Whether you’re traveling for work or on holiday, jet lag can mess with your sleep schedule and make it hard for you to function properly. This sleep disorder affects millions who travel overseas and across time zones each year. While sleeping pills can help you overcome short-term insomnia, there are more natural ways for you to manage your jet lag, reset your circadian rhythms to that of your destination, and possibly even sidestep the problem altogether!1
Jet Lag Happens When You Move Across Time Zones Quickly
Normally, your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythms, which tell you when to sleep and when to be alert, are synchronized with the rising and setting of the sun. But when you travel across time zones rapidly, your body clock is unable to reset quickly to match the changes in light and dark cycle. This leads to jet lag.
When you feel awake and when you feel sleepy may no longer be aligned to the place you are in. You may then end up with insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Some people also notice a dip in their performance levels and mood, impairment in cognitive abilities, and gastrointestinal trouble. Jet lag lingers until your body’s circadian rhythm realigns, so your best bet is to try and prevent it.2 Do this by easing your body into its new timings. Here are some simple steps to try.
id="fall-into-the-new-routine-ahead-of-your-travel-and-on-the-plane">1. Fall Into The New Routine Ahead Of Your Travel And On The Plane
If you plan ahead, you can start altering your bedtime a little in the days or weeks leading up to your travel. Move your own bedtime closer to that of your destination to make the transition easier on your system. This will mean progressively sleeping later or earlier and waking up accordingly. Your body’s circadian rhythms will now be much closer to that of the local time in your destination when you land. You should then take less time to get over jet lag – if you experience it at all.3
Of course, this may not be completely feasible if you’re looking at travel to a place that runs at 10 to 12 hours ahead or behind your local time. But it could work perfectly for a smaller difference of, say, 4 to 6 hours. And it may help reduce the extent of the jet lag for those bigger time differences as well.
Once in the air, reset your watch to that of your destination and try and align your meals and sleep to the new time.
2. Reduce Travel Fatigue To Reduce Jet Lag Symptoms
An accompanying problem that can make your jet lag worse is travel fatigue. This happens when you spend long hours cramped in an airline seat with limited movement, meals at odd times, no access to fresh air, and possibly even dehydration. By managing the factors that lead to travel fatigue, you could reduce this tiredness and drowsiness and potentially reduce the extent or even occurrence of jet lag. Here’s what you can do to prevent or ease travel fatigue4:
- Schedule stopovers en route or break the journey if you find that easier on your body.
- Pre-organize your stay and all other arrangements, including work at the destination, so you don’t have to worry about it after landing.
- Carry fresh fruit or roughage in some form.
- Drink lots of fresh water and fruit juice before, after, and during the flight.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks like tea or coffee.
- Take a shower when you land.
3. Exercise And Get Active, Preferably Outdoors, To Ease Jet Lag
Exercising at moderate intensity can help you adjust to your new time zone. The movement can also refresh and revive you, helping shrug off any travel fatigue that might linger. If you can manage, exercise outdoors – whether it is a swim or a brisk walk – for the added benefits of sunlight exposure.5 Just avoid exercising very close to bedtime as this can meddle with your sleep, making you too energized when you need to be winding down.6
4. Take Short Naps To Revive Yourself
Have a short nap to overcome any tiredness you may feel – even if it is daytime. You can do this during the flight to cut fatigue or after you arrive at your destination or return home. It should help you tide over the phase where your body adjusts to the new time zone. The nap can help you feel refreshed even if you struggled to get a good night’s rest.7
5. Get Your Sleep In Spite Of Jet Lag
Your goal should be to try and sleep as much as you can, even if it comes with difficulty. Here are some things you could do to help make it easier on yourself:
- Darken the room so that there is no light coming through.8
- Try and cut off ambient sounds and find a nice quiet place to sleep. Ask for a quiet room at the hotel.9
- A warm bath may help relax you and set the tone for bedtime.
