7 Tips for Avoiding Jet Lag
How to “fake” a new time zone before you even leave, and what to do when you get there
Whether you’re heading across the country for a work conference or off to a far-flung locale for some much-overdue R & R, crossing more than one time zone can come back to haunt you in the form of jet lag. Within 24 to 48 hours of landing in the new time zone, you may find yourself unable to sleep at night and forcing your eyelids open during the day. Your head may pound, you may feel sore, and your GI system may be seriously out of whack. Not a fun way to start a trip.
Jet lag happens when your circadian rhythm, which functions like a 24-hour internal clock, gets thrown off. The clock at your new destination might say 10 p.m., but as far as your body is concerned, it’s 4 p.m.
How can you take the jet but leave the jet lag symptoms? Experts offer these tips
Before you land
Act like you’re in Rome before you get there. When traveling east, you lose time, which is typically harder to adjust to than gaining time. If that’s the direction you’re headed, try adjusting your sleep schedule for a few days before you start your trip, says Saul A. Rothenberg, PhD, a behavioral sleep medicine psychologist at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, New York. “If you’re flying to Europe, go to sleep earlier and get up earlier,” he says. “Even a one-hour shift in sleep will make your adjustment easier.” If you’re traveling west, start going to bed later.
Change your watch. Get used to the idea of the new time zone while you’re still on the plane by setting your watch to the time at your destination, suggests the National Sleep Foundation. Eat and sleep at the “right” times during your air travel.
After you land
Go to the light. “When you travel east, you can adjust to the new time zone faster if you expose yourself to bright light in the morning,” says Meena Khan, MD, a sleep medicine expert at Ohio State University/Wexner Medical Center. “This will help reset your circadian clock and advance to the new time zone.” Stuck inside at a conference all day? Take breaks in front of windows so you can expose yourself to some natural light.
Resist the cat nap. Catching a little shuteye in the afternoon might feel like exactly what you need. But it will only make it harder to fall asleep later. “And this will just delay your ability to adjust to the new time,” says Khan. If you must nap, limit yourself to 30 minutes, Khan suggests.
Pack some melatonin, and time it right. Melatonin is a hormone the body produces naturally in response to darkness. It signals the body that it’s ready for sleep. Until your internal clock adjusts, taking 3 milligrams of melatonin might help you sleep better, says Khan. “Take the melatonin for three to five days after you reach your destination,” she says. Take it at bedtime in Europe, or three hours before bedtime when going from Los Angeles to New York, Rothenberg says.
Avoid alcohol or caffeine a few hours before bed. Caffeine may be especially tempting when your eyelids just won’t stay open, but don’t sabotage your sleep by sipping too close to bedtime. Same goes for alcohol. While alcohol might help you fall asleep, drinking it can make you more likely to wake in the middle of the night, or have less-restful sleep. Drink water and other non-caffeinated beverages instead and you’ll get the added benefit of heading off dehydration, which can cause jet-lag type symptoms.
Follow your usual eating and sleeping patterns. If you normally eat dinner at 6 p.m. and hit the sack at 10:30 p.m., follow the same habits according to the clock in new time zone. Be gentle on your GI tract as it tries to adjust by avoid heavy meals and rich desserts.
Don’t exercise within two hours of your “new” bedtime. Some frequent travelers swear by exercising at their destination to help them conquer jet lag. But don’t do strenuous exercise within two hours of bedtime or you might find yourself staring at the ceiling.
Remember, jet lag will resolve itself without treatment. “Most people adjust one hour per day in the new time zone, even if they do nothing,” Rothenberg says.
Related: How to Avoid Travelers’ Diarrhea