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Minimize Jet Lag with These Tips, Tricks, and Body Hacks

Woman, passed out from the exhaustion of jet lag, in her hotel room.
Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

Traveling is all fun and games until the jet lag catches up with you. Here are our top tricks and techniques to help you beat the jet lag and stay energized whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure.

Before we dig into our tips, let’s talk about jet lag in general. Jet lag hits you when you traverse time zones, and your poor body can’t keep up. You arrive at your destination, and the only thing you can think of is how much longer until you reach your accommodations and head straight to bed. Your body is confused, its biorhythm is completely off, and you feel terrible. It’s not the end of the world if you’re there for an extended stay and you can slowly adjust, but if it’s a business trip or you’re there for a quick holiday, bouncing back from jet lag as fast as possible is essential. 

From preemptive methods to supplements, from diet to activities, several tricks and body hacks can help you minimize jet lag. Read on to get some useful tips to put into action on your next long-haul flight. 

Before You Depart, Do This

Our circadian rhythm, namely the sleep/wake cycle, is carefully controlled by several hormones that put us to sleep at night and wake us up in the morning. It’s a biologically choreographed routine that keeps our bodily systems functioning in accordance with our daily activities. Any shift in the schedule, our routines, and, most importantly, our exposure the sun and our perception of the length of the day, can really put the hurt on us. Because of the delicate nature of the system, our bodies take a few days to adapt to a new time zone. Preparing for the big change is one way to fight the side effects.

Gradually Change Your Sleep Pattern Ahead of Time

According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines, starting to shift your sleep schedule three days before departure can help you ease into the new day/night cycle and handle jet lag like a champ. Effective planning begins by considering the direction in which you’ll be flying. Flying east can make your hormones believe the day got longer while flying west makes it feel like the day got much shorter. Therefore, act accordingly: if you’ll be on an eastbound flight, go to bed an hour earlier every night until departure, and if you’ll be on a westbound flight, stay up an extra hour. It may be a small change, but it’s certainly significant.

Shift Your Clock and Routine to the New Time Zone

Going to bed earlier or later isn’t enough for most of us. To increase your chances of minimizing jet lag as much as possible, set a clock at home or your watch to the new time zone and begin to shift your routine to match the local time at destination. If your schedule and lifestyle allow it, carry out all the daily activities you usually do, like eating your meals, working out, reading, and going outside, somewhat according to the new time. Just like with your sleep, a shift of one or two hours at a time can make a big difference.

Avoid Blue Light and Embrace Dark Sleeping Conditions

To aid with your plan of shifting your sleeping schedule, it’s important to understand the effect the light from your electronics, commonly referred to as “blue light,” has on your body. Blue spectrum light stimulating and exposure to the crisp white-blue light early in the day helps perk us up. Therefore, if you’re trying to go to sleep earlier than usual, or even hoping to get some quality sleep on any given day, you should avoid spending time on your phone, tablet, or laptop right before bed.

However, if you must, you can use iOS’s “Night Shift” feature or Android’s Twilight app to turn your device’s screen output warmer. You can also use set up similar systems on your computer using apps like F.lux or built-in solutions like Night Light mode on Windows 10 or Night Shift on macOS. By setting your location and local time, the software adjusts your laptop’s screen light to match the day/night cycle: it turns softer and warmer at sunset and turns it bright and blue at sunrise. If you’re traveling soon, you can use it as part of your shifting time zone plan; if you’re not, you can use it to help yourself stick to a routine and enjoy better sleep.

Also, keep your room dark and reduce as much light as possible at bedtime. The darker the room, the quicker you’ll fall asleep, and the higher the shuteye quality will be. 

Get Help from Dedicated Jet Lag Tools

Dedicated planners, rejoice. Technology can now help you plan your anti-jetlag strategy more accurately. At the website Jet Lag Rooster, you insert all the details of your trip and current routine, and it gives you a detailed plan to change things up according to your preferences. A more sophisticated option is the paid app Timeshifter, not only does it help you plan for the time zone shift, but it also gives you little extra details like when to take naps and when to have coffee.

Keep Up the Jet Lag Defense While Traveling

Woman sleeping on a plane with a blanket and eye mask.

