TRAVEL SERIES: Beating (Super) Jet Lag
I wrote this article for a culture and travel blog not that long ago, but (to my knowledge) they passed on publishing it. Nevertheless, this kind of information should be very beneficial to seasoned travelers and I felt like this story was worth sharing. Whether you are already a globetrotter, a college student looking to study abroad, or taking a job that requires a lot of flying, there may come a time when you will be thankful that you read this.
Has anyone else experienced jet lag like this? Let me know in the comments below and feel free to offer suggestions!
I’ve always prided myself on being a strong-stomached, energetic traveler able to arrive in any new place and begin exploring shortly after I arrive. However, that pride flew out the window on a recent trip to Germany when I somehow allowed myself to end up with the worst case of jet lag I’d ever experienced in my life. Waves of extreme nausea came and went without warning, periods of exhaustion popped up at weird times of the day, and worse of all was a general feeling of sickness but not having a single clue what medicine to take or even what to do about it. Fortunately, my hosts were very gracious and understanding, allowing me to sleep from 9:00 at night until 1:00 the following afternoon, and not forcing me to go anywhere or eat anything until I felt better.
This trip was especially devastating (and embarrassing) since I love traveling; I’ve flown all over the world, crossed dozens of time zones and yet this simple trip across the Atlantic made me want to take a hearty dose of Nyquil, pass out, and wake up a week later. Nevertheless, after three solid days of wishing that I’d either throw up or just die, I miraculously returned to my normal self with a ton of energy. I still cannot pinpoint the underlying causes of these horrible jet lag symptoms – getting older? Being out of shape? Having a job that screwed up my sleep schedule? Something I ate? PMS? Aliens? – I just don’t know.
Most annoying was that the only articles I could find online about jet lag were on how to prevent it, but not what to do if you already have it. I am proof that even the most active traveler is capable of experiencing a horrible bout of sickness and exhaustion, so here are five steps to take if you ignored the prep-work involved in avoiding jet lag and now find yourself with your head in a bucket…
Rest. A lot. – Do not ignore this one. Generally, to figure out how many days it should take you feel fully rested again, take the number of time zones you just crossed and divide that in half. (For example, from New York to Frankfurt was crossing six time zones; I felt better in about three days.) It’s also far worse if you travel from West to East since you are essentially traveling into the future. Regardless, DO NOT push yourself to go out and do things – you won’t be tired forever. Get as much sleep as you can handle right now.
Stay hydrated – Water is your best friend, so drink up. You’re probably still dehydrated and all shriveled up from the plane ride so make sure you get your hydration levels (and, um, general plumbing) back to normal.
Don’t force yourself to eat – If your jet lag was as bad as mine you won’t want to even think about food never mind try and eat it. However, if you’re looking at a recovery time of around a week, this is not possible (or at the very least not advisable, because you WILL die.) If you find yourself craving food but aren’t sure you can handle it, try something light – like a raw vegetable or a piece of fruit. Once you’re able to successfully keep down plant-matter, move on very slowly to something a little heavier (bread, potatoes, rice, etc.) Add new foods very gradually. It’s important to not treat this like a bad hangover – don’t go stuffing your face with fried foods.
If you MUST go out, just relax – Your time is limited and you feel like you’re totally wasting your trip by not doing anything – that’s normal. What isn’t normal is making everyone else feel miserable because YOU feel miserable, so don’t push yourself to make up for lost time. However, when you are awake you need to get tired enough to sleep normally and so some physical activity is necessary. DO NOT do anything crazy like a full-blown sightseeing tour of a city or hike up a massive mountain. Instead, do something that will relax you and not stress you out. Beaches are great – the breeze from the ocean combined with the sound of the waves is a great way to just chill and breathe. If you’re not near a beach, try visiting a park, a forest, or a town square where you can sit and watch people – anything that allows you to be outside but feel calm at the same time.
This won’t last forever, so focus on getting better! – You aren’t going to feel on the verge of death for the whole trip, I promise. Armed with this knowledge it’s important to take it easy and not stretch your boundaries otherwise you’ll end up with more problems than when you started. Listen to your body and ask yourself how you feel: Do you feel tired? Sleep away! Hungry? Pig out! Nauseous? Lie flat on your back and imagine being surrounded by cute baby animals.
Eventually you can have fun climbing Mount Everest or stuffing your face with an Italian pizza. Just hang in there and you’ll be back to your butt-kicking globetrotting-self in no time!