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Written by Jenny McWhirter on 09 / 02 / 2016

Gap Year Advice

As many of you know I have had the pleasure of spending the past week in the US...

I've been attending the gap year fairs and talking to lots of you about your exciting gap year plans.

However, as I landed on Friday, and had my first fair on Saturday, I was rather blurry-eyed from jet lag. So it was a good chance to test out some of the many different techniques out there for beating jet lag.

I've compiled my list of 10 easy steps to reduce the symptoms of jet lag and get you on your way enjoying the sights and cities of your gap year destination.

For those of you not so familiar with jet lag, it is not just feeling a little sleepy. Instead it is a disrupted sleeping and eating pattern that occurs as a result of travelling across time zones faster than our bodies can adjust.

Those warning signs to look for? Red eyes, irritability and worst of all, waking in the dead of night with more energy than you ever thought was possible...

Before You Go

#1 Start to Adjust Your Sleep Routine

To smooth the transition between two time zones it’s a good idea to give your body a head start. The more gradual the transition the easier it will be to settle in during those first few days.

You can do this quite simply by adjusting your bed time a few days before flying. I know you probably associate bed times with young children but the stricter you are with this the easier it will be.

If you are travelling East then the rule is you should be moving your bed time slightly earlier over a few days. If you normally sleep around 11 then aim to move this gradually to 9.30 over three or four days before your flight.

If you are travelling West then the rule is you should be staying up later. These help your body to start getting into a rhythm that is closer to that of your destination.

Jet Lag Rooster takes the hassle away. You just put in your flight details how far in advance you want to start preparing and they provide you with a plan to follow. It couldn’t be easier.

#2 Pick Your Flight Carefully to Land in the Evening

When it comes to booking your flights you can do your body a favour by choosing an arrival time that makes it easier to settle in.

This means aiming to get a flight that arrives in the early evening or late afternoon. The reason these flights are better for fighting that jet lag is that they allow you to rest fairly soon after landing.

Trust me there is nothing worse than a 26 hour flight, with little sleep because of that baby insisting on crying all flight long, and then you land at 6am and have to survive a whole day before it is acceptable to curl up in bed and fall asleep.

During Your Flight

#3 Pick Your Seat to Maximize Your Sleep

Obviously we all dream of being Jennifer Aniston in the new Emirates advert or at the least splashing out on business class to have that comfort and reclining chair. However, unless you have a spare £2000 - £4000 to spend then you’ll be putting up with the joys of economy.

However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. If you plan strategically and pick the right seat you can be in with a chance of a better sleep.

An exit row seat is always a good choice as there is plenty of extra leg room. Also try when possible to get a window seat. You’ll be able to position your pillow up against the window and you won’t be disturbed by others in your row needing to get out.

Most importantly avoid the back of the plane. It not only is where the toilets are and the air hostesses tend to organise from here. But you’ll also have a bumpier ride as the back of the plane tends to move more.

#4 Keep Hydrated

This might sound something like an obvious point but it can be overlooked easily. What you want to avoid is dehydration mixed with tiredness and jetlag. A recipe for disaster.

The pressurized cabin acts to wreak havoc with your body, not only will it probably make your lips really dry, but it will also dehydrate you faster than you might think.

This is why it’s a good idea to steer clear of the caffeine and alcohol as they dehydrate and are a safe way to ensure you’ll come off that plane with a banging headache. They also act to hinder your natural sleep. Instead drink plenty of water during and after your flight.

#5 Fully Adjust to the Local Time in Your Destination

Hopefully you followed the advice in step one and so have started to adjust your bed time. Now it is time to completely switch.

Once you get on the plane be sure to change your watch and start working on the time of your destination. This means that if it’s daylight in your destination try to stay up and use your journey to relax, reset and get some quality movies in.

If the time in your destination is evening or night then be sure to curl up, settle in and try and get some quality shut eye.

Did you know..? Despite being over 8000 miles away from London, South Africa has a time difference of only two hours ahead, due to its position on a similar longitude to the UK. Which makes it the perfect place to minimise your jet lag :)

Why not go explore South Africa on our incredible 10-week gap year program - 10 Weeks in South Africa: Safari + Conservation + Mozambique Coast?

Take Me There!

