I just returned from a week of vacation across the pond, and I feel like a time traveler displaced. My up is down, my east is west, and my body currently thinks it’s living six hours ahead in Europe. My predicament, known more commonly as jet lag, makes settling back into work rhythms harder than usual as my body wants to stay up later or take a nap in the middle of the day. Our bodies have a central circadian clock that regulate our energy, mood, and ability to stay alert, and when we travel long distances, we confuse and upend our clock’s routines.
If you’re a frequent business traveler or employee returning back from a vacation across many time zones, coping with jet lag is an inevitable side effect of the joys of travel. Here’s how to ease your transition and alleviate the time-bending effects of jet lag when you return back to the office.
1) Go outside if you need to stay up
The sun is nature’s body regulator. When we’re outside in daylight, our bodies naturally sync up their internal clocks to our environments. Exposure to bright lights can shift your 24-hour biological schedule that would otherwise make you think it’s bedtime. When you’re exposed to light in the morning, you wake up earlier. So, when you go east, you need early morning light to make you wake up earlier for the earlier time zone, and when you go west you want to be exposed to bright lights later to make you stay up later for the later time zone.
It’s a trick that’s been proven to work. Scientists found that they could minimize the effects of jet lag by having participants wake up earlier and shift participants’ circadian rhythms into their destination’s time zone before they even left for their flight.
So if you’re in a time zone where you need to be awake or you’re currently working jet lagged, take a break to walk outside.
2) Exercise early in the day
Before you head off to work for your meetings, try exercising. It stimulates blood flow and sends more oxygenated blood pumping through your body, making your brain and the rest of you sharp and alert. Just remember not to exercise three hours before bedtime. That could prevent you from falling asleep.
3) Avoid any chemicals that interfere with sleep
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before your intended bedtime. These stimulants are only going throw off your circadian rhythm even more than it already is.
It may be tempting to take a nip of alcohol to help you relax and speed up your sleepiness, but as Harvard University points out, alcohol is ultimately a stimulant which will increase the number of times you wake up at night and will decrease the quality of sleep you’ll get.
4) Drink water
Water is the secret weapon flight attendants use to keep their energy levels up across time zones. “You may be tempted to reach for the coffee, but for me, water is much more effective and keeping away the tiredness that can come with jet lag,” Nadia Clinton, Delta Air Line’s Country Manager told Business Insider.
5) Give yourself time
The biggest lesson in overcoming major jet lag is realizing that there’s no quick Band-Aid solution for recovery. The Sleep Health Foundation says that adjusting to your new time zone takes at least 2 or 3 days. So as you’re groggy and tired in the meantime, recognize that these symptoms are unpleasant, but they will inevitably pass. Go easy on yourself. Don’t expect a miraculous recovery your first day back in the office.