Traveling far away from home is typically exciting, but with the fun of travel often comes some stress and exhaustion. Jet lag can make you feel lousy, and if experienced frequently it can even have long-term health effects. We’ve got 10 tips for minimizing jet lag to help maximize your enjoyment of traveling.
Why do we feel jet lag?
Your body has a clock, closely linked to the light-dark cycle. When shifting time zones, that day-night cycle is different, so you end up trying to be awake when your body clock thinks it’s time to sleep and vice versa. Your body clock can really only adapt 1-2 hours each day. That means a time zone change of 8 hours can take at least 4 days to adjust to! Even though it takes a while to adjust to the new rhythms of when to be active and when to rest, there are ways you can deal with the time shift before and during your travels.
Before your trip:
- Start resetting your body clock in advance by carefully timing your light exposure, meals, and physical activity.
- For example, if you’ll be flying east, shift all your daily routines one hour earlier. Wake up earlier than usual and get early exposure to bright light. In the evening, darken the room earlier than usual and go to bed earlier. Adjust your meal times and your activity level to be an hour earlier too.
- Check out a jet lag calculator like the Timeshifter app or JetLagRooster.com. These tools provide detailed, tailored instructions based on your actual trip details and your regular bedtime.
During your trip:
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water. Avoid alcohol and choose beverages without caffeine. Coffee and alcoholic drinks are tempting but can work against sleeping well and having energy when you reach your destination.
- Don’t overeat. You might have heard otherwise, but there’s no known diet that can prevent jet lag.
When you reach your destination:
- To help reset your body clock to the new time zone, control when you’re getting exposure to light. When it’s time to be awake — or whenever you want to feel more alert or boost your mood — seek out bright light. Ideally, get sunlight outside. When it’s time to wind down and sleep, dim all lights and avoid any bright light.
- If you feel the need to nap, limit your nap to 20 minutes.
- Stay active during the day and avoid evening exercise.
- Before bedtime, do something relaxing like taking a warm shower. Remember to silence your electronics so you won’t be woken up by calls and texts from other time zones.
What about using melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that’s important for your sleep-wake cycle. When traveling eastwards, taking a melatonin supplement prior to bedtime can help shift the timing of your body clock to help transition to the new time zone. We recommend a jet lag calculator to determine the best time to take melatonin for your travels.
It’s important to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements or medications. If your doctor advises that it’s safe for you to try melatonin, remember to read the label. Many melatonin products contain other active substances too. Make sure you get the right dosage; there’s no need for more than 2 milligrams.
Dealing with jet lag can be a real drag. Next time you know a long-distance trip is coming, try following these tips to help you feel rested when you’re on the go for work or for pleasure!