Jet lag can be a beast. It throws off our body clock (read: circadian rhythm) leaving us drained of energy and constipated; the prime recipe for irritability. Not exactly the ideal vacation vibe, right? In our quest to ensure you don’t get stuck trudging through your day like a zombie, missing first chair, and sleeping through those short, precious daylight hours, we consulted the pros: snowboarder and Canadian Olympian, Spencer O’Brien spends roughly 200 days a year on the road and just as many in the snow. For all things to do with natural health and wellness, we checked in with Kaylee Driedger, N.D.; while the traditional medical perspective is covered by Cathy Zeglinski, M.D., Dip CASEM, C.C.F.P.. Finally, Melissa Kazan is a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist. They’ve all agreed to share some wisdom on how to beat jet lag, so you can hit the ground running (or sliding) this winter. Pay attention!
Talk to a doc
Dr. Zeglinski recommends getting a prescription sleep aid to take on the plane (for long/international
flights only) and to use on the first night at your destination. It’s also a good call to avoid alcohol when
flying—it’s dehydrating and can have negative interactions with drugs or medications. Always consult
your doctor to find what’s best for you.
More smart sleep, less smartphone
“No electronics at least 1-2 hours before bed and definitely not while in bed,” says Dr. Driedger. “Phones, computers, and TVs emit blue light which stimulates the pineal gland in the brain, sending the message to stop producing melatonin.” Light influences our biological circadian rhythm of fluctuating hormones, so if we artificially receive light stimulation from electronics, it can throw off our natural rhythm, creating sleep–wake disturbances.
Get ahead of yourself
Dr. Zeglinski, Ms. Kazan, and Dr. Driedger all recommend adjusting your body clock gradually in preparation for a big trip. Start easing towards the new time zone before leaving home by shifting your sleep pattern by roughly 30 minutes each day over the week leading up to your departure.
Change your clocks as soon as you’re through security. Most smartphones adjust to your new time once you switch off airplane mode, but manually changing time zones can help get you in the right mindset. This way, even if it’s just subconsciously, your brain will start acclimating to where you’re heading.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drink all the water you can. And then some. And then some more. Air travel increases the rate of dehydration exponentially. According to Ms. Kazan, drinking 1-2 cups of water per hour is optimal to stay on top of things. Bonus: adding lemon to your water can help improve and sustain hydration.
Once you’re at your destination it can be tempting to rest your eyes for “just a minute”, except that can lead to hours. Don’t fall for it. Take it from Spencer O’Brien, who says, “Keep moving once you arrive at your destination. There have been too many times when I’ve settled into my spot, sat down and accidentally passed out for four hours, ruining any chance I had of beating the lag for that trip. Go out, get groceries, walk around, do anything to keep yourself from falling asleep before your new time zone’s bed time.” And if you happen to arrive at your new destination just in time for après, find the hot spot and proceed as normal.
Soak up some sun
A dose of daylight and fresh air when you reach your destination can work wonders. To get your circadian rhythm back on track, you want light exposure early in the day. This allows time for your natural melatonin to kick in as the day goes on so you’re ready for bed at an appropriate time. If you’re travelling east (to an earlier time zone), you want to get some morning sun and limit light exposure in the afternoon. If you’re travelling west (to a later time zone), you want a hit of sunshine in the afternoon to keep you going until bedtime.
Stretch it out
After being cramped in an upright position on a plane or in a car, your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, back—basically your whole body, could use some gentle TLC. Adding some stretches into your nighttime routine can work wonders on relaxing your body and preparing it for sleep.
Be strict about bedtime
Stay up as late as humanly possible—within reason. When O’Brien is battling travel burnout, she takes half of a (doctor prescribed) sleeping pill on her first night and sticks to a strict 10 pm bedtime. Any earlier, and you risk waking up in the middle of the night wondering how long until breakfast.
Sweat it out
Making time for a pre-flight workout is a great way to prime the body for a time change. Even if it’s just some light exercise, getting the blood flowing and expending any extra energy can help quiet the body when it’s time for sleep. Bonus: “When we’re active and sweating the body is not only detoxifying but releasing endorphins (happy hormones) that also have anti-inflammatory effects”, Dr. Driedger points out.
When it comes to food, Dr. Driedger says the secret is in the ingredients. “Every meal should be a combination of fat, fibre, and protein, which cover the bases to keep our blood sugar stable. Stabilized blood sugar prevents anxiety—especially helpful for anyone fearful of flying.” She adds that avoiding caffeine and sugars is also important, as they can cause nervous jitters, insomnia and palpitations. Fibre is also helpful in preventing and alleviating constipation, which can often occur as a result of air travel.
The wonders of modern travel enable us to explore some epic places. And the wonders of modern (Eastern and Western) medicine can help ease the side effects that come with time zone hopping. Whether it’s an annual shred holiday or checking new adventures off the bucket list, don’t get left behind when you could be getting first tracks or nod off when you should be après-ing. Happy trails to you and here’s to avoiding the jet lag blues. -ML