You’ve come all this way and saved up an entire paycheck to fly overseas, and yet, the first thing you want to do when you land is sleep a whole 12 hours. What gives?
According to the World Health Organization, jet lag occurs when you cross multiple time zones, which disrupts your circadian rhythms, or internal 24-hour clock. It often presents itself as nighttime insomnia or daytime drowsiness. Contrary to popular belief, jet lag doesn’t only impact your sleep routine, but can reduce the ability to focus while awake, promote indigestion or poor bowel function, reduce your appetite and exacerbate symptoms of existing psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.
While there’s no “cure” for jet lag, you can certainly take measures to reduce the severity of your symptoms. Here are your strategies.
Before your trip
Your future self will thank you if you do some of the legwork before you get on a plane. “If you’re traveling to a time zone that is just two or three hours away, try to sync up your sleep cycle with that new time zone,” said Erin Stokes, ND, medical director at MegaFood. “For example, during the days leading up to a work trip to the east coast from my home in Colorado, I go to bed progressively earlier each evening.”
The Journal of Travel Medicine and Infectious Diseases found that travelers experience a reduction in jet lag symptoms when taking a melatonin supplement two to three days before the trip. Speak to your doctor about taking a melatonin supplement 30 minutes before bed, which Stokes said can promote a healthy sleep cycle.
During your flight
For a red-eye flight overseas, it’s ideal to try to sleep on the flight. “I definitely recommend hydrating and avoiding alcohol as well. Basically, you want to try to get onto the new day and night cycle as soon as you can,” said Stokes.
To induce restful sleep, wear an eye mask and noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to block out any light and noise, respectively. If there’s a chill in the cabin, avoid layering on the blankets and lean into it: a Journal of Physiological Anthropology study found that participants experienced deeper, more restful sleep when sleeping partially nude due to their lower body temperature. Of course, going half nude is not an option in a public setting, but removing that airline-issued fleece blanket (as long as you’re not shivering without it) can certainly achieve that same cooling effect.
After you’ve landed
You might feel disoriented when you touch down in a new time zone, but fight the urge to relegate yourself to your hotel room. “It’s ideal to go on a walk outside to get some fresh air in the daylight hours. This cue of natural light will help reset your biological clock,” said Stokes. In this case, a trip to the coffee shop is your best bet. Research from the journal Pharmacy and Therapeutics found that caffeine is particularly effective at helping you adjust to a new time zone.
And finally, an excuse to try all the local restaurants. According to the journal Current Biology, using food to synchronize your biology with your new environment can help reset your “master clock.” Even if you aren’t hungry, try timing your meals with that of your destination, and your body will adapt in no time — well, a couple days.