12 12 prevent holiday jet lag rebound flying time zonesTips to get your inner 24-hour clock back on track fast while travelling!

Thousands of people will be travelling over the festive season, which can lead to exhaustion and jet lag (especially when combined with the joys of holiday stress!)

When travelling across time zones, your internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, can become disrupted. The fallout can be a bit more troubling than simply having to deal with a few yawning fits. In fact, jet lag can cause fatigue, headache, upset digestion, muscle aches and stiffness, insomnia, irritability and a decrease in mental clarity, reflex time, alcohol tolerance and immunity.

Instead of coasting through your holidays in a disorienting, zombie-like state, here are five ways to help you feel refreshed and ready to celebrate.

1. Let the sunshine in

“Light exposure is the most important factor that sets the brain’s internal clock,” says Charles Samuels, MD, CCFP, DABSM, medical director of the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary. “The light must either be outdoor sunlight, or a specific wavelength and intensity of artificial light. Plus, it has to be exposed to the retina of the eye to be effective. Light suppresses the production and release of melatonin and improves alertness.” But ensure that your exposure to light follows the natural schedule of the sun in order to help you get back on track. “Keeping artificial lights on when the sun goes down confuses your pineal gland and disrupts melatonin production, a hormone that maintains the body's circadian rhythm,” adds Penny Kendall-Reed, ND, best-selling author of The No Crave Diet.

2. More melatonin

Consider taking melatonin in oral supplement form. “Not a sedative, melatonin tells your body that you should start thinking about going to sleep,” explains Dr. Kendall-Reed. “More importantly, it is the hormone that pushes the brain into deep, reparative Stage 4 sleep, once and only once you fall asleep.” In order to maximize its benefits, reach for melatonin before even leaving for the airport. “If you are travelling to Europe, take a small dose of melatonin (three milligrams) at 4 pm local time. Later, before going to bed in the new time zone, take a higher dose of melatonin (10 milligrams) and take that dose nightly while away.”

3. Get moving

Physical activity can be tremendously beneficial for travelers, but timing is everything. “Avoid exercising instead of recovering sleep debt,” explain Dr. Samuels. “If your choices are to go to the gym, grab a meal or sleep, always choose sleep – even a short 20 to 30 minute nap.” You can enjoy exercise while avoiding traveller’s fatigue with these simple steps: Make sure you’re rested first, get active during sunlit hours only and keep your workout on the easy-does-it side, at least until you’ve adjusted to your new schedule.

4. Plan ahead

One of your biggest defenses against jet lag is quite simple: Board the plane well-rested. But that’s easier said than done, according to Dr. Samuels. “Unfortunately, that’s not the norm for most travellers. But sleep deprivation will magnify the symptoms of jet lag as well as prolong your recovery.” Dr. Samuels advises athletes to get the sleep they need for a week before takeoff. If that’s simply not realistic for your lifestyle, however, here’s his general rule of thumb: “For most people it takes one day per time zone crossed to adjust fully.”

But hitting the hay isn’t your only safeguard against jet lag: You can get a head start in the kitchen as well as the bedroom. Try adjusting your meal times to your destination’s schedule for a few days before your trip, suggests Dr. Samuels. And while festive cocktails and bountiful meals may be synonymous with the holiday season, re-think both before flying: “Don’t drink alcohol or have a large meal before taking an overnight flight, nor when you’re trying to adjust to a new time zone,” warns Dr. Kendall-Reed. “Both food and alcohol stimulate the adrenal glands (a.k.a. stress glands), which will release cortisol and adrenaline, making falling asleep or repairing from travel very difficult.”

5. Takeoff

Set your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you’re seated on the plane and act accordingly. “In flight, start sleeping and eating as per the new time zone, even if it means carrying on your own food,” advises Dr. Samuels. “And consume caffeine only at prescribed times that coincide with the need to be awake at your destination.”

But if you’re resting during a daytime flight, Dr. Kendall-Reed promotes arising every hour or so simply to walk around the cabin, stretch your legs and boost circulation. “This will help prevent blood clotting, leg cramping and decrease inflammation in all body tissues. Plus, keep fluids up [no, cocktails don’t count!]. Dehydration leads to inflammation, which exacerbates jet lag.”