeth, put on more deodorant, and wash my face. Immediately, I lose that gross, grimy airport feeling and start to feel like myself again. And if you can't get to the hotel or wherever you're staying shortly after you land, pack a change of clothes, or at least underwear!
I'm curious, what's the longest travel day you've ever had?
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