10 Tips for Getting Through Jet Lag

Jet lag is often not part of a travel plan. Here are a few tips on how to reduce jet lag and get through it.

So, I foolishly thought that jet lag is nothing to worry about until… Until I traveled from San Francisco to Shanghai. What I’ve learned so far is that jet lag is actually worth preparing for. Failing to prepare may likely ruin your first few days in your new time zone.

Adjusting to a new time zone turned out to be a big struggle for me. It took me quite a while to get used to my new destination and precious time was lost.

Before I proceed onto tips of how to conquer it let’s first talk about what actually is a jet lag?  Jet lag is extreme tiredness after a long distance flight across time zones. It is caused by altering the functionality of your circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that regulates sleeping and waking.

Common Symptoms of Jet Lag:

  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Sleeplessness especially at night
  • Drowsiness during daytime
  • Irritability
  • A headache

How to Deal With Lags

Jet lag does not have to be the price we pay for the convenience of flying across time zones. If you’re worried about the effects of long-distance flights, the good news is that there are ways to ease the effects. I’m going to share with you 10 tips on conquering jet lag.

Tip 1: Prepare Beforehand

If you’re vulnerable to jet lag, then prepare well before departing. Jet lag symptoms worsen for those flying east compared to travelers flying west. This is because flying east runs in the opposite direction to your body’s circadian rhythm.

The best thing is to get your body prepared for the changes in time zone before departure. If you’re flying eastwards, try to go to sleep a few hours earlier than usual. And when you fly west, go to sleep a couple of hours later than usual.

Tip 2: Adjust Your Watch

Remember, you’re flying across time zones so the transition process should begin the moment you are on the plane. Change your watch to the new destination’s time zone once on board. Try to adapt your wake and sleep patterns to your destination’s time.  If it’s noon there, try to stay awake.  If it’s midnight, try to sleep or nap.  Don’t force it too hard; it might result in complications such as insomnia. To the extent possible, let it come naturally.

Tip 3: Get Enough Sleep

This is especially important when on a long-haul flight. Traveling can be exhausting and the more sleep you get while in transit, the better for you. Your body feels revitalized and rejuvenated to deal with the stress of jet lag.  Obviously, it is easier to get comfortable and get some zzz’s in business or first class.  This might be worth paying more for if you are on a long distance flight.  If you’re traveling on a tight budget, a window seat is usually more comfortable for sleeping (you will not be woken up every time someone from your row tries to get through to the aisle).  Don’t forget to bring whatever tools it takes to get comfy: pillow, slippers, blanket.

If possible, pick your flight time based on your ability to nap/sleep on planes. Daytime flights are good for those who are not able to sleep well on planes while ‘red eye’ flights are recommended for those who find it easy to doze off in mid-air.

As a general rule, I don’t make recommendations for sleeping pills. However, Melatonin pills are over-the-counter supplements that are pretty effective for overcoming insomnia and jet lag (in some countries Melanin requires a prescription). Melatonin’s main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles. Darkness causes the body to produce more Melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Light decreases Melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake.

I don’t recommend taking Melatonin before or during a flight. A dose of Melatonin before or during the flight can cause you to be drowsy and annoyed especially if you are the sort of person who finds it difficult to fall asleep on planes. You can take Melatonin just before you go to bed on the first night of your trip to help you sleep through the night and thus getting rid of jet lag faster.


Picture of passengers sleeping on a plane. Sleeping in flight can reduce jet lag.

Sleeping on a plane helps in reducing jet lag.

Tip 4: Eat Right

The food we eat influences jet lag. The tryptophan in carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, potatoes, and rice renders folks sleepy and increases your need for sleep. This can come in handy if you’re going eastwards.

For those traveling westward, eat light, protein-rich food to stay awake.

Tip 5: Avoid Coffee

It’s advisable to avoid caffeine during flights. While caffeine can help you stay awake for an extended period, it affects your sleep pattern.  Your body does a better job of dealing with the stress of travel, and that of a jet lag, when it’s caffeine free.

Tip 6: Drink a Lot of Water

Remember to drink water regularly, whether or not you feel thirsty. The humidity on a plane is around 5% – extremely low.  Hydrating helps you from the inside out.  It prevents your skin from drying up and also keeps your mucous membranes from struggling.  Drink a glass of water at least every hour to stay hydrated.

Tip 7: Pack Appropriately

Remember to pack items for great comfort and convenience while on the airplane. A sleep kit is a nice idea. My sleep kit contains earplugs to keep out the noise, an eye mask, aromatherapy, warm socks and other sleep aids. And since I’m prone to headaches while traveling across time zones, I pack a few medications as well.

Tip 8: Take a Shower

Upon arrival at your destination, take a warm bath before going to sleep. This little act will not only ease travel stress but also help your body be relaxed and refreshed for the next day’s activities. Taking your bath will help you enjoy a better night sleep.

When you crash on your hotel bed, try keeping your cell phone out of reach and away from your nightstand table. Getting up in the middle of the night and immediately grabbing your phone to check messages or emails is guaranteed to disrupt your ability to fall back to sleep again.

Picture of a woman looking at her phone while in bed. Phones prevent people from going to sleep.

Keep your mobile phone out of reach when going to sleep.

Tip 9: Your New Environment

Try to get into the routine of your new environment as soon as possible but do take things slowly. Sure, you can’t wait to discover what your new destination has in store, but your body ultimately will dictate what you do.  A long-haul flight can be exhausting.  Keeping healthy is the most important thing.

Tip 10: Expose Yourself to Daylight

Assuming you arrive during the day, as soon as possible upon arrival, get out in the sun.  More than anything, light communicates to your body how to set its internal clock.

Don’t let jet lag ruin your first days in a new time zone. A little preparation and thoughtfulness will make a difference you will appreciate.

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