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Minimizing jet lag and maximizing vacation

By Kiersten Ahlm

Kiersten Ahlm. Image provided.

Summer is just around the corner, and for many of us, that means travel. While travel is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of life, it can also be stressful. Flight delays, losing your luggage — and, depending on where you are traveling to, jet lag.

Jet lag occurs when our circadian rhythm, our natural sleep-wake cycle, gets thrown off. This cannot only make you tired; it can also throw off your digestion, cause brain fog and compromise your immune system, none of which makes for an enjoyable trip. While it’s hard to avoid it entirely, I have rounded up a few tips on how you can minimize it so that you can get your body back on track soon after you land at your destination.

1. Adjust your schedule ahead of time. Your body takes about one day per time zone you have crossed to adjust. The direction you are traveling in also plays a part. Since it is harder to make yourself go to bed earlier than normal, flying east can take longer. On the flip side, most people have an easier time staying up later, so flying west can be an easier transition. But you can help yourself out by adjusting your sleep schedule before your trip. Not sure how to do this? There’s an app for that. Jet Lag Rooster can help you calculate when the best bedtime is, according to what time zones you are flying to and from.

2. Move around as much as you can on the plane. I’m not saying you should do jumping jacks, but simple movements like turning your head side to side, rolling your feet and even deep, mindful breathing can help on long flights.

3. Stay hydrated. Lack of humidity on airplanes leads to dehydration, which can make you feel even worse when you land. Drinking lots of water is important, of course, but you can also eat hydrating foods like melon and cucumber, which hydrate your body on a cellular level that water cannot. I know it can be tempting to kickstart your vacation with drinks on the plane, but this can really make it hard to stay hydrated. A glass of wine is OK, but four? Not so much.

4. Try a supplement. I have a hard time sleeping on planes, so I usually take a melatonin about an hour before I want to go to sleep. Another natural supplement to try is Pycnogenol, a pine bark extract. Pycnogenol has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve circulation, which helps reduce jet lag symptoms. As always, consult with your doctor before introducing a new supplement.

5. Stay awake. Resist the urge to nap once you land. This will make it harder for your body to adjust quickly to the new time zone. Try to get some sunlight to help your circadian rhythm get on the right track. Then there’s always caffeine …

6. Wait a day or two before eating anything too exotic. If fried crickets are not a part of your regular diet, wait a day or two into your trip before giving them a go. Your digestive system will thank you.

Also keep in mind that the healthier you are, the more resilient your body will be. Try to prioritize healthy eating, exercise and good sleep hygiene before your trip. Bon voyage, everyone!

Kiersten Ahlm is an integrative nutrition coach who specializes in blood sugar balance. To find out more about her services, check out her website at


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