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What is Jet Lag and How Can You Avoid It? 

by AIFS Abroad
Woman asleep on plane in window seat

Jet lag — the notorious nemesis of every world traveler and study abroad participant. We’ve all been there: you step off the plane, excited to explore to your heart’s content, only to find yourself battling to stay awake.  

Here’s everything you need to know about jet lag, and how to avoid it if you’re about to embark on a study abroad or internship program overseas. 

What is Jet Lag? 

According to the CDC, “Jet lag is caused by a mismatch between a person’s normal daily rhythms and a new time zone.” Essentially, your body becomes a time-traveler, causing a misalignment between its internal clock and the time zone of your destination, making you feel like a zombie. It can affect your mood and ability to concentrate, as well as your physical and mental performance. Luckily, there are ways to minimize its effects! 

Who Experiences Jet Lag?  

Spoiler alert: basically anyone who travels across multiple time zones!

Jet lag doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re a frequent flyer or a first-time globetrotter, crossing time zones can throw your body into a temporary state of chaos. It’s the price we pay for the thrill of exploring far-flung corners of the world. 

How Long Does Jet Lag Last? 

The duration of jet lag varies from person to person, but on average, it takes about a day to recover for each time zone crossed. So, if your flight to your study abroad program destination spanned six time zones, prepare for a week of sleepiness. But don’t worry, we’ve got some tips and tricks to help with that below. 

Is Jet Lag Worse Going to or From Your Destination? 

The age-old debate. We wish we had a more satisfying answer, but the truth is — it depends on the individual. Some find it harder to adjust when arriving, while others struggle when returning home.

Young woman sleeping with eyemask on

Getting Proactive: Tips for Avoiding Jet Lag 

Adjust ahead of time

The CDC recommends adjusting your body’s natural clock to the time zone of your destination for a few days before you leave for your destination. 

  • If traveling west, go to bed an hour or two later than usual
  • If traveling east, go to bed an hour or two earlier than usual

Prepare your tummy 

Stomach problems are a symptom of jet leg, so try to eat smaller meals before and during travel. 

Tips for Coping with Jet Lag 

Do as the Romans Do  

If you are traveling to a time zone that is more than 3 hours ahead or behind your home time zone, try following the sleep routines of your destination when you get there. 

Avoid Alcohol 

At least when you first arrive, try to avoid drinking anything containing alcohol, as it can disrupt your sleep. 

Caffeine 

Caffeine can be useful, as long as you use it strategically. Try not to have it in the evening, for instance. 

young woman drinking Water at the Vatican Fountain in Rome, Italy

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate 

The one thing you should be drinking is water. It’s cliche to say at this point, but stay hydrated! This helps combat dehydrating effects of air travel and supports your body’s adjustment to the new time zone. 

“During and after your flight, it’ll be important to stay hydrated so you can go-go-go and not be hurting from a dehydration headache. Whenever you get the chance to fill up your water bottle, do it! That gives you incentive to drink more water as well.”

– Mikayla M., AIFS Abroad in Maynooth, Ireland alum

Soak Up the Sun 

Exposure to natural light helps regulate your body’s internal clock, so try to stay in well-lit areas during the day. 

Power Naps 

If you’re sleepy during the day, take a little nap, but no more than 15-20 minutes. This way you’ll get some energy, while still being able to sleep at night. 

“A time change that drastic already takes a long time to get used to, but on top of it, getting absolutely no sleep when you have to force yourself to stay awake for longer than usual is rough”

– Emma J., AIFS Abroad in Rome, Italy alum

Stay Active 

Go on a little jog or get a walk in to explore your surroundings upon arrival. Engaging in light physical activity boosts your energy levels and can help reset your internal clock. 

Melatonin 

If you’re struggling to sleep at night, it’s said that taking melatonin can help regulate your sleep-wake schedule — but remember to always speak with your healthcare provider first! If you’re worried it won’t be enough, you can also ask them about other medications or sleep aids that may help you sleep at night. 

Now you’re ready to take on the world and conquer jet lag like a seasoned adventurer when you study or intern abroad! 

Jet lag is something even regular globetrotters experience, but hopefully now that you’ve read this article, it will be one less thing to worry about when you study or intern abroad.

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