I have been traveling a lot over the years. My first real Jet lag experience was when I traveled to FIJI in 2011 from Maryland to Fiji. It took over 27hrs to arrive at the destination. Traveling to an exotic location halfway around the world can be exciting but jet lag is real and can throw off your entire sleep cycle to such a degree that your health is placed at risk. Jet lag can be especially tricky when you’re traveling with young children, who tend to have stricter bedtime routines in the first place. As a mother of 4 kids, I’ve learned through the years that family vacations can become a nightmare when my kids’ sleep schedules are thrown off. Here are some tricks for staying healthy through jet lag and minimizing its effects.
Get plenty of sleep before the trip
Get as much sleep before your trip as you can. As early as a month before a big trip, pay close attention to your sleeping pattern. It should be no less than 8 hours every 24 hours. This will give you the greatest chance of warding off the side effects of jet lag before they even begin.
Rich foods at dinner
This biochemical precursor to serotonin helps you maintain a healthy sleep cycle even when your internal clock is out of sync. When you’re out to dinner, whether it’s a few hours after landing or the next day, order foods rich in tryptophan such as shrimp, salmon, turkey, beans and nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews and peanuts. Tryptophan is biochemical.
Rub your feet with magnesium oil
It might sound strange, but a good magnesium-oil foot rub is just the ticket to help you and your kids before bedtime. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, so it not only takes the edge off the physical demands of travel, but it helps soothe you into a quiet and peaceful sleep. I love to massage a little magnesium oil into my children’s feet at night. It’s a calming bedtime ritual that we all look forward to. After applying and letting it sit for 10–20 minutes, remove the oil with a wet washcloth. Some kids will notice a tingling or burning sensation from the oil, which may be due to skin sensitivity or magnesium deficiency. If this happens, simply dilute the oil with water. Or try magnesium lotion, which is not as concentrated as the oil.
Avoid Alcohol/Caffeine/Stay Hydrated
Alcohol and coffee are both diuretic substances, which means they encourage the body to expel water and salt that slowly dehydrates the body. When you have 12 hours to kill on an airplane, a lot of people’s favorite way to kill time is to throw back a few drinks. When you’re 30,000 feet high, the stale air on the plane already puts you in a dehydrated state. Unfortunately, alcohol not only adds extra calories, but it also puts your body into a dehydrated state. “Being dehydrated worsens the physical symptoms of jet lag…and alcohol…can disturb your sleep,” according to Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide. Another Harvard Health Publication in Health beat goes on to say that, “alcohol promotes dehydration, which worsens the symptoms of jet lag.” Make sure to drink lots of water before, during and after your flight to keep you hydrated. Once you get to your destination, drink plenty of water with lemon.
Adjust on local time
It’s important to start treating your internal clock as if you were in your projected time zone at least three days before your trip. Set your watch to your new time zone. According to the 2015 Harvard Health Publication, you should “gradually move mealtimes and bedtime closer to the schedule of your destination.” If you are moving forward in time, try heading to bed earlier and changing your eating habits to reflect that new time zone. If you are traveling west, try staying up a few extra hours to ease yourself into the new time zone.
Stretch your joints
Sitting in an airplane seat for hours is hard on your body. Backaches, tight hips and swollen feet are just a few of the side effects of travel.
It’s important to mobilize and stretch before, during and after your flight. Do some deep lunge breathing for your hips or a yoga pose, like a cobra pose for your back and lots of sun salutations to increase your blood flowing. Also, try to use a lacrosse ball or foam roller to activate blood flow in the body. Dig a lacrosse ball into your lower back and hips to break up any muscle tissue that has tightened over time.
Give fasting/Healthy diet
Juice fasting or water fasting has been proven to help set your body clock. On the day of your flight, try to have a healthy breakfast with plenty of good fats, fresh vegetables and lean protein. (eggs with spinach and avocado). Once you’re on the plane, limit your food intake as much as possible. Avoid sugars and carbohydrates; that can spike your blood sugar.
If your flight land in the morning, consume lots of fresh vegetables and lean protein throughout the day. Then at night, eat a meal rich in carbohydrates so that you crash afterward. If you land at night, eat a meal rich in carbohydrates so you can enjoy a restful night’s sleep. According to the Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag Diet, you feast because “high-carbohydrate suppers stimulate sleep also a diet created by biologist Charles Ehret, fast days should “help deplete the liver’s store of carbohydrates and prepare the body’s clock for resetting.”
A 2008 study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that “if animals have access to food only during their normal sleep cycle, they will shift more of their circadian rhythms (normal sleep cycle) to match the food availability.”
Stay active in the new time zone
Once in your new time zone, go out for a run or walk, it can be a light jog just to get the body moving. Exercise helps activate the internal body clock or circadian rhythm. In conjunction with a 2012 study published in the Journal of Physiology, author Christopher Colwell says, “It is evident that exercise will help to regulate body clocks.” Prior to departing on your trip, exercise in the morning before work because light is a huge factor in regulating your body clock. Other researchers have shown that moderate daily exercise improves the quality of sleep.
This doesn’t have to be an intense CrossFit workout, but it can be a walk or light jog.
Play with light and dark
Light and darkness play a huge role in our circadian rhythm (the normal sleep cycle). Planes can be noisy and bright, but if you can make time to sleep without any interruptions by using a night mask and earplugs, it can help your body to relax. Our bodies respond to light and dark through our circadian rhythm. According to a 2009 study, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at the University of Michigan (who developed the anti-jet lag app, Entrain) noted that “Timed light exposure is a well-known synchronization method, and when used properly, this intervention can reset an individual’s internal clock to align with local time. The result is more efficient sleep, a decrease in fatigue and an increase in cognitive performance.”
Furthermore, according to Harvard Health Publications, it’s best to “use the sun to help you readjust. If you need to wake up earlier in the new setting (you’ve flown west to east), get out in the early morning sun. If you need to wake up later (you’ve flown east to west), expose yourself to late afternoon sunlight.”
Hot foot-bath is an effective measure for inducing refreshing sleep. Eliminating caffeine, adequate calcium and magnesium intakes, consumption of foods/ supplements high in essential fatty acids, exercise during the day, occasional use of herbs is safer.
For little kids, try some tart cherry juice, which naturally contains melatonin. One study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that drinking tart cherry juice significantly increased the length and efficiency of sleep sessions.
Taking time to listen to relaxing music, meditating or reading will help to calm down the autonomic nervous system.
Your body naturally produces melatonin at night, but when your internal clock is in a state of confusion, it doesn’t make melatonin at the right times. Melatonin is a hormone naturally found in your brain that helps control your sleep cycles — specifically when it’s time to go to sleep. When you travel, your sleep cycle and sleep times are thrown off by the time zones and change of light.
Melatonin may be safer than most other synthetic sleeping pills.
According to a 2009 review done at the Cochrane Common Mental Health Disorder Institute, researchers reported, “Melatonin is a pineal hormone that plays a central part in regulating bodily rhythms and has been used as a drug to realign them with the outside world…. It should be recommended to adult travelers flying across five or more time zones, particularly in an easterly direction, and especially if they have experienced jet lag on previous journeys.” And Harvard Health recommends typical dosages from 3 to 5 milligrams.