Whether you’re a nervous flyer or you find the whole experience exciting, flying disrupts your routine and can easily wreak havoc in your body. From the bright overhead lights to the food you eat, it’s worth knowing what’s good for you, what to do, and when to do it. Here are a few tips to consider when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. 

Control Your Light Exposure

Just as you would do at home, try to control the exposure to blue light while on the flight to match with the new time zone. If you have to sleep, avoid the entertainment center, your electronic devices, turn off the overhead lights, and wear an eye mask. If you have to stay awake, watch a movie, use your eReader, or anything that can keep you entertained and requires light.

Time Your Food Intake

If your jet lag preparation plan included shifting your meal times, then this won’t be too difficult for you. In-flight service on airplanes usually consists of serving your meals according to the coming time zone, breakfast before dawn, and dinner in the afternoon. However, the content of the meals is just as important when it comes to adjusting your body to the new local time. Carbohydrate-rich foods, like rice, pasta, and potatoes, can induce a feeling of sleepiness and fatigue, making it the ideal option when flying east. If you’re flying west, consider eating more protein dense meals, like meat, fish, and eggs, as your body will take longer to burn off and will keep you awake for longer.

Mind Your Alcohol Intake

free alcohol on an overnight flight sure sounds like the ideal way to unwind and put yourself to sleep. Unfortunately, however,  at higher altitudes, the substance becomes much more potent, causing substantial dehydration and interrupted sleep in the form of increased snoring and sleep apnea. All that strongly disrupts your circadian rhythm and makes your fight against jet lag even harder than it already is. Best to skip the alcohol and drink plenty of water instead. 

Supplement with Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain to tell the body it’s time to sleep. Taken in small doses, it can help you sync your biorhythm to the new time zone. While some people prefer to begin taking the supplement a couple of days before the trip, others feel comfortable starting on the day of the flight and for the following one to three days. 

When You Arrive, Do This

If you’re unprepared, this is when you get smacked in the face by the harsh reality of jet lag: you’re exhausted, you’re hungry at odd times, your mood is all over the place, and your bodily functions and related measurements are nothing close to being stable. If you do have a few days of preparation behind you, then you should be able to handle the big change with more ease and continue until you’re fully adjusted to the new day/night cycle. Check out the following tricks to guide your body away from fatigue and into a new temporary way of life after landing. 

Time Your Meals

As we mentioned above, carbs induce sleep. That’s because they stimulate serotonin production, which is a precursor to melatonin, thus telling your body you should sleep. Therefore, leave the carbs for evening time. If you land in the morning, aim to have protein-rich foods for lunch, and indulge in healthy carbohydrates at dinner time. Avoid eating before bed to keep your insulin levels stable, and your circadian rhythm correctly stimulated.

Drink Caffeine at Key Times

Caffeine can help you realign your biorhythm to the local time if taken at the appropriate time. If you land in the morning, go about your day enjoying your cup(s) of joe as you usually would. If you land in the evening, stick to water and wait until the following morning to get your hands on as much coffee as your heart desires. 

Enjoy the Sun and Fresh Air

Just like you have to keep avoiding blue light before bed, you have to make sure you enjoy the sunlight during the day to keep your sleep/wake cycle in check. Wake up early and go outside. The natural light will remind your body it’s morning time and that it has to work accordingly, on top of stimulating vitamin D production, which aids in the release of feel-good chemicals in your system, and lowering your blood pressure. Fit in a walk and get some fresh air while you’re at it, and you’re already making good progress towards relaxing in your new temporary home.

Hit the Showers

If you land in the morning and find yourself struggling to stay awake, or if you find it hard to feel ready to face the day the following morning, take a cold shower. The difference in temperature will kickstart your bodily functions, stimulating circulation, and bringing more oxygen to your brain to make you feel more alert. If it’s night time and you can’t seem to fall asleep, take a warm shower instead. Again, the difference in temperature between the hot bathroom and the cold bedroom will lead you straight to bed and put your brain on sleep mode for the rest of the night. 

Planning is critical when it comes to minimizing jet lag. While preparation won’t cancel out all the side effects, it can speed up the recovery process and have your systems back up and running smoothly in just a few days. Even small changes can help you a great deal.  

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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