Simple Strategies to Help With Jet Lag. - Rancho La Puerta
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Simple Strategies to Help With Jet Lag.

I just got home last night from my incredible, awe-inspiring week at Rancho La Puerta. It was my first visit. (I took my mom as a present for her 70th birthday!) I now truly understand why the majority of people there had been back over and over again throughout the years. I also developed a newfound love of hiking (coming from a die-hard city-street marathon runner).

Now that I’m back home, I’m feeling the effects of jet lag stronger than ever. Jet lag tends to be worse for travel from west to east, and my trip from Tecate, Mexico to NYC is no exception. Jet lag symptoms also tend to intensify as we age.

Jet lag is the disruption of the body’s natural sleep-wake clock (circadian rhythm). Symptoms include GI distress, insomnia and sleepiness issues, trouble with attention/concentration, and just feeling blah. Expect it to take about one day per time zone crossed to adjust to the shift (so in my case, I’ll hopefully be feeling back to my NYC time in 3 days given the 3-hour difference).

Our bodies weren’t designed for traveling around the globe in record-fast time. Instead, we are meant to slowly adjust to changes in schedules, not abruptly as happens with air travel. Crossing more than three time zones increases the chances that you’ll develop symptoms of jet lag.

While I do work with people on more complicated jet-lag protocols for those who may be traveling extremely far or have many stops in varying time zones across the globe, the vast majority of people will benefit from these suggestions.

  1. Adjust to your new schedule before you leave. Think ahead and adjust your sleep timing gradually to help soften the impact. If you can, shift your bed/wake time 30 minutes every day or two, depending on the direction you’re flying. That way, by the time you leave, it isn’t as large of a discrepancy between what you used to do and what the new time zone has. For example; If you are traveling east, shift your bed/wake times earlier, 30 minutes every night. If you travel west, do the opposite.
  2. Use light strategically. Use light thoughtfully. If you travel east, wear sunglasses in the earlier morning hours and then switch to embracing the light in the later morning and afternoon. Dim lights again just before bedtime. After a few days, you can get morning bright light once you’re adjusted. If you travel west, use light in the evening to help keep you awake to the new time zone.
  3. Change to your new schedule while on the flight. Change your watch on the plane and start eating, drinking, sleeping on the flight according to the new schedule.
  4. Hydrate and limit alcohol and caffeine on the plane. Dehydration from alcohol and caffeine can worsen jet lag and intensify sleep issues, insomnia, and excessive fatigue.
  5. Make your sleep space as comfy as possible. I’m *that person* on the plane who brings a cozy small fleece blanket from home as well as a good quality eye mask, silicone earplugs, and a neck pillow. Make it as easy as possible to sleep on the plane if you need.
  6. Use naps strategically. Naps are good pick-me-ups but limit them to 20-30 minutes and no closer than 8 hours before bed.

Dr. Shelby Harris is a Clinical Psychologist and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Specialist. You can also download The Ranch’s Art of Sleeping Well guide.