We all try to make the most of our limited time overseas, yet fail to take into account the leap in time zones we make in a matter of hours. It can take your body’s internal clock several days to catch up to that leap, and in the meantime you’re likely to experience the disruption of your sleeping and waking cycle known as jet lag. Symptoms of jet lag include feeling sleepy during the day, insomnia at night, poor concentration, confusion, hunger at inappropriate times or lack of appetite, and general irritability. Take a look at our list of best practices to combat jet lag
- Adjust your internal clock.
A week before your departure, gradually shift your sleeping and eating times to coincide with those at your destination. Once you arrive, adopt the local time for your daily routine.
- Try overnight flights.
This allows you to have dinner at a normal time and be much more likely to sleep than on an afternoon flight. Depending on the length of the flight and the number of time zones you cross, you’ll arrive at your destination in the morning or afternoon. This is the best way to replicate your normal schedule, and it’ll be easier for you to reset your internal clock.
- No coffee.
Avoid overeating and caffeine 12 hours before, as well as during, your flight. Caffeine helps keep you awake longer, but also makes you wake up more often when you do fall asleep and reduces total sleep time.
- Stay hydrated.
Try to drink at least 8 ounces of water for every hour you’re in the air—even when you don’t feel thirsty. If you wear contact lenses, clean them thoroughly before your flight, use eye drops in the air, and consider removing your lenses when you nap. Remember to pack a bottle of moisturizing lotion, lip balm, and a hydrating spray with essential oils (not just water) in your carry-on bag. Just be sure all liquid toiletries are in a TSA compliant travel bottles (3.5oz).
- No alcohol in-flight.
Cabin air dehydrates passengers, and altitude changes can increase the effects of alcohol (the rule of thumb is one drink in the air = two or three on the ground). An alcohol drink may relax you, but it will also dry you out, and your jet lag symptoms will be worse.
- Sleep on the plane is important.
Sleep is especially important when traveling overnight or flying west to east. Travel can be extremely tiring, so the more rest you get en route the more prepared you’ll be to deal with the stresses of jet lag. For example, on a long flight – United States to Asia – try saving up enough dollars or frequent-flier miles to fly business or first class, as it’s a lot easier to sleep when your seat reclines all the way back. If you can’t avoid coach, opt for a window seat and bring enough padding (neck pillows and travel blanket ) to prop yourself up against the wall.
- Use sleeping pills wisely.
A pill with a short cycle may be helpful on overnight flights. Make sure, however, that you time the dosage correctly or you may be very groggy when you land. Also, an airplane is not the place to try out a pill for the first time, so only take medications you are already familiar with.
- See if melatonin is for you.
Consider taking the nonprescription drug melatonin. Research suggests that the body uses this hormone to set its time clock. Because melatonin seems to control when we go to sleep and when we wake up, a number of scientists advocate supplements to alleviate jet lag. Some (but not all) studies suggest that taking 3 milligrams of fast-release melatonin prior to bedtime for several days after arrival in a new time zone can ease the transition.
- Get outside.
After arrival, spend a lot of time out in the sunlight, which will help your body reset its natural time clock to coincide with your new surroundings.
- Don’t drift off too early.
Unless you arrive at your destination at night, and reasonably close to a normal bedtime, don’t go to sleep as soon as you reach your hotel. Unless you’re used to taking regular short naps at home, you’re better off staying up until bedtime: If you’re really exhausted from travel, a 20-minute nap could easily become a three-hour nap, which will disrupt your sleep schedule even more—you might find yourself wide awake at 4 AM.