Coast-to-coast travel can be difficult for the most stalwart road warrior. Throw in jet lag with time zone hopping and you’re one step away from a toddler sized meltdown. Jet lag can have a profound effect on your alertness and sleep. I’ve spent quite a bit of time flying from the east coast to the west coast and back. After each trip, I was miserable due to insomnia and my sleep schedule being out of whack. Then I decided it was time to work with my jet lag and figure out how to better manage it. I reached out to a few travel experts and have compiled them with the things I’ve learned to help you on your next coast-to-coast trip.
What is Jet Lag?
Jet lag, also called jet lag disorder, is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones. It can cause fatigue, make you feel unwell, cause gastrointestinal distress, and affect your alertness.
British Airways has a great jet lag calculator. They let you know what times you should avoid and seek daylight (it’s all about the circadian rhythm), as well as tips on meals and exercise.
Beat Jet Lag
Everyone I spoke with is in agreement when it comes to timing their travel. Leave the east coast around 8 a.m. on the day you fly out. You will land on the west coast between noon and 1 p.m. if your flight is nonstop, giving you plenty of time to check into your hotel, relax, and freshen up before evening activities.
Are you flying from the east coast to the west coast and have to be in meetings as soon as you land? If so, plan to arrive the evening before. Is your first meeting on the west coast during the evening? Fly during the morning and land on the West Coast around lunch time. This gives you time to eat, catch up on work, and take a nap before heading out. Since I don’t have three days to adjust to a new time schedule, I try and get as much sunlight upon arriving to help keep my circadian rhythm in check.
“If you know you are prone to jet lag, try to cushion your trip with a rest day. If that isn’t possible, pick up a relaxation CD and take 20 minutes in your hotel room to relax and re-center,” says Lee Reyes-Fournier, Ph.D.
My good friend, Maricris Guadagna, travels frequently to visit family and for work to the West Coast. Her theory is if you don’t want your sleep to be completely disrupted when you arrive home, try and land around 7 p.m. east coast time. Another friend is a firm believer in taking the red eye along with a dose of melatonin to aid sleep.
Tips to help prevent jet lag:
- Stay hydrated. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Avoid alcohol and caffeine when flying as those will also leave you dehydrated and feeling sluggish. I take a liter sized water bottle and fill it up in the airport before I board — it saves money and there is one less plastic bottle in the landfill. Proper hydration might also help prevent the dreaded cabin cold.
- Walk and stretch. There’s only so much you can do on a plane, but it’s important to stand up and move, even if it is only a short walk to the lavatory and back. This keeps blood from pooling in your extremities (a common issue when in a pressurized cabin) and may help prevent blood clots.
- Wear comfortable clothing. My favorite outfit for flying in a knee length cable-knit dress and leggings that I’ve paired with easy on and off ballet flats. This assures me I arrive wrinkle-free and no one knows I have just spent the last five hours with someone drooling on my shoulder.
- Comfort Keepers. Noise canceling headphones are a great option for long haul flying. If you don’t have them, pick up a pair of ear plugs from the drug store. I carry an eye mask and slip it on to block out the light and let people know I am resting. When you’re in coach for five hours, nothing says pampering like shutting the world out and taking a nap.
- Avoid eating heavy foods before you travel. I have fresh fruit, a piece of toast and a poached egg before flying. That’s it. Heavy, greasy foods can leave you feeling bloated and miserable, which do no help when you are adjusting to a new time zone.
- Reset your internal clock. Go to bed a little later and wake up later than normal. If you normally go to bed at 10 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m., try adjusting your sleep schedule in 15-minute increments. Go to bed at 10:15, and set the alarm for 6:15. Little adjustments like this help to ensure you’re not awake at 3:00 a.m. and wondering when room service will start delivering coffee. When I arrive home on the East Coast around 7:00 p.m., I’m stat up until 10 p.m., go to bed and wake up at my normal hour.
More Jet Lag Tips & Tricks
I asked a few friends who log this route quite a bit and asked them for their advice.
Julie Cohn of A Cork, Fork, & Passport is a well-known travel writer and journalist who brings homemade granola mix with dried cherries with peanuts, chocolate chips, almonds, dried bananas, and dried cranberries. Cherries have a naturally occurring chemical which can help you fall asleep. For those times when she can’t sleep, Julie loads up her e-reader with books and movies to while away the hours.
Kelby Carr, CEO of Type-A Parent logs many air miles each year and has her routine down to a science. “I pack a lunchbox with cheese, crackers, nuts, and fruit (no liquid) because sometimes food is limited and you don’t have time on a layover to get lunch. I also have a couple movies (with iTunes be sure to download them at home.) I load up my e-reader with a book or two, and also pack a book for takeoff and landing.”
Kelly Whalen of The Centsible Life offers this advice for saving money and sanity: “Pack a snack! Airport food is usually terrible and overpriced, and those ‘snacks’ on a cross country flight aren’t filling at all. I like GoPicnic boxes since they are allergy-free and mostly organic.”
She also highly recommends that fellow travelers download a few movies before they leave home and pack noise canceling headphones. Kelly likes to remind people that if “you’re nervous to fly or think you’ll get bored it will literally be take-off, one movie, snack time, and bathroom/stretching legs break, 2nd movie, landing. It makes a long trip a breeze.”
Social media marketer Rachel Ferrucci preps by charging her computer and getting down to business. “I organize my files, photos, etc. Anything that doesn’t require wifi. I also sometimes go old school and bring a pad and pen and write.”
Do you have tips for managing jet lag? Please share in the comments below.