#6 Prepare to Give Yourself the Best Possible Chance to Sleep

So you’ve picked a well located seat, you have leg room, a window and you’ve avoided any areas where people tend to congregate.

However, there are still a few more things to you can do to ensure you get as much quality rest as possible.

Just as if you were at home, turn off electronics to give yourself the best chance of settling down. Then it’s best to use an eye mask and ear plugs, especially if you’re easily disturbed.

A plane environment is neither the quietest nor the darkest so having a good way to block out noise and light is guaranteed to help you sleep better.

Get comfy and let yourself relax, before you know it you’ll be landing down in your new destination.

On Arrival

#7 Stay Awake Until an Early Local Bedtime

The temptation to nap is high. Resist it. The one sure way to really upset your body clock and extend symptoms of jet lag is to start napping in your destination. As tired as you are when you land if you nap you’ll find yourself struggling in the evening.

Throw yourself in and soldier on through to the end of the day. The reward will be a long deep sleep for a good 12 hours.

Whilst it is important to stay up and active, don’t overfill your day. You will be exhausted and unable to enjoy sightseeing the main sights of a city whilst you wander in a daze.

I often try to keep busy but relaxed. I’ll take time out to explore my new surroundings. Finding a market or a park are great ways to occupy yourself and get a feel for the area.

Then around eight in the evening you can head to bed for a great twelve hours sleep. This way you should be tired enough to sleep right through the night and avoid that 3am energy burst.

#8 Reset ALL Clocks

It’s tempting to keep reminding yourself the time at home and surprise yourself that whilst you wander the streets at two, its dinner time back home. Stop. The more you remind your body of the routine it was used to, the harder it finds it to settle into your new routine.

The best way to avoid this is to change all your clocks and work solely on your destination time. Hopefully you started this on the plane so it’s just a question of not checking back.

This blocking of home time will also hopefully help overcome your homesickness, as I mentioned last week, if you keep reminding yourself of home it’s harder to enjoy the city you’re in. The same is true for your body.

For healthy mind and body, live in on the time zone and in the place where you are.

#9 Seek Lots of Daylight and Take Exercise

Whilst again this may seem obvious it is easy to overlook. Fresh air, sunlight and exercise works wonders for your body to recuperate itself after a long flight.

Once you land head outside and try to take a brisk walk in the sunshine. This will help keep you occupied until bed time but also will help your body to adjust to the time of day. Natural light is the best way for your body to understand what time it is.

Furthermore, the exercise will ensure that your body is fully tired by bedtime and help to stretch out any aches and pains from the flight. Being cooped up for eight, ten, twelve hours is not ideal and can lead to discomfort so stretching out and moving helps to alleviate this.

#10 Keep Your Bedtime Routine From Home

Whilst you’re in a new city, new country and your body is adjusting to a new time zone, it is important to keep some continuity.

Using your same bed time routine at home can be this continuity and help with improving your sleep, especially over the first few days.

If there are particular things you do before bed, do these when you’re abroad. For example I always drink a mint tea and watch a half hour TV program. Why change that just because I am away? I don’t.

Once I landed in Chicago, I went for my evening stroll and then curled up with a mint tea and watched an episode of Outnumbered.

Needless to say that was the cue my body needed to tell it is was time to start winding down and get ready to sleep.

Bottom Line? There's No Easy Cure for Jet Lag

...but you can reduce the symptoms if you follow the steps above. There's little more you can do to ensure a smooth transition into your new destination.

Whilst I've tried many of these and didn’t suffer too badly, they say that travelling east is worse... so I guess the true test will occur on Wednesday!

I’ll leave you with my final piece of advice. Once you’ve done all these steps and you’re in your new destination, try and relax - don’t panic if you can’t sleep. If you wake up at 3am and can’t sleep try not to get worked up but enjoy it, if you're with others they’re probably up too so chat to them and have a laugh, you’ll settle in soon enough.

Do you suffer badly from jet lag? What do you do to ensure you settle in quickly? I’d love to hear your advice and so would other travellers. Drop your ideas in the comments below.

Want to be able to put these tips into practice, but not sure where to start with your trip? Then download our comprehensive gap year advice guide: The Gap Adventure Blueprint, which contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.

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