Suffering from jet lag? Here are the best ways to combat it

As the winter months draw closer, more of you may be considering a vacation. Heading for the sunshine isn’t a bad thing, especially when you need to unwind. If you cross two or more time zones, though, you’ll need to manage jet lag.

Strictly speaking, jet lag is most likely to occur when you spend more than four days in your new setting. You won’t suffer from it if you pass from Pacific Time to Mountain Time. But, if you head toward Eastern Time and beyond, your body’s circadian rhythm will feel a bit confused.

Although there’s no way to prevent the physical effects of long-haul travel altogether, you can manage jet lag using simple techniques. Here are some of them:

How to manage jet lag before you travel

Factors such as work and a busy home life may prevent you from managing jet lag before you travel. But, if it’s possible, try employing the following techniques:

Two to three days before traveling, adjust your body clock

In other words, look at a world clock to see when your usual rising and sleeping times will occur in your new destination, then follow them. Doing this helps your brain adjust its melatonin release patterns, making it easier for you to manage jet lag in your new destination.

Sleep well before you fly

Failing to get a good night’s sleep before flying means your sleep bank will deplete. What’s your sleep bank exactly? It’s the number of hours’ rest you’ve acquired recently. When your sleep bank is low, managing jet lag becomes difficult. Getting a good night’s sleep is especially important if the country you’re landing into is still light while the country you’ve left is dark.

Try to book a flight that arrives during the day

When you land with plenty of daylight hours to spare, your brain receives cues that it isn’t time to sleep yet. This too will make it easier for you to adjust to your new destination.

Ways to manage jet lag while traveling

While you’re in the air, consider behaving as though you’re in your new destination. For example, if it’s time to sleep while there, try to snooze. Admittedly, few people can manage this on a noisy aircraft. With the help of eye masks, earplugs, and relaxation techniques, you might find it’s a little easier.

On the other hand, if you’re setting off from your home country at a late time and it’s daylight in your new destination, seize the chance to walk around. Take a couple of strolls around the plane while the aisles are free and indulge in some movies.

What you shouldn’t do during your flight

Although it’s tempting (especially when it’s going free) resist alcohol and caffeine. While alcohol initially makes sleep easier, it depletes the neurotransmitters that promote a natural sleeping cycle. Similarly, caffeine has a rigorous half-life, which will confuse your brain further.

Adjust to your new location’s sleeping and eating schedule

Even if you’re feeling tired, try to go to sleep when it’s dark and resist the urge to rise at 3 am because your body is still on home schedule. Similarly, eat at times that fit in with your new location. How you eat influences cortisol, prostaglandin and melatonin release, which can all make jet lag worse when they’re out of whack.

What to do when you return home

Depending on the nature of your trip, you might want to spend two to three days re-adjusting to your home time. But, if you’re on vacation, you might feel as though you want to enjoy yourself instead.

As a compromise, always sleep well before the return flight. If it’s a night flight, try to snooze while in transit, but only do so at the times that match your home country’s schedule. Resist alcohol for definite.

Although some will argue over whether Melatonin proves effective in treating jet lag, small studies support taking a 5 to 10mg dose prior to your usual sleep time. The brain’s pineal gland begins releasing Melatonin around two hours before you’re due to sleep. Conversely, this is the worst time to force yourself into it. However, when you take a supplement half-an-hour before you need to sleep, you may have some success.

A controversial way to manage jet lag: take a nap

Taking a nap when you arrive home temporarily tops up your sleep bank. It also increases the chances of you being able to force yourself to stay awake until your usual bedtime. When your normal bedtime arrives, try using Melatonin again half-an-hour before you put your head on the pillow.

Try to resist using sleeping pills

Resist the urge to use sleeping pills. With the exception of strong antihistamines such as Diphenhydramine, most cause the brain to rapidly become dependent on their use. As a result, you’ll only obtain temporary relief. 

Finally, remember it takes roughly one day per time zone crossed to get back to normal. So don’t feel frustrated if you’re not feeling perky after one day at home. Maintain your usual routine and you’ll soon feel well-adjusted.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.