Changing time zones can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. The body runs on regular circadian rhythms to help you start to feel tired and wake up at the right time. An hour or two difference in time zones can make a bigger difference than you think.
Full time international house sitters suffer from jet lag more often than other world travelers, due to their nomadic lifestyles. It really doesn’t help to arrive at an overseas house sit with the effects of jet lag. This is a time when you need to be aware and alert – there will be lots of new information about the pets and the property to take on-board. So, it’s a good idea to know how to get rid of jet lag as soon as you can.
Planning in advance and playing it smart when you arrive, can help your body get back in rhythm so you don’t miss anything at your new location.
Before You Go
You don’t have to wait until you get to your destination to start addressing jet lag, especially if you’re only making a one to three hour time change. Making small changes to your sleep routine a few days before you travel can help you stay energized and refreshed.
Adjust your bedtime by an hour or two a few days before you leave. Depending on your travel plans, you may need to go to bed earlier or later to fit in with the local time zone. If possible, change your wake time as well. Your body will already be on its way to fitting in with the locals thanks to good planning.
Bask in the Sunshine
There’s a reason you start to get tired when the sun goes down. Circadian rhythms are largely controlled by natural light. Once you get to your location, take in as much sunlight as possible to help your body start to adjust. Use your outdoor time wisely and soak up those rays so you won’t be snoozing when you want to be out seeing the sights.
Cloudy days or lots of hours indoors can make it tough to get the natural light you need. You can also help adjust your internal clock by getting exposure to bright artificial light. Just be sure that you’re taking in the light during the day rather than at night when you want to be sleeping. That means avoiding bright light from televisions, laptops, or smartphones at night when you should be sleeping.
Don’t Be Afraid to Nap
Frequent travelers may tell you to avoid naps at all costs and in some ways they’re right, but in others, they’re very wrong. Napping for three to four hours during the day won’t help you adjust because too much sleep will leave you pacing at night.
However, a 30-60 minute nap can be enough to keep your mind sharp and body going through until bedtime. In fact, naps are a good way to counteract sleep deprivation without disrupting your regular sleep cycle whether you are traveling or not. Get comfortable so your body and brain can relax, but you might want to set your alarm so you don’t find yourself waking up when you should be heading to bed for the night.
Eat for Better Sleep
Food can have a big impact on your sleep cycle and increase the intensity of jet lag symptoms. Stimulants like caffeine that are found in coffee, soda, and energy drinks might help keep you going during the day but leave you tossing and turning at night. Try to avoid stimulants at least four hours before bed to keep them from interrupting your sleep. Be careful with alcohol consumption as well. Alcohol can make you sleepy, yet interrupt your sleep cycle part way through the night.
If you’re looking for something to help you sleep better, try eating foods that promote melatonin production. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese have calcium that promotes the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
Tips for House Sitters to get rid of Jet Lag
If you’re traveling long-haul to get to your house sit, try arriving a day or two earlier to allow time to acclimatize. If your budget allows, book an Airbnb or other accommodation to have the space to recover from your journey and give you time to get over jet lag symptoms.
Make sure your home owners appreciate the distance you’ve traveled and create enough quality time to go through all the handover information you need to, given that you could be extremely fatigued.
If you are arriving straight from the airport, ask for an hour to unpack (after you’ve met the pets if course), drink plenty of water to re-hydrate, take a shower, change into relaxing clothing and then start with the socializing and handover process. Most home owners are understanding of the fact that you’ve traveled long-distance to get to them, and usually go out of their way to make things comfortable for you when you arrive.
Take notes or video instructions. It’s amazing how jet lag affects the ability to absorb information, especially when there is a lot to take in about new daily routines.
If you follow all or some of this advice, it won’t be long before you are enjoying your new location and waking easily at 6am to feed your charges!
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.