Jet lag is a serious problem not only for business travelers, but also those who want to squeeze the most out of well-deserved vacations. But much like hangovers, everyone seems to have their own magical cure for resetting the circadian rhythms that regulate our biological clocks (that's the science behind jet lag). There isn't a special formula that eliminates jet lag, but by taking these simple steps you can help get your body get back on track as you traverse time zones.
Step One: Establish a Nightly Routine
Establishing a normal, nightly routine that can be repeated when traveling is essential. This doesn't need to be complicated; simply remembering to always brush your teeth or remove makeup before you go to bed will work, so long as you do it each and every night without fail.
Dr. Murray Grossan, a Los Angeles-based physician, believes these types of pre-sleep rituals are key to getting a good night's sleep on the road. He recommends sticking to these strict patterns so that when you're traveling it's easy to trigger your "sleep clock" right before bedtime.
If you consistently take a shower, talk about your day with your partner, or read a book before bed, you'll want to incorporate these into your routine while on the road.
Step Two: Stay Hydrated
"I encourage my clients to keep hydrated with at least two quarts (64 fluid ounces) of filtered water daily, and especially when on a plane," says Trudy Scott, a certified nutritionist and author of The Antianxiety Food Solution.
Scott recommends trying to snag an aisle seat on long haul flights so travelers can get up every two hours to drink water and, alternatively, use the bathroom. If you're someone who has trouble sleeping or stirs easy, however, the window seat and a bottle of water might be more ideal.
Scott pointed out that staying hydrated also means limiting your caffeine and alcohol consumption. When you're in the air, skip the soda or coffee from the beverage cart, and instead ask for good old water (especially if you want to snooze during the flight). And if you're feeling the effects of jet lag when you land, try rehydrating before you make a pit stop at a coffee shop — or you might just kick off a vicious caffeine consumption cycle.
Step Three: Eat What You Would Normally Eat
When traveling, it's all too easy to throw our normal eating habits out the window. Life on the road forces us to eat many meals at restaurants, and while on vacation we often treat ourselves to larger portions, fattier or higher carb foods, and even additional courses.
"There is a definite link between foods, anxiety, and stress, and ultimately how much sleep you get," says Scott, who recommends skipping caffeine and gluten whenever possible and snacking on fresh fruit, boiled eggs, jerky, and raw nuts to stay alert.
Alternatively, if you're looking for foods that make you want to snooze, Dr. Robert Oexman from the Sleep to Live Institute recommends eating a piece of toast, sunflower seeds or cherries approximately 30 minutes before bed. Due to their high melatonin content, these foods are natural sleep aids, improving sleep quality and duration. Consider packing a trail mix that includes both nuts and dried cherries and you should have no trouble falling asleep.
And when you wake up in the morning, don't skip breakfast. (Seriously, how many times do you need to hear this before you actually do it?) Booking hotels like Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott that offer free breakfast — especially a hot, healthy breakfast you actually want to eat, like Fairfield's scrambled eggs and sausage — will keep your biological clock in check. Plus, the free coffee and tea will jump-start your day.
Step Four: Bring the Comforts of Home With You
Creating a sleeping environment similar to your own makes your body and mind feel more at ease.
"It's all about getting that sense of home," says Dr. Oexman. Two simple rituals he recommends are getting used to and bringing along a scent, such as lavender, or practicing sleeping with an eye mask at home and repeating that during hotel stays — a trick he uses to address insomnia in patients.
"One of the best things I can suggest if you are traveling and have issues with first night effect — the inability to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings — is to keep as much of it familiar as possible," chimes in Amy Korn-Reavis, a registered sleep technologist and program director of Neurodiagnostic Technology and Polysomnography (sleep studies) at Concorde Career Institute in Orlando, FL.
Step Five: Take Time to Wind Down
Let's be honest: traveling is hectic, and sometimes our schedules are so jam-packed we forget to factor in some down time.
Clearing the mind of worrying or stressful thoughts before bed keeps our minds from racing. And prepping for this starts long before we hit the road; make sure you haven't left any chores undone or bills unpaid before you set off on your trip, or else you won't be able to rid yourself of these thoughts when you're far, far away and can do little about them.
Being able to separate your work and sleep spaces also puts your mind at ease. At Fairfield, suites feature separate working, living and sleeping areas, allowing guests to physically and mentally create barriers between where they work, play and catch some shut-eye.
There's nothing worse than a frazzled, dreary-eyed business traveler or a someone on vacation who is unable to actually sit back and relax. Taking all these tips into account will help you feel and look rested while traveling, making you more productive and allowing you to have a much more enjoyable experience.
Libby Zay is a Baltimore-based traveler and writer.