Traveling can do a number on your body’s internal clock, particularly when you’re crossing over multiple time zones. After your food, light, and sleep routines are shifted, you might experience jet lag. This can cause fatigue, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and much more. Don’t worry, though. With a few simple adjustments, you can combat jet lag and transition more easily to your destination or back home. Here are six expert-recommended ways to prevent, manage, and fight jet lag.
Adjust your sleep routine a couple days in advance.
“The body thrives on routines,” says Certified Sleep Science Coach Chris Brantner. “It wants to wake up in the morning with the sun, and start winding down at dusk and go to sleep a bit after dark. This occurs in part because your body begins producing melatonin as the light dims at night, which signals for you to get tired. One of the issues with jet lag comes from switching time zones. Your body is expecting to go to bed in a certain timeframe. However, because the time changes, it doesn’t produce melatonin at the correct time. As a result, your entire circadian rhythm is thrown off, and you feel exhausted and groggy.”
To prepare, Brantner recommends slowly changing your sleep and wake times in advance of any trip where jet lag might occur. Start by adjusting your bedtime by 15 minutes every day in order to ease into the change, versus suddenly throwing your schedule out of whack by several hours. Sleep Coach Bill Fish also suggests changing your watch and computer to the correct local time of your destination, because the more ways in which you can help your body and mind prepare, the easier the transition will be.
Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Kicking back with a cocktail on a flight might seem like a good idea. However, Nutritionist and Personal Trainer Ashley Walter advises against alcohol—mostly because it lowers immunity and leads to dryness and dehydration. It’s also best to avoid caffeine, adds Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. You might feel as though you can stay awake longer. But caffeine can also take a toll on your ability to fall asleep, in general, or sleep deeply.
Move your body whenever possible.
Whenever Aaptiv Trainer Kelly Chase books a flight, she tries to snag an aisle seat so that she can stretch her legs and walk up and down the aisle. “If flying longer than five hours, I’ll wear compression socks to help with blood circulation, too,” she says. “When I land and am super jet lagged, I will make sure [that] I do get rest, but walk a lot to really get the blood flowing after such a long flight.”
Walter says fresh air acts as an instant cure for jet lag in the first 24 hours, and Dr. Cutler echoes that approach. And, as soon as Aaptiv Trainer Jennifer Giamo arrives at her destination, if there’s a pool available, she likes to swim, as it helps with re-hydration. Or she’ll be sure to walk around and stay moving until it’s bedtime in her new time zone.
“In order to combat jet lag, I can’t recommend enough how important it is to stay hydrated,” says Fish. “I’ll be the first to admit that it becomes annoying to yourself and your fellow fliers to have to get up to use the bathroom. But so many people end up dehydrating themselves on a plane, and [it] just makes jet lag far worse. Also, getting up to go to the bathroom every so often helps your circulation, as well.”
Obviously, upping your water intake throughout the entire travel journey is the first step to staying hydrated. You can also look for fruits and vegetables with a higher water content (like apples or celery), says Giamo.
Bring your own healthy snacks.
Chase loves to bring her own teas and snacks in order to nourish her body appropriately while traveling. “You can toss food in your purse or carry-on bag, and not be stressed about the possibilities of not being able to eat what the flight attendants are serving or offer for snacks. Also, you can eat whenever you’d like versus having to wait for them to serve you. Be smart—prepare and bring things with you!”
Walter does the exact same thing. Some of her favorites include steamed and unsalted edamame, sliced veggies with hummus, apple slices with lemon juice, seaweed snacks, and bananas with almond or sunflower seed butter.
Use sleep-inducing medicine (with a doctor’s approval, of course).
“Melatonin supplements aren’t really that helpful for sleep,” says Brantner. “However, when switching time zones, they can kick-start melatonin production that would otherwise occur later. This can help you make the adjustment to get to sleep.”
Dr. Cutler says this is common, and plenty of over-the-counter and prescription medications can assist with inducing sleep or improving wakefulness. But you need to consult with your doctor before taking anything. Sleep, Nutrition, and Diet Expert Dr. Carolyn Dean also encourages the use of magnesium for a good night’s sleep, especially if you’re looking to reset your sleep-wake pattern. “Magnesium regulates melatonin (sleep hormone) production, relieves muscle tension that can prevent restful sleep, and activates GABA—the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system—which favors sleep,” says Dr. Dean.
Finally, Fish emphasizes the value of sticking to a standard routine when you arrive in a new place, instead of just going straight to bed. This will help you acclimate to a new time zone. It might be hard the first day. But it sets you up to feel your best for the rest of the trip.
“The symptoms of jet lag will subside with time,” says Dr. Cutler. “But, this may take as long as one day for every time zone traveled. And, while jet lag affects people of all ages, the effects are often more troublesome and last longer as we age. Something to know before you go. Bon voyage!”