Updated: Apr 20, 2019
Traveling for work or play often involves days of dealing with jet lag. Read on for some practical tips to overcome jet lag quickly and arrive feeling refreshed.
We have all had that tiresome feeling that often accompanies jet lag. Being awake at the wrong time and being sleeping during the light hours can put a damper on the first few days of a vacation or business trip. As someone who travels regularly between California and Australia, I know the effects of jet lag intimately. However I have experimented with different protocols and found a way of getting a head of jet lag, that allows me to adjust quickly to the new time zone, and I’m happy to share it with you! What most people don’t consider is that beating jet lag begins well before the actual travel happens.
Make sure you are in good health prior to travel. This is a key step that many people overlook. At least two weeks before your trip, make sure you are engaging in healthy habits, including a healthy diet, adequate exercise and good sleep habits. Good health prior to a trip will help your body adjust to the new time zone quicker, whereas poor health and sleep deprivation prior to travel will likely exacerbate jet lag symptoms.
Adjust your schedule for three days before traveling*. This involved making some small adjustments to your sleep-wake schedule before you even hit the road, so that your body is getting prepared for the new time zone. If you are traveling east, adjust your schedule so you go to bed an hour earlier and set an alarm so you wake up an hour earlier also. Or if you are traveling west, go to bed and wake up an hour later. So that way, your body is already partway adjusted to the new sleep-wake cycle before you even arrive.
*only do this if it makes sense for you. If you need to overcome jet lag quickly for work at your destination then it makes sense. If you are going on vacation and are working in the lead up to travel, it may not make sense for you.
Stay hydrated. Dehydration can exacerbate jet lag symptoms, so making sure you are drinking enough water is a key element.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both caffeine and alcohol can be dehydrating, which can increase jet lag symptoms. Caffeine obviously disrupts sleep - caffeine has a 6 hour half life, meaning that 6 hours after consuming caffeine, you still have 50% of the original amount of caffeine in your system. Alcohol, while often used as a sleep aid, can inhibit the full sleep cycle and disrupt sleep.
Shift your sleep/wake on the plane to that of your destination. If it’s night time at your destination, close your eyes, rest or sleep. Even if you can’t sleep, close your eyes, use an eye mask and ear plugs, to prepare your body for the new time zone. If it’s daytime at your destination, be active, move around the cabin and expose yourself to light or screens.
Get sunlight exposure in the morning. This helps update your body clock to know that it’s morning and time to be awake.
Get exercise. This helps your body get adjusted to the new time zone.
Use caffeine strategically. If you have caffeine first thing in the morning, it can help your body adjust to the new time zone - giving it the signal that it’s time to be awake.
Take a melatonin supplement (5mg) 25 minutes before sleep time, for the first two nights at destination. This will help your body adjust as quickly as possible.