If you don’t play your cards right, that feeling of relaxation you bring back from vacation will dissipate as soon as you enter your front door. Suddenly the fun is over, and you’re left with a suitcase of unpacked luggage to deal with and a case of serious sleep deprivation preventing you from even mustering the strength to open it. Getting over international jet lag is a science, but I’m proud to say that throughout the years, I’ve learned to turn it into an art form. In my twenties, my strategy was to party as soon as I arrived home and not stop until 5 a.m. It may not sound like the healthiest approach, but it worked – I would sleep until noon the next day, readjusting my internal clock to just the right time. Now that the idea sounds neither fun nor even possible (my body says, no way, no how), I’ve developed a new plan that gets me back in action within two days.
PREPARE AN IN-FLIGHT SLEEP STRATEGY
Plan ahead. If you arrive at night, try to stay awake on the plane. Drink coffee, download your favorite shows on an iPad, drink tons of water (so you’re constantly using the bathroom), and don’t lean your seat back or use your most comfortable neck pillow. On the other hand, if you arrive during the day, hunker down and do what you can to get as much rest as possible. Read instead of watching movies, skip coffee, drink water slowly, wear an eye mask, load your iTunes with soothing music, and before you even get on the plane, do something exhausting like running all of your errands at last minute. By the time you sit down on the plane, you’ll be completely beat!
MAKE PLANS WITH FRIENDS
Once you get home, you’ll feel like a zombie and want nothing else but to sit and relax. This will inevitably lead to sleeping at the wrong time, so while you’re still on the trip, make plans with friends to go out to dinner on your first day back. This is the time of the day when you feel bouts of nausea and dizziness. Basically, you have a travel-induced hangover. It’s when you fall asleep at 6 p.m. (you’re just going to close your eyes for a few seconds, right?) and wake up at midnight, dooming your sleep cycle for days to come. Force yourself to leave the house by planning dinner with friends who will not let you flake on them.
DO NOT EAT AT 4 A.M.
If you wake up at some ungodly hour like 4 a.m. resist the urge to eat. Hold off until the time you would normally eat in the morning. The body’s circadian clock is governed by food and sunlight. By waking up at 4 a.m. and eating, you’re making your body think, “there’s food at 4 a.m. – I’d better wake up then if I’m gonna get fed.” Seriously, don’t even drink water. Take a few sips to get rid of cotton mouth, but wait to replenish with a tall glass.
SPEND AN ENTIRE DAY OUTDOORS
The body’s circadian rhythm is all about the sunlight. We have internal, intuitive clocks that are precise almost to the minute, and that’s due to sunlight. We’ve been ignoring them since the advent of the clock, but they still regulate our schedules. Use this to your advantage to combat jetlag. When the sun comes up, take a walk outside, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. If you work in an office, see if you can work near a window for the first few days. Take phone calls, lunches, and meetings outdoors (you’ll have to persuade your co-workers for that last one, but that shouldn’t be too hard!). If you’re not working, plan your entire day’s activities out in the sun, even if it’s as simple as grabbing a beach towel and reading on the grass. This is the single best way to get your body to reprogram to a new time.
GET A MASSAGE
Getting a massage is like hitting the reset button for me. It feels like my body is getting back to the state that it should be in, free of tension and kinks. Since jetlag throws your body out of whack, getting it to completely relax is a great way to reorient yourself. Don’t go for a painful deep tissue. All you need is a gentle Swedish or oil rub to bring your muscles and lymphatic system up to speed.
TAKE SLEEP AIDS (ONLY AS A LAST RESORT!)
I don’t recommend sleep aids of any kind. They’re incredibly harmful to your system, so if you can avoid them, you should. However, if a week has gone by and you still can’t kick jet lag, you just might need something extra to get back into the groove. I would start with melatonin, which is more natural than drugs like Ambien. If you follow the tips leading up to this, I’m certain it won’t come to this, but at least melatonin is safe to take. It’s derived from a natural hormone that’s produced by the pineal gland in our brains, which is what drives our internal clocks to know when to sleep and when to wake. Being in the sun forces the body to produce melatonin in the right amounts at the right times (more in the evening and less come morning) and that’s why I recommended being outdoors. If you truly can’t get back on track, though, try Now Foods Melatonin (on Amazon for $11.55).