Travel is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It boosts your creativity, expands your perspective, and earns you some epic street cred.
But as any seasoned traveller will tell you, being in transit can also knock you around. Jet lag, dehydration, and the candy you justify on the last leg of your trip can all add up to some pretty nasty side effects.
In this post we’re going to dig into how to beat jet lag and arrive feeling your best.
A few things you might not know about flying:
- Airplane cabins have humidity levels of less than 20%. That’s why you get dehydrated and dried out so much faster than you do on the ground.
- Each time zone you cross when flying adds about a day to your jet lag. Ugh!
- Any gas trapped in the body will expand with a drop in the pressure surrounding the body (this is due to Boyle’s Law… but we’re not here for a physics lesson). That’s why your ears pop and you get a stomach ache occasionally.
Add in the cramped seats that snarl up your neck and shoulders, the inevitable caffeine crash after your pre-flight coffees, and hours of sitting on your butt… you arrive at your destination feeling exhausted, sore and cranky.
Unfortunately, that feeling can last for a few days. That’s the last thing you want when you’ve just landed somewhere new, so here are some tips about how to beat jet lag and help reduce the other negative effects of travelling.
How To Beat JET LAG
Being wide awake at 3 AM and falling asleep on the dinner table at 8 PM is not what you came for.
As you’re probably aware, your body runs on circadian rhythms. These are roughly 24-hour cycles that are controlled endogenously – by self-sustaining cellular activity inside your body. They move your body through all the processes needed to keep it functioning normally.
While circadian rhythms are endogenous, they’re also affected by external factors like sunlight and temperature and can be ‘entrained’, or reset, accordingly.
First things first: Whenever you’re going to cross multiple time zones, start adjusting early to beat jet lag.
Figure out when you will be getting up and going to bed in the new time zone, and start shifting your schedule accordingly. If you’re able to set a routine before you arrive, you’ll have less trouble settling in.
Next, get yourself some melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the body as the sun starts setting, signalling the upcoming sleep phase of your circadian rhythm. On the first few nights in your new destination, you can help your body beat jet lag by taking some melatonin in the evening before you get ready for bed. Along with light exposure, this will help signal to your body that the time to sleep has changed.
On your first few mornings in a new place, get out into the sunshine first thing. Light on the skin suppresses melatonin production, which peaks during the night to keep you asleep. If you get into the sun soon after you wake up, it also advances your circadian rhythm to catch up to the new environment.
This will help entrain your body much faster than if you let yourself sleep in for a few hours and stay up late, waiting for the jet lag to wear off on its own.
PRO TIP – How to beat jet lag:
Jet lag is significantly reduced when you fly west. If you’re booking long haul flights, work out which direction your stopover city is from your originating city, and always try to go west. Circadian rhythms have a much easier time going forward than back.
How to beat SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Travellers seem to fall into 2 categories: people who can sleep on planes, and people who can’t.
If you’re the pass-out-anywhere type, feel free to skip to the next section. You might get a few useful pointers, but this one’s for the wide-eyed flyers among us.
Losing a whole night of sleep in transit ruins you for the next few days. It makes your jet lag worse, you don’t engage as much with your new environment, and you make poorer decisions (especially around food) that make it hard to get back to your normal self.
Must-have items for sleeping on board:
Reducing your sleep deprivation on a plane is all about getting comfortable.
If you’re flying economy, it can be worthwhile springing for extra legroom, especially if you’re tall. Being able to stretch out a bit can be the difference between a horrible, stressful flight, and a reasonably pleasant one.
If extra leg room isn’t an option, then make sure all those must-have items are within easy reach as soon as you’re on board.
First, make sure you’ve got some quiet music or a meditation app like Calm.com downloaded on your phone.
Set your watch and phone to the time zone you’ll be arriving in.
(Hard-earned lesson: Don’t do this before you board. That’s how you miss flights.)
Set yourself a reminder to go to sleep if you’re flying at night in that time zone, so that you keep developing the routine you started a few days ago.
