woman on plane

JET LAG

7 steps to help reduce jet lag

 

Flying to a different time zone can throw your sleep schedule out of sync—you know it’s time to sleep, but your body still thinks it’s at home. It’s frustrating to be disoriented when you’re supposed to be making the most of your vacation, but luckily a little preparation can greatly reduce the disruption. Following these steps can help when passing through many time zones, whether you’re crossing the U.S. or flying all the way to Europe or Asia.

Adjust ahead of time

Start shifting your mealtimes and bedtime toward the ones you’ll have at your destination. Shift by another hour each night—earlier if you’re flying east, and later if you’re flying west. You may not completely make up the difference, but the more you shift, the less you’ll have to adjust once you’re there.

Fly overnight (and go to sleep)

Sleeping on a plane is easiest on overnight flights: it’s nighttime, the lights are dimmed, and it’s likely lots of other passengers are sleeping. Plus, red-eye flights traveling east usually have the advantage of delivering you to your destination in the morning or early afternoon, making it easier to keep a regular schedule.

Avoid caffeine until you’re there

From at least 12 hours before your flight through to the end, avoid caffeine. The obvious culprit is coffee, but there’s also caffeine in many teas, sodas, and even chocolates. Some over-the-counter headache relief medications also include caffeine, so check the label before taking them on a flight where you plan to sleep.

Avoid alcohol, too

It’s tempting to drink a relaxing nightcap at the start of an overnight flight, but while alcohol may help you fall asleep, it will also reduce the quality of that sleep. It’ll dry you out too, and cabin air is dehydrating enough as it is.

Spend time outside

Once you’ve arrived, go out of your way to see some sun; it’s hard for your body to keep thinking it’s nighttime if it’s getting environmental reminders that it’s daytime. (You don’t need to sunbathe—being outside fully clothed is enough.) Seeing the cues that it’s daytime will help your internal clock adjust accordingly.

Don’t go to sleep early

It’s tempting to sleep once you reach your hotel, especially if you didn’t sleep well on the plane. But no matter how tired you may be, you’ll recover better in the long run if you hold off until bedtime. Even a short nap can turn into a much longer one, and you’ll have set yourself back if you wake up refreshed from a nap … at 1 a.m.

Consider taking melatonin

Melatonin is a nonprescription supplement that’s also produced naturally in the body. Research suggests melatonin is how the body regulates when to sleep and when to wake up, and that taking melatonin may “reset” the internal clock. Some studies have found that taking low doses of melatonin before bed for several days once you’re in a new time zone can make adjusting easier.1 However, other studies find no benefit. If you decide to try it, check with your doctor to see if it’s a good option.
1A. Herxheimer and K. Petrie, “Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag,” 2002.