6 Simple Tips That Can Help You Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

“What I often tell travelers is that sometimes we work so hard rushing around and getting ready to leave that we don’t get enough sleep, which makes us more susceptible to getting sick,” Dr. Fernandes tells SELF. When you’re sleep deprived, your body makes fewer cytokines (proteins that help your cells communicate so your immune system functions well) and certain antibodies that help fight infection or counter stress, according to the Mayo Clinic4. Everyone has different sleep needs, but generally, most adults benefit from at least seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation5.

If your vacation involves jetting across several time zones, transitioning your sleep schedule to your destination’s time zone may be easier to adopt than suddenly going to bed three hours earlier the day you arrive. “Start that process ahead of time,” Paul Pottinger, M.D., director of the University of Washington Medical Center Tropical Medicine & Infectious Diseases Clinic in Seattle, tells SELF. “If you’re crossing three time zones, for example, try to adjust your sleep schedule by one time zone per day.” For instance, if you’re flying to New York from San Francisco, then you might go to bed one hour earlier than usual three nights before you leave, and two hours earlier the next night, if your schedule allows it. (Of course, this strategy probably won’t help much or be doable if you’re skipping over six time zones, Dr. Pottinger says.)

During your trip, you might be tempted to skimp on sleep to make the most of your time away, but maintaining good sleep habits—even if that sounds a bit boring—is really important, according to Nicole Van Groningen, M.D., an internist and hospitalist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. If you can, aim to sleep your normal amount each night and go to bed and wake up around the same time every day of your trip. If you have jet lag and really can’t get decent shut-eye, you may want to consider taking low-dose melatonin (up to 3 milligrams), a hormone that your body produces naturally to make you feel sleepy, Dr. Van Groningen suggests. (Just a note: If you have a health condition or take any other medications or supplements, it’s always safest to talk to your doctor before adding in something else.)

3. Stay hydrated—especially when you’re flying.

In addition to getting enough sleep, it’s also important to preemptively hydrate before traveling, and to keep up your water intake throughout your trip. First, drinking enough water can help prevent dehydration, which can make you feel tired and dizzy.

As a major bonus, upping your fluids can help your body ward off germs by maintaining a moist environment in your throat and nasal passages via mucus production. “If you’re not hydrated enough, your cilia, the little hairs in your nose, can’t do their job because they dry out,” Dr. Fernandes says.

Mucus keeps those hairs nice and sticky so they can trap germs and dirt in your nose and keep them from getting to your lungs. You then expel these germs by coughing or sneezing, according to the British Society for Immunology6.

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