Here's some good news, frequent fliers — coffee really can help you conquer jet lag. Sure, we all assumed as much was true (at least that's what I always tell myself when I order that second venti caramel macchiato at the airport coffee shop), but now we can revel in the smugness of knowing science backs our suspicions. Because, according to a preliminary study by researchers from the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the University of Colorado, caffeinated beverages such as coffee may be able to shift the body's internal clock, and thus, lessen jet lag.
If ever you've taken a trip that spanned multiple time zones, you're undoubtedly familiar with the unpleasantness of jet lag: Extreme fatigue, feeble concentration, digestive issues, slow-wittedness, changes in the frequency of urination, body aches... It's a lot like being pregnant without the added benefit of getting a cute little baby when all is said and done.
How, exactly, does coffee make a difference? It all comes down to the circadian rhythm. "This is the first study to show that caffeine, the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, has influence on the human circadian clock," the study's co-author, Professor Kenneth Wright, said. During the team's 49-day-long study, they found that participants who took a caffeine pill experienced a significant circadian delay as opposed to those who didn't. Essentially, this means coffee does exactly what we all desire, which is keep us awake when we need or want it to. The interesting development here is the discovery that it does so by actually shifting your entire circadian rhythm.
Now, for the bad news. "Our findings suggest that if you take caffeine at the wrong time, it could make your jet lag on an eastward trip worse," explained Wright. This is because it is harder to shift your body clock earlier. Rest assured, though, that there are other ways to combat jet lag should you feel apprehensive about the potential complications caused by coffee consumption. Here are a few more solid trips and tricks:
1. Eat Smart
As a matter of fact, you won't be watching what you eat much — because, well, you won't actually be eating much. Or, you know, at all. Here's the deal. The clever brains over at Gawker Media and Flygirl created a little Anti-Jet Lag Calculator, which you can use to enter your flight details and receive a travel-specific fasting plan. This basically relies on the premise that our biological clocks are impacted in part by our stomachs and, according to scientist Charles Ehret, irregularly timed meals "gradually unmoored" the body's clock.
2. Drink Lots of Water
Aside from keeping your skin from drying out in that stale cabin air, chugging agua before and during your flight offers the added bonus of — no big surprise here — helping you avoid dehydration. It's incredibly easy to get dehydrated during travel because water breaks rarely occur to us in the flurry of boarding passes, departure times, and overhead bins. But being dehydrated can start a slippery slope that avalanches straight into jet lag. First, you get a headache, which is a hallmark of dehydration. This makes you think you should eat something. Eating then throws off your circadian rhythm (refer to tip number one), and all you want to do is sleep when you arrive at your destination. Water will keep your energy level up.
3. Pregame Your Internal Clock
This doesn't mean you have to start going to bed at the same ungodly hour as your Great Aunt Nan every afternoon in preparation for your trip. Think incrementally — a week or so out, simply start adjusting your schedule by as little as 15 minutes. Gradual adjustments now can make a big difference in the amount of time it takes for your body to transition to your new time zone later. You can also trick your brain into reorienting by starting to adopt habits according to the time zone you'll be traveling to. Think about what the locals are doing during a certain time frame and do that in the days leading up to your trip. So, yeah, maybe take Great Aunt Nan out for that earlybird special.
4. Consider A Natural Sleep Aid
It's been a day or two and you still can't get your body to sync up. Naturally, you're wasting precious time that could be spent doing fantastically touristy things (no judgment here; I legit wear a fanny pack and camera strap when I travel). Packing a natural sleep inducer like melatonin — no, not valium, Lydia — is a solid backup plan for this eventuality. It'll help you fall asleep at a reasonable local hour, which means you can wake up at a reasonable local hour and reclaim the prime of the day.
But don't be overwhelmed by all of this information, my little trans-time-zone padowans. Should you need a quick refresher, just check out Icelandair's handy dandy jet lag infographic. Happy travels!