The GoAbroad Doctor is in: 12 Ways to Tackle Jet Lag Before Your Internship Abroad

by Kayla Patterson

If you’re traveling to your internship abroad, chances are you’re going to experience a big fat bout of jet lag. Feeling ridiculously sleepy during the day, battling an upset stomach, and having difficulty concentrating are all-too-common symptoms of jetlag, which together make for a less than ideal first day on the job, eh?!

As psyched as you are to jumpstart your professional development, pesky jet lag can get in the way. We know you want to make a strong first impression on your new employer, and that no amount of suits and ties (or conservative skirts) can cover up your sleepy eyes and frequent yawns. No matter if you’re headed to China, England, or Argentina for your international internship, there are luckily some proven ways to help you survive even a full on 60-hour flight itinerary.

Model of an airplane at an airport

Learn how to cope with your brain catching up to your physical location and how to avoid a traveler's nightmare before you start your internship abroad by checking out the following ways to combat jet lag.

1. Understand what jet lag is.

Jet lag is an actual medical condition that can happen anytime you fly across two or more timezones, causing your circadian clock to go off balance. And the kicker? It’s estimated that it takes one day per time zone crossed to fully recover from symptoms (as if those trans-Pacific flights weren’t already challenging enough, harrumph!).

When you're "losing time" (aka traveling west to east), symptoms of jet lag are likely to be even worse. However, keep in mind that no matter which way you’re traveling, due to the lower oxygen levels on most aircrafts, you’re likely to be uncomfortable and dehydrated too.

2. Make work on the plane optional.

While it’s noble that you plan to review your new company’s ethos, staff profiles, and social media channels, working on the plane isn’t actually advisable. While it’s not necessarily a bad idea to have alternatives to watching two star movies prepped, it’s better to let your body rest and relax on your flight(s).

Do your creeping (er, scouting) while bumming around the airport before you fly instead of half-heartedly practicing self-control at the magazine and snack shop.

3. Try adjusting to the time change before you go.

As well in advance as possible, set your watch to the local time of your internship destination. Try your darndest to stay awake and sleep according to that time to better adjust your mental clock before you ever leave home.

If you can, book a flight that arrives at your final destination in the evening, this way you can stay awake for a few hours (which you usually can’t avoid anyhow once you get your luggage and go through customs). Then you’ll be pooped and hopefully be able to go to bed at the right time in your new time zone; when you wake up you’ll feel fresh and ready to tackle day one of your internship abroad!

4. Don't force yourself to sleep on the plane.

Whether it’s nervous or excited butterflies in your tummy (or just general discomfort), sometimes sleep is simply impossible on a plane. If you can't sleep, but you're trying to make yourself, you might be doing more harm than good. Frustration leads to further exhaustion, both mentally and physically. Instead, just rest as much as possible.

5. Drink lots and lots of water!

If you're not accustomed to staying hydrated in your everyday life, try drinking a small glass of water every time the flight attendant comes by with the cart. Just a quick swig and you’ll be good to go, and headache free, upon arrival.

Another added benefit: drinking all that water encourages you to get up and move around more often, because you’ll have to go to the bathroom!

Passengers inside an airplane

6. Consider taking melatonin or an alternative sleep aid.

When used in moderation, sleep aids may be the ideal way to help you adjust to your new time zone and avoid making first-day blunders at work. Melatonin can easily be bought over the counter. Other options include popping two non-addictive antihistamines, like Benadryl, or taking a dose of a natural alternative, like Magnesium supplements or Valerian root. To determine the safest and most effective option for you, consult with your doctor (and we don’t mean the one you find online through Google).

7. Set yourself up for comfort.

Especially on long haul flights that hop continents, it’s important to have everything you need to be as comfortable as possible (we know this isn’t saying much, especially considering airplane seats are shrinking). Loose fitted clothes, neck pillows, blankets, sweaters, earplugs, and eye masks can all be helpful accessories for traveling.

Forgot something at home? Ask the flight attendant if they have the item, otherwise it may be worth the investment at the airport.

8. Keep moving.

Intentionally think of ways to stretch and move while on long flights. There are even yoga poses and breathing exercises that you can do in your seat (unless you want to “wow” other passengers with your Warrior 2’s while waiting in line for the loo!).

If possible, don’t put a bag under the seat in front of you. This will give you more room to stretch your legs, roll your ankles, and kick your shoes off!

9. Eat regularly.

It's all too easy to decline airplane food, but if you know you don't like it, bring a snack and try to keep up with three meals a day. Light snacks that are high in protein are best. As hard as it is to pass on those shrink-wrapped dinner rolls, avoid high carb, sugary, and fatty treats. Besides, no one wants to feel bored AND bloated while sitting in an office for an entire work day!

10. Expose yourself to natural light.

Our bodies are usually conditioned to be awake when it's light out. Make sure you expose yourself to the sunlight and try to stay in the dark when it's nighttime. Sometimes the airlines don’t do the best job of helping you with this; instead they serve meals and/or adjust the lighting to make you feel like you should be sleeping when the sun is shining brightly outside. If you can, read your book or listen to internship “pump-up” music with the window shade open, despite how many odd glances you get.

Passengers walking through an airport

11. Invest in vitamin supplements!

When you’re on a plane, you’re quite literally breathing the same air as someone else (yuck!), which means it’s fairly common and easy for people to get sick after traveling. Since your new  boss will probably disapprove of calling in sick (especially during your first week), stock up on a vitamin supplements, like Airborne or EmergenC, and be sure to take some at least once daily to help boost Vitamin C and energy.

12. Once on land, take naps.

Just like you shouldn’t force yourself to sleep on the plane, you should try not to deprive yourself of sleep once on land. A 15 minute nap can clear your head and make you feel better when you’re coping with jet lag. Be warned though: sometimes a “nap” can turn into an accidental eight hour “slumber.” The trick is to set multiple alarms or find a buddy who can shake you awake should you be snoozing a little too soundly.

As you prepare for your internship abroad, it is important to take into consideration the time you have allotted between when you land and your first day at the office. To avoid unnecessary gaffes brought on from lack of sleep, plan ahead, keep these tips in mind, and catch some ZzZ’s when you can. Then you’ll be well on your way to winning International Intern of the Year!