Compared to the average person, I travel a ton. Growing up overseas, I flew to the states every other summer. Now, in my current line of work, I fly to the office in Detroit from San Diego regularly throughout the year. Needless to say, I have logged many, many miles in the air. While my destinations change frequently, one thing has remained the same since I travelled as a young boy. The day after I travel, I am exhausted. This exhaustion is what most people would commonly refer to as jet lag.
So what exactly is jet lag?
Your body has an internal clock in some sense. You may notice there are certain times during the day when it tends to be hungry, or get tired, or is more awake. When you travel to different time zones, that gets thrown into a kerfuffle. When you stay in a location long enough, your body readjusts to the amount of light present at specific times, which affect your mood, your blood pressure, and your hunger in some cases.
How do I beat jet lag?
There are a few tricks I have found to be fairly useful. Of course, not everything is fool proof, but these tricks can help make the adjustment easier.
I travel from the western time zone to the eastern time zone a number of times throughout the year. That is only a three-hour difference, but that three-hour difference is a huge deal to my body. When I fly into Detroit, I try to go to bed around 10-11 pm, but my body feels like it is only 7-8 pm, so getting to sleep is difficult. On the flip side, when my alarm goes off at 7 am, my body feels like it is 4 am and thinks it is still time for sleep.
I have found that adjusting my schedule before I leave makes things a little bit easier. So, three or four days before my flight, I will start getting to bed an hour or so earlier every night. I also eat earlier and wake up earlier. With this staged progression toward the eastern time zone, by the time I get there, my body has adjusted enough where it is not a total pain getting to bed or waking up.
Now, international travel is a different story. Travelling to South Korea from San Diego was a 16-hour time difference. We arrived during the middle of the day and headed to the hotel, once we checked in we wanted to just fall asleep right on the bed but knew if we went to bed at 2pm, we would be wide awake by midnight and just hanging around trying to fall asleep. The best thing to do in that case was to clean up, go outside, get some sun, and wander around. We managed to get something to eat, and stayed awake and active until it got darker. Then, we went to sleep around 8 or 9pm. While we still woke up around 4 am, that was much better waking up at midnight.
Many issues people will have with jet lag comes directly from light exposure, so the more sunlight that you get and activity that you are doing, the easier it will be to adjust to the time you are in.