Vacation has to be one of the most-loved words in the dictionary, evoking that nostalgic feeling of carefree days, tropical escapes, exploring new cities, sampling fresh cuisines, and a hard-earned break from work. So it’s come around to that time of year again and you have your bags overflowing with bikinis or ski gear or whatever equipment suits your getaway of choice. Your email autoresponder is smugly switched on. All that is left to do it fly from point A to point B.
There is nothing quite like the excitement you feel when the plane takes off and you know the next stop is your destination. But there is also nothing quite as bad as arriving at that promised land only to find yourself feeling hungover, exhausted, and downright rundown. Yep, “jet lag” is up there with the most disliked of phrases, for good reason.
So what is a discerning jet setter to do?
1. Go light and dark
The process of traveling across time zones causes a disruption to our body’s inbuilt biological clock, known as our circadian rhythm, which naturally signals to us when it should be sleeping or waking hours and moderates our hormones and energy levels accordingly. This is closely linked to our light-dark cycle, which is thrown completely out of whack when we flip day and night around between our departure and arrival destination.
Your circadian clock will slowly realign itself between time zone discrepancies, but it’s a process that most of us simply don’t have time for on our vacay. Luckily, you can actually use light and dark to your advantage to fast-track this process so you don’t have to spend a few days lost in time zone translation.
“One of the simplest and most effective ways to sync your sleep-wake cycle to match your destination is to expose yourself to or limit yourself from light in accordance to that time zone’s day and night schedule,” advises nutritionist Kate White, who regularly helps her clients manage jet lag naturally.
When you bask in sunlight or look into a bright light, the photoreceptors in your eyes transmit a message that it’s daytime and align your circadian rhythm to this. Likewise, when it’s dark, your circadian rhythm is designed to make you feel tired and sleepy. Therefore, if you are traveling east, you should avoid light on the flight until 7-10 a.m. by the destination clock. Having a comfortable eye mask is the perfect inflight accessory to block out light and help you sleep on the plane. On the other hand, if you are traveling west, make sure you expose yourself to plenty of bright light once you arrive, which will help you feel more alert and stay up later in your new time zone. A bright artificial light or even your phone screen can achieve this, but natural sunlight is best.
“Getting outdoors, staying physically active and absorbing the sun’s rays really helps,” says White.
2. It’s about what and when you eat
When we eat also plays a role in governing our biological clock, so it makes sense that aligning our meal times to our destination can also help align our circadian rhythm to the new time zone. Experts recommends doing this 24 hours before you get on your flight and eating according to your destination or skipping food altogether while on board.
For example, Michael Mosley, doctor and author behind the popular 5:2 diet, believes using intermittent fasting prior to a long-haul flight can help you beat the dreaded jet lag at the other end. Describing his strategy from London to New York, he wrote, “I put myself on New York time before flying. I delay breakfast until 8 a.m New York time (1 p.m. here), skip lunch and have a snack at about 7 p.m. (midnight here). I go to bed at a normal time. Next morning I get up early, grab some morning light and find that my body clock is well and truly reset.”
Ensuring you stick to the destination’s mealtimes during the flight is important, but it’s also advisable to avoid plane food as much as possible as it is often high in sodium, which can add to dehydration and lethargy. Sticking to easy-to-digest lighter meals, BYO snacks or fasting altogether while in the air can help you avoid that nasty post-flight hangover feeling.
3. Hydrate and supplement smart
Traveling at such high altitudes certainly takes its toll on your body. After a long time in the air, you becomes dehydrated, your digestive system slows down, you retain excess fluid, and often lack essential vitamins, all of which contribute to the terrible feeling of jet lag. To combat this, replenishing your body with plenty of fluids and choosing the right supplements is vital.
Chloe Dignam, naturopath and founder of Aqua Health in Bali, regularly helps jet setters feel good as soon as possible once they arrive at her clinic on the island, so they don’t waste any vacation time in bed.
“Whenever flying, I always drink loads of water and bring some good quality digestive enzymes to take with meals,” Dignam says. “Digestive enzymes can help us to digest our meals better and reduce the dreaded in-the-air bloating and cramping that many of us suffer with. I also take activated B complex vitamins to help combat fatigue as well as melatonin tablets to naturally help my body adjust to the new time zone.”
You may even benefit from the helping hand of natural therapies such as IV and colonics, if they are available from an accredited clinic at your destination. “Colonic hydrotherapy and intravenous vitamins are the ultimate anti-jet lag combination package,” Dignam says. A colon hydrotherapy session deeply rehydrates the body and helps to clear any toxins and old matter from the system, which can make you feel sluggish. Following this with a flood of vitamins and nutrients, such as glutathione, vitamin C, B complex vitamins, and electrolytes can help to reduce oxidative stress, combat fatigue, restore our adrenals and replenish our bodies. When these are administered intravenously, it allows for them to bypass the gut for absorption and enter straight into our blood streams.
The jet set life isn’t always glamorous! Thankfully, arming yourself with these travel-savvy natural ways to beat jet lag will help make the transition smoother, so you can hit the ground running at your destination and enjoy your vacation sans midday crashes, irritability, and waking up at 3 a.m.