6. Sleep Better With Tryptophan-Rich Foods
A couple of hours before bedtime, have a light meal or snack of tryptophan-rich foods like eggs, cooked cereal and honey, seafood, or cottage cheese – they help serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that induces sleep by calming you down and making you feel drowsy.10
7. Take Melatonin To Sleep Better If You Fly Across Multiple Time Zones
A hormone that is responsible for regulating your body’s rhythms can be used to treat your jet lag as well – especially if you time-zone hop extensively. Studies on those most vulnerable to jet lag disorder like those in the airline industry or military personnel reveal the potential of this treatment in helping those moving across five or more time zones. Doses of between 0.5 mg and 5 mg were all able to help achieve sleep though a 5 mg dose enabled better sleep and was faster acting than the 0.5 mg doses. Here’s what you should know about this remedy for jet lag:11
- You need to take the dose close to the bedtime of your destination – ideally somewhere between 10 pm and midnight local time there, after you land.
- Do this for 2 to 4 days until your body settles down.
- The actual effect is similar for both eastward and westward flights, but because you’re more likely to experience jet lag when you fly east, it may have more benefits on those routes.
- If you’re crossing just a couple of time zones you may find benefits, but the true value lies in use by those who cross five or more time zones, with benefits increasing as the higher numbers of zones are crossed.
8. Use Sunlight To Your Benefit
Sunlight exposure can do a lot to help your body sense the new timings and reset the body clock. Try and head outdoors to get some sunshine in the first few days. If you’re going somewhere where there isn’t much natural sunlight or if your agenda will keep you mostly indoors, schedule short bright light sessions in the morning or early afternoon. A simple alternative that can help here is to use a desk lamp if nothing else is available.13
Bright Light Therapy Benefits Not Yet Established
While sunlight can help your body fall back into its natural rhythm, the benefit of bright light therapy sessions isn’t yet fully clear. Normally, melatonin is released when you expose the body to dim light and bright light cuts off its release.14 Scheduled exposure to bright light should, in theory, be able to alleviate your symptoms and help your circadian rhythms realign to that of the new time zone. However, studies remain small and limited. Re-trainment of circadian rhythms did begin to occur faster using bright light in lab conditions but such tests are not far-reaching enough to merit recommending light therapy as a very effective jet lag treatment.
Researchers are not yet sure whether travelers across the board should be given fixed light exposure or whether some, as yet unknown, circadian phase marker particular to each person should be used. There is also some uncertainty surrounding what the optimal time for exposure to light must be on day one and the following days. 15
|↑1||Jet lag and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑2||Sack, Robert L. “Jet lag.” New England Journal of Medicine 362, no. 5 (2010): 440-447.|
|↑3||Jet Lag – Treatment.
|↑4||Herxheimer, Andrew, and Jim Waterhouse. “The prevention and treatment of jet lag: It’s been ignored, but much can be done.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 326, no. 7384 (2003): 296.|
|↑5, ↑13||Jet Lag – Treatment. American Academy of Sleep Medicine.|
|↑6||Jet lag and Sleep.
|↑7||World Health Organization. International travel and health: situation as on 1 January 2005. World Health Organization, 2005.|
|↑8, ↑9||Haimov, Iris, and Josephine Arendt. “The prevention and treatment of jet lag.” Sleep Medicine Reviews 3, no. 3 (1999): 229-240.|
|↑10||Hudson, Craig, Susan Patricia Hudson, Tracy Hecht, and Joan MacKenzie. “Protein source tryptophan versus pharmaceutical grade tryptophan as an efficacious treatment for chronic insomnia.” Nutritional neuroscience 8, no. 2 (2005): 121-127.|
|↑11, ↑12, ↑14||Herxheimer, Andrew, and Keith J. Petrie. “Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag.” The Cochrane Library (2002).|
|↑15||Boulos, Ziad, Scott S. Campbell, Alfred J. Lewy, Michael Terman, Derk-Jan Dijk, and Charmane I. Eastman. “Light treatment for sleep disorders: consensus report: VII. Jet lag.” Journal of biological rhythms 10, no. 2 (1995): 167-176.|