You've spent months comparing itineraries, cabin types and shore excursions, and now, you're ready for the international cruise of a lifetime. But if you're cruising abroad, you could lose precious vacation time to travel sleepiness. A bad case of jet lag could wreak havoc on the first few days of your getaway (not to mention your first few days back at the office). Here are eight ways you can help ward off fatigue without sacrificing any part of the cruising experience.
In Pictures: Best Cruise Lines of 2015
Get on time
Jet lag occurs when your internal clock is thrown off by time zone transitions, and psychology can help play a big part in combating symptoms. To help get in the right state of mind, start the transition before you even set foot on the ship. Before hopping on the plane to your departure port, set your watch so it matches the local time -- that way, you can begin to adjust to the schedule change before it occurs.
Know which way you're going
Adjusting to new time zones requires different steps depending on which direction you're headed. If you're traveling east, you'll lose sunlight -- and ultimately time to sleep -- along the way. If you're flying east to board a cruise around Europe or the Mediterranean, plan on falling asleep as soon as it's dark outside, no matter what time it may be back home. If you're traveling west for a sailing to Hawaii or Asia, you'll gain daytime hours, so you should try to stay awake for the duration of the trip (that's where an in-flight movie comes in handy).
Work on your tan
n case you need more of a reason to lounge on the pool deck: Your body reacts naturally to sunlight, so spending time outside can help you feel more energized even if your internal clock is telling you to wind down. As long as you're sporting plenty of sunscreen, you'll feel better after soaking up some rays.
You may have planned a cruise with the intention of kicking back and relaxing, but if you're sailing abroad, you should avoid midafternoon naps for the first few days. Instead, take advantage of your ship's sports facilities and enrichment programs; staying active will help you fight fatigue throughout the day and help you fall asleep more easily come nightfall.
The all-you-can-drink soda packages seem like a good idea when you're in the planning stages (especially if you're cruising with kids), but beverages loaded with refined sugars won't make the time zone adjustments any easier. If you've ever turned to sodas or energy drinks for a boost, you'll know that a crash will soon follow. Instead, stick to water (lots of it!) and freshly squeezed fruit juices.
You may be tempted by the copious amounts of food -- especially the fried food -- available on the Lido Deck. But just like they do on the mainland, greasy eats can result in post-meal drowsiness. Plan on an onboard diet of whole grains, fresh fruit, lean meats and fish, as the nutrients found in these foods will help you avoid midday weariness.
Avoid prescription sleep aids
If you're fed up with restless nights, taking a few sleeping pills may seem like an easy fix. But prescription-strength medication may actually make you feel groggier the next day. If you do need some help falling asleep, try melatonin, which can be purchased over the counter. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles, and over-the-counter supplements can help give your own natural production the boost it needs.
Take a few extra vacation days
The sheer excitement of your impending cruise will help stave off jet lag at the beginning of your trip, but the voyage home is another story. Returning to your ordinary routine may spark an onset of post-vacation doldrums, amplifying the symptoms of jet lag. Plan to gradually get back to the daily grind by taking an extra day or two off after your vacation ends. Allowing yourself time to relax will help you readjust to life at home and recover from your fun-filled days at sea.
-- U.S. News Travel staff