Before you try to sleep:
Don’t drink coffee or tea. Alcohol is not going to help you sleep – it disrupts sleep patterns even in normal environments. Avoid having a big or heavy meal (just eat part of what’s served if it’s really dense).
When you’re ready to sleep, have a bit of water, queue up the music, put on your warm gear, lay your seat back and put your pillow behind your neck or lower back (whichever has more pressure).
Try to relax and focus on your breathing. Let your thoughts pass you by, and don’t focus on the fact that you’re not asleep yet. Just aim to go into a deep state of relaxation, and sleep will gradually follow.
Don’t be frustrated if you wake up after an hour or 2. Think of it as a good opportunity to get up and stretch, have a bit more water, then repeat the process. If you do this 3 or 4 times, you’ll get a decent amount of sleep and feel much better when you arrive.
For more tips on how to sleep on a plane, check out Minaal’s ultimate guide.
FOOD AND MOVEMENT
We’ve all done it. Sat in an airport starving, wondering if there’s anything even remotely healthy to eat.
The best you might get are nuts or a suspect piece of fruit. In many cases, it’s pastries and candy or bust. So you throw up your hands and think…
“Screw it. It’s a travel day. I’ll just get back to healthy eating when I get there.”
You grab a chocolate croissant and a bag of candy and head back to your seat.
On the plane, things are often not much better. Heavy noodle and rice dishes, lots of bread and desserts options, and a notable lack of protein or vegetables.
By the time you arrive at your destination, you’re bloated, tired, and a bit emotional. The comedown from your carb party is hitting you hard, and all you want to do is pass out. See jet lag section above on why you must not do that.
So how do you get around this and stay on track with reasonably healthy food choices?
Snacks, my friend. Glorious snacks.
Even a tiny amount of forward thinking can work wonders here. Grab a few protein bars, some nuts, jerky, a couple of apples and/or a veggie box. Drink plenty of water and have a snack every couple of hours, and it will tide you over.
You’ll probably be hungry when you arrive, but that will make sure you get out into the sun and the city instead of crashing on the bed. That’s a twofer.
keeping your body pain-free during travel can be a challenge.
Carrying huge, unwieldy packs, or twisty unpredictable suitcases is hell on your back, neck, shoulders, hips and ankles. That’s where your Minaal gear comes in (Pro packing tips on how to achieve the perfect fit and a balanced load over here).😉
Resist the temptation to pack more than you can reasonably carry. Having a really heavy bag, even one that’s designed for a comfy ride from the highest quality components, will kill your shoulders and neck over the course of your trip if it’s too much for you to handle.
Once you’ve got your luggage sorted out, there are a few more things to hit:
- Get up and move! Long haul flights leave you stiff and sore if you don’t get up and walk around every hour or so. Yes, be that guy and constantly ask your row mates to let you out (or just book aisle seats).
- Stretch. Each time you get up, stretch your arms, shoulders, hips and legs.
- Do basic bodyweight exercises. Squats, wall presses, and abdominal twists can all help keep the blood moving and fend off some off the stiffness.
- During stopovers, run through a short yoga flow. This will help relax you, open reduce tension all through your body, and impress your fellow travellers.
- Always keep in mind that facial expressions are the key to great form.😝
Moving your body when you’re travelling is Essential to feeling fresh when you arrive, especially when you’re used to being active.
It’s also critical if you fly a lot, to reduce the risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. Clots like this can prevent your heart, brain, and lungs from functioning properly. And no – those are not just things that happen to old people, so at the very least you need to be up and walking around regularly.
If you really can’t get out of your seat, then make sure you’re moving in place. Roll your ankles, wrists and shoulders around. Flex your legs and glutes, point your toes and then flex them back. Stretch your arms, twist to your left and right, stretch your neck. Do this regularly and take every opportunity to move.
Do you have any go-to tips to keep yourself feeling fresh and healthy while you’re travelling? Share them in the comments, and keep moving.