Here Are the 5 Best Ways to Beat Jet Lag

By Mario Esposito
Last Updated: June 24, 2019

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Going on a long trip? Whether you are a frequent flyer or a first-time traveler doesn’t matter. Everyone experiences jet lag in some form, because we are all affected by our circadian rhythms. Don’t worry—it’s normal! Whatever discomfort you feel is simply the result of your body adjusting to a new time zone.

people walking inside an airport

What Is Jet Lag?

Jet lag is a temporary condition that arises from a disruption in normal circadian rhythms due to travelling across one or more time zones.

Contrary to old beliefs, jet lag is not all in the mind! It has been medically recognized for quite some time. It is also known by more scientific sounding names like circadian dysrhythmia or desynchnronosis. Jet lag was also previously classified as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, but is now understood as a normal physiological response.

Jet Lag Symptoms

Here are some things you might experience while suffering from jet lag:

  • Behavioral changes. The most common markers of this are increased anxiety and irritability.
  • Difficulty concentrating. Jet lag can cause confusion and a lack of focus, coupled with coordination problems and poor physical performance in general.
  • Indigestion. From constipation to diarrhea, jet lag sufferers are prone to a whole spectrum of digestive difficulties. Nausea and lack of appetite can also accompany these symptoms.
  • Physical weakness. Manifestations of this range from simple tiredness to specific symptoms like dizziness, excessive sweating, and headaches.
  • Poor sleep. This includes trouble with sleep onset and trouble staying asleep.

Jet Lag vs. Travel Fatigue

It’s important to note that jet lag is different from travel fatigue, although many symptoms are similar. Jet lag is tied to your biological clock, while travel fatigue is caused by disruptions in your everyday routine.

What do we mean by this? When you travel—even without crossing time zones—you may be confined to a noisy, small and cramped environment for hours on end. Your access to a bathroom, fresh air, good food and drink may be controlled or limited. Your regular sleep cycle may be interrupted slightly.

You may feel bad and it may feel like jet lag, but your symptoms will likely disappear in a day—much earlier than if you were experiencing true jet lag.

What Affects the Intensity of Jet Lag?

Not all jet lag occurrences are the same. Below are some factors that could lead to more severe cases. They can also help explain why some people take longer to shake off the effects of jet lag.

  • Age. Sleep changes as you age. It follows that the older you are, the slower you tend to recover from jet lag.
  • Distance covered. The farther you go, the more time zones you cross and the more time your body clock needs to adjust.
  • Direction of travel. Going from east to west is worse than the other way around. Why? The former causes you to “lose” time, while the latter “adds” time. This “loss” of time makes adjusting to the local time zone more difficult.
  • Frequency of travel. By this we mean constant movement, like what pilots and flight attendants go through. It’s difficult to adjust if you’re changing time zones faster than it takes for jet lag to run its course.
  • Preexisting health problems. If you already have poor sleep habits or suffer from stress and anxiety, it’s only going to get worse with jet lag.

How Can You Beat Jet Lag?

Here’s the good news: There are many ways to minimize the effects of jet lag, and most of them are quite easy to do. Follow the tips below and you’ll find yourself in tip-top shape in no time.

1. Schedule a Flight with a Daytime Arrival & Sleep on the Plane

This is a twofold tip with a good reason behind it. Arriving at your destination with the sun up and the whole day ahead of you encourages you to go out and explore right away. If you’re feeling a little tired, even a short sightseeing walk outside will do. Daylight helps regulate your body clock.

morning silhouette of man walking through airport

An extreme version of this tip is to try to arrive right around breakfast time, and have that first meal of the day at your destination. This works out well if you’re asleep during transit and catching zzz’s while everyone else is eating airplane food.

Sleeping on the plane ensures that you will have energy to be out and about first thing when you arrive. It also lessens your exposure to the common causes of travel fatigue, which we covered earlier. Wear comfortable clothes and bring earplugs, sleep masks and a travel pillow to help you slip into slumber.

