How can I Relieve Jet Lag?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

For those who must travel frequently, and cross several time zones, jet lag is a common problem. Jet lag describes the fatigue you feel, and the problems with sleeping that many people encounter when the body has to adjust to a completely different time zone. The sun may be out and the birds twittering, but your body is telling you it’s time for bed. It’s often most difficult to deal with jet lag when you cross at least three time zones, and when you travel from west to east, because you’ve actually lost hours. Given that this condition can make you less able to work, or to enjoy the sights if you’re vacationing, it can help to do all you can to relieve jet lag.

Wearing earplugs can help you sleep on a flight, reducing jet lag.
Wearing earplugs can help you sleep on a flight, reducing jet lag.

There are many “remedies” and proposed ideas to relieve jet lag. However, the simplest methods for relief are the easiest, and won’t cost you much, if anything, to try. First off, if you suffer from severe jet lag every time you travel, and you must travel for business meetings, you might want to try to plan on arriving at your travel destination at least two days in advance. This extra time can give you the opportunity to adjust your body’s natural rhythms so your sleep patterns don’t have you looking red-eyed and wild during an important business meeting.

Wearing a sleep mask can help you get sleep on a flight and minimize jet lag.
Wearing a sleep mask can help you get sleep on a flight and minimize jet lag.

Other methods to relieve jet lag include the following. Try adjusting your at home bedtime rituals about a week before you travel. Each night, gradually adjust yourself to going to bed an hour earlier. Minimize distractions when you’re trying to sleep earlier. Turn the TV off an hour before you sleep, and if it’s still light outside, use a sleeping mask or heavy blanket to cover your windows.

Traveling across time zones can give a person jet lag.
Traveling across time zones can give a person jet lag.

If you’re taking a night flight, for example from New York to Europe, definitely attempt to get as much sleep as you can while en route. Again, use an eye mask, earplugs or earphones, and anything else that will promote your sleep. Also, when not sleeping, drink plenty of water on the plane. Pressurized air cabins tend to dehydrate people and can make jet lag seem worse. Don’t drink coffee or alcohol, which can decrease dehydration.

Sunlight exposure usually can help relieve jet lag.
Sunlight exposure usually can help relieve jet lag.

If you arrive in the morning, even if you’re feeling sleepy, stay up. Try to stay up until at least eight or nine in the evening of your first day in a new time zone. By going to sleep sooner, your body doesn’t have time to adjust to the new time zone and you won’t relieve jet lag, but instead prolong it. On the other hand, if you arrive at night, don’t stay up. Try to sleep, even if you don’t feel like it. You may catch a few winks that will help relieve jet lag symptoms in the morning.

Melatonin supplements can help a person fall asleep.
Melatonin supplements can help a person fall asleep.

It also helps to get outdoors, into the sunlight. Try to plan some non-strenuous outdoor time, or some light walking, for your first day. Exposure to sunlight helps to reset the body’s circadian rhythms, and can usually help relieve jet lag in the first few days.

Melatonin supplements may be used to relieve jet lag from traveling across time zones.
Melatonin supplements may be used to relieve jet lag from traveling across time zones.

Depending upon the time zone you’re traveling from, and the zone you’re traveling to, there are specific recommendations for avoiding light on the first day. For instance, a New Yorker traveling to Paris would want to get outdoors from about noon to two pm on the first day, and then on the second, get outdoors from about nine in the morning to noon. Ask your doctor, or search out time zone changes to find specific recommendations for when to get light and when to avoid it on the first few days of your stay.

Some people rely on sleeping pills, and melatonin is counted as the instant cure for jet lag. Do speak to a doctor if you plan to consider using melatonin, any type of over the counter sleeping pills, or prescription medications. Sometimes these aren’t effective to relieve jet lag and may contribute, especially over the counter drugs, to poorer quality sleep. On the other hand, other people swear by them to relieve jet lag.

Sleeping pills aren't always effective at treating jet lag.
Sleeping pills aren't always effective at treating jet lag.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

WGwriter

Please read our article, coming out in the next few days, "Does fasting Really Help Prevent Jet Lag?" In sum though, the study hasn't been replicated in humans and is not likely to work.

Best,

T. Ellis-Christensen

jabuka

I travel often, and it takes me several days, and occasionally even longer to adjust to a new time zone. Our bodies can adjust to a new time zone only in small increments, according to an article that i just read about jet lag.

The idea behind it is the following. We eat, wake up and sleep according to our body's clock, and the way it responds to light. However, a secondary clock kicks in when we are hungry. So when one deprives oneself of food, the secondary clock will be activated and will override the primary clock. That action might in turn ease the adjustment to a new time zone.

The study has been done on mice only, I believe at Harvard Medical School, and according to the findings it takes sixteen hours of fasting to activate the secondary clock.

Well it looks a little long to me to be without food, but maybe it is worth testing it out.

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