Travel sickness and jet lag are very real conditions that can affect anyone who travels quickly across time zones. Symptoms include fatigue, sleepiness, lack of concentration, nausea, vomiting, and general flu-like symptoms. Symptoms can last anywhere from one day to over a week.
Dr. Russell Rosenberg, CEO of NeuroTrials Research and the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine explains that jet lag and travel sickness are not just because you have been on a plane for a long time, but because “you’re trying to sync up with environmental time when your own internal core time can’t move that fast.”
With more and more people starting to get back on planes and travel again in the wake of the pandemic, now is a good time to learn how to reduce the effects of jet lag and travel sickness so you can enjoy what might be your first business trip in a long while.
Generally speaking, you will get over the effects of jetlag within three or four days, but how long it takes to recover and how acutely it affects you will depend on several factors. “Flying east is worse than flying west because it interrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythms,” says Lindsay McCormick, Founder & CEO of Bite. “Traveling west means you have to stay up late which is a lot easier than going to bed early for most people.
In fact, the recovery time for those traveling east to west usually takes 30% to 50% less time than west to east. If you are a self-proclaimed night owl, the chances are that you will quickly adapt to traveling out west, but reversing the trip will be more beneficial to early worms.
“Age will also play a role in how quickly you recover from jetlag and the possible sickness that comes with it,” added Shaun Price, Head of Customer Acquisition at MitoQ. Kids generally fare much better than their parents. “But the best way to adjust is by being healthy,” Price concluded.
So, how can you avoid jet lag and sickness when taking to the skies?
“Even pre-pandemic, and hopefully post, you should be treating your flight like you are walking into a contamination zone,” says Amanda E. Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer of HIDE. She’s right! The armrests, trays, bathrooms and any surface that people touch can hold onto disease-causing bacteria for up to a WEEK!
“The so-called stale air is actually very safe,” she added. The high-tech filters on the plane capture 99.9% of particles 20-30 times per hour, making the air much safer than any surface you will come in contact with.
To help keep yourself from coming in contact with any germs, wipe down every surface you plan on touching with a disinfectant wipe and continually apply hand sanitizer before touching your phone or face.
If you have any sort of heads-up before your trip, it is recommended that you brace your body for the change in sleep ahead of time. “Gradually move up your bedtimes and mealtimes if you can,” says Michael Jankie, Founder of The Natural Patch Co.. “Before every major trip across the country, I try to stay up a half-hour earlier each night to brace myself for the change. It helps my body adjust when I finally arrive at my destination.”
Experts also suggest bracing for the change in time zones by switching your time zone on your watch and tech before stepping on the plane. This will mentally prepare you for the change. “Switching your meal times before you leave will help your body adjust as well,” Jankie added. “If you normally eat dinner at 7 and are planning to go out west, try moving dinner back a little to prepare for the shift.”
Most people are drastically under hydrated. Chances are you are dehydrated at this very moment! Grab some water (not coffee!) and take a long sip. When people travel, the chances of becoming dehydrated increase. “People, myself included, tend to drink even less water on travel days because they are busy running around trying to catch their flights,” says Chris Vaughn, CEO of Emjay. “Then, when they finally board their plane, they don’t drink any water because they don’t want to be the person who is constantly getting up and down to go to the bathroom.”
Avoid the temptation to not drink water on travel days for either of those reasons. Hydration is one of the body’s best self-defense systems to fight sickness so ditching the water when you fly is only going to make you more susceptible to catching a cold and experiencing jet lag. Do yourself a favor by carrying an empty water bottle when you travel and use airport filling stations to fill it once you pass through security. Aim to drink at least 16 ounces of water before your flight and at least one cup of water when the in-flight service comes around. When you land, drink at least one more water bottle’s worth.
If you have a trip that is longer than just a day or two, adjust your schedule to the new time zone as soon as you land. “Resist the temptation to take a nap as soon as you land or to go to bed early,” says Michael Hennessy, Founder & CEO of Diathrive. “It’s much better to try and stay awake to the local bedtime and try to wake up at a normal time for that time zone.”
When you do wake up, try to get some natural light to help your body adjust to the change in the solar cycle. Try not to nap if you wouldn’t normally take one back home but if you feel like you have to, try to keep them short.
Engaging in a social activity right when you land instead of heading right to the hotel can also help you adjust. Exercising will help while you are at your destination if you normally do back home.
“Melatonin pills can help your body get ready for bed in the new time zone,” says Dr. Robert Applebaum, Owner of Applebaum MD. “Your body naturally makes melatonin when it is time for bed, but when you are switching your time zone your body can get confused and need some outside help. A melatonin supplement, no more than 5mg, can help you fall asleep at night if your body isn’t ready for bed at your destination.”
Melatonin is a supplement and not regulated by the FDA, so use caution and check with a doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions prior to use.
Believe it or not, traveling across time zones can impact your skin, says Rachel Roff, Founder & CEO of Urban Skin Rx. “Changes in the environment between your departure location and destination like humidity levels, sun, and water quality can all affect your skin and if it is a business trip, the last thing you want is a shiny new pimple before your big presentation. See a skin specialist before taking off and, at the very least, make sure you have travel-size containers for your face washes.
Mona Gohara, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale warns that relying on the hotel’s offerings won’t cut it. “Hotel face washes often contain harsh chemicals and fragrances that can cause breakouts or contact dermatitis.”
Staying on top of your skincare can save you from an embarrassing, trip-ruining blemish.