Looking for a good travel pillow? Here are some of our favorites:

Note that this doesn’t mean that you should deprive yourself of sleep right before your flight. A good night’s rest is always important! Instead, have the flight schedule match your daily routine and your destination’s time zone—while following our third jet lag tip below.

For long haul flights that cross more than half a dozen time zones, it may also help to build in a stopover into your itinerary. Try to pick a stopover that’s halfway to your destination. This will give your body more leeway to adjust to the extreme change in schedule.

2. Drink More Water & Avoid Alcohol or Coffee

It can be tempting to use alcohol to fall asleep quicker and coffee to stay up later in order to match your destination’s time zone. However, it’s best to avoid alcohol and any source of caffeine from few days before to a few days after your flight.

This means no glass of wine or cup of coffee while on the plane, too. Another good reason follow our first jet lag tip and sleep on the plane—so you won’t have the chance to do this!

Why? While they may work to control your sleep routine in the moment, in the long run they will only lengthen the time your body needs to recover from jet lag. Both substances also cause dehydration and can contribute to fatigue and feelings of anxiety.

Instead, drink a lot of water—as often as you can! If you are properly hydrated, your body will be able to fight off the symptoms of jet lag better.

3. Adjust Your Everyday Routine Before Your Trip

Hit the ground running! This is especially helpful if you’re going on a very long trip.

For a few days to a week before your departure, try as much as possible to follow to live as if you were already in your destination’s time zone. This means waking up and going to bed earlier if you’re going east, and later if you’re going west. Taking your three meals a day following this time-adjusting routine is also recommended.

You may  do this gradually—an hour at a time over more days—if your trip involves crossing multiple time zones. It may take longer, but the result will save you from the shock of sudden adjustment.

If work and other responsibilities prevents you from doing this properly, schedule your departure at the end of your weekend. You will then have at least two days to adjust prior to travel. The best part? There are online resources to help you do this. One good example is jet lag calculator Jet Lag Rooster.

4. Set Your Clocks to Your Destination’s Time Zone After Liftoff

This is simply an extension of the previous tip, and it lays the groundwork for more jet lag recovery measures. Training yourself to work within a new time zone is the physical part. Setting your smartphone and wristwatch to your destination’s local time once your plane is in the air is the mental part, as it psychologically prepares your for the adjustment.

hand holding wristwatch on red background

Warning: Don’t do this step before you board your flight! You don’t want to risk missing your departure time because of the most embarrassing reason ever.

Setting your clocks to the correct time zone will also make it easier for you to adapt and ease out of jet lag once you’re already there. It will help you wake up, sleep and eat meals at the correct times.

Upping your exposure to daylight during mornings and limiting exposure to artificial light during nights also helps—though, truth be told, this is just a good sleep hygiene tip in general.

5. Consider Sleep Supplements or Medication as a Last Resort

If, after following the previous tips above, you still feel like you need help, the use of a mild sedative may be in order. We suggest melatonin-based sleep supplement. Melatonin is a hormone naturally found and produced in the body, and with correct dosage, it may ease jet lag symptoms.

Looking for a natural sleep aid for your travel needs? Here are some favorites that are specifically recommended for jet lag recovery:

This shouldn’t be an instant solution. It may work better if you use it a few days beforehand, timing the doses to match your destination’s time zone. By the time you are in transit, you might no longer need that melatonin boost.

Please do consult your physician before choosing a sleep aid and doing this. This goes double if you already have pre-existing conditions that are kept in check by regular maintenance medication. You don’t want to be surprised by negative side effects when you’re on vacation or far from everything familiar to you.

A Final Note: When Jet Lag Isn’t Just Jet Lag

It’s worth remembering that the tips we’ve shared are for jet lag only. They don’t cover several things that can add to feelings of malaise and unease while traveling, especially via plane. Blood circulation problems and ear pain are common complaints, for example.

Jet lag symptoms can make travel uncomfortable and tedious. Piling on additional worries, pains and aches obviously only makes things worse. If you suspect that you may be at risk for the above mentioned conditions, schedule an appointment with a trusted physician to work out a plan to manage your health while traveling.