OMG, you’re finally going on vacation.
You’ve been waiting months for this trip, and you can’t wait to touch down in your destination and enjoy exploring your new city. But after hours of travel, jetlag has another plan for you. Oh, that short cat nap you thought might be a good idea right before heading out to dinner? Not such a brilliant move when you wake up the next morning after completely sleeping through (and wasting!) half a day in your new city!
When jet lag happens, it can hit you hard. Symptoms can range from minor fatigue and insomnia to headaches, indigestion and digestive issues, irritability, full-body malaise, and excessive daytime sleepiness. And it can take as much as a week to get over the feeling of exhaustion—not ideal when you’re only traveling to your destination for a few days!
Some people will simply take a sleeping pill to force themselves to fall asleep once they land, in an attempt to control the body’s circadian rhythms and get back on track faster. Unfortunately, this can actually compound jet lag symptoms and make them even worse. You see, when you feel jet lag, it’s because your body’s internal clock is off. The body’s circadian rhythms rely on things like sunlight and your eating schedule to know when to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps your body fall asleep.
By taking a pharmaceutical, you’re just putting a band-aid on the problem by forcing yourself to go to bed—you haven’t actually adapted to your new venue. Plus, if you’re a health-conscious person and pretty discerning about what you put into your body, it might be your preference to avoid pharmaceuticals.
So what’s a weary traveler to do? Here are 3 ways to cure jet lag naturally.
Technically you can prevent jet lag months before you step foot on the plane! Reserve a flight that lands in your destination just before dinner time, so you have ample opportunities to eat dinner in your new time zone. As mentioned, your circadian rhythms rely on light sensitivity and caloric intake to regulate your body’s sleep schedule, so grabbing dinner (even if it’s not technically “dinner time” for you) is really important. Think of it this way—your bod knows that about four hours after you eat a big supper, you usually hit the hay. Use that muscle memory to your advantage!
Bonus tip: Eating a carb-dense meal will help you fall asleep faster than a plate that’s heavy on protein, so load up on the pasta!
Exposing your body to the right amount of light is necessary for getting your sleep schedule back on track. You’ve heard it a million times, but ditch the blue screens (phones, TVs, computers) at least an hour before bed. Exposure to blue light has been proven to be one of the most detrimental factors in disrupting human sleep patterns.
And although it will be hard at first, once you’ve landed in your new time zone you should try to wake up with the sunrise. Sleep with the shades open so your body immediately perceives the time of day based on the sunlight, or lack thereof. Extra credit if you wake up with the sun and go for a walk outside!
Finally, there are a few natural supplements all travelers should keep in their carry-on bags. For bloating and digestive issues, magnesium is your number one BFF. Nearly 80 percent of the population is deficient in the mineral, which is responsible for nearly 300 enzymatic processes in the body. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant, so it can gently get things moving for those with traveler’s constipation and help you relax once you do climb in bed. Many people notice taking magnesium regularly helps them fall asleep.
Melatonin is another carry-on must-have. Your body naturally produces melatonin around sleeping hours—it’s the hormone that signals to your brain that you’re sleepy. Taking melatonin can help you fall asleep, but it won’t help you stay asleep. In severe cases of jet lag, you might find that you wake up and need to take another serving of melatonin around 3 or 4 a.m.
Finally, don’t shy away from natural forms of caffeine if you’re feeling sleepy in the middle of the day. Jet lag is no excuse to chug coffee all day long—trust us, that’ll mess with your adrenals and make you feel even worse!—but a cup of joe or a matcha latte for an afternoon pick-me-up is totally fine.