Jet lag has the potential to cast a shadow on any trip, whether that’s an important business trip or the vacation of a lifetime. And once people are home again, adjusting to their usual schedule can take longer than they bargained for.
What is jetlag, anyway? Put simply, it’s when the body clock gets confused in a different time zone.
“Cues such as light exposure, mealtimes, social engagement, and activities regulate our circadian rhythm,” Allison Siebern, Ph.D., told WebMD. “When you cross time zones, it disrupts those, and your internal clock and the external time are desynchronized. Your body needs to get into the rhythm of the new time zone.”
Shift your schedule before you leave.
People can gradually move their bedtime earlier or later by 15-minute chunks for a few days before they leave, to help them adjust once they’re traveling. “Most people sleep best in their bed, and therefore it is best to gradually shift at home,” Lisa Medalie, Psy.D., a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, told Forbes. “If flying east, passengers should gradually advance (i.e., move bedtime earlier), and if flying west they should gradually delay (i.e., move bedtime later).” Another idea is to start eating meals around when people will be eating at their destination.
As soon as you get on the plane, change the clocks on your watch and phone to the time at your final destination.
This will help the brain get used to the new time zone before you’ve even arrived.
If it’s nighttime at your final destination, get some sleep. If not, try to stay awake throughout the flight.
If people have trouble falling asleep on planes, they should come prepared with earplugs and an eye mask. If people have space in their carry-on luggage, cozy socks and a warm travel blanket can make a huge difference, too.
If people are trying to sleep at a truly wacky time, like on a morning flight, they may find that a melatonin supplement will help them nod off — but they should test this at home first to see how their body reacts. Finally, don’t rely on booze to help you fall asleep. While a glass of wine may ease people to sleep, overdoing it will leave them dehydrated and even more tired than usual.
Get some sunlight.
Once people arrive at their destination, they should get outside. “Getting into the sunlight can help sync up your internal clock with the new time zone—but the time of day that you get outdoors is important,” the National Sleep Foundation website advises. “If you travel eastward, you’ll want to soak up the sun in the morning. But if you fly west to get to your destination, get outside later in the day or in the early evening if the sun is still out.”
Try to avoid napping the day away.
After an exhausting overnight flight, crashing for several hours can be very appealing. If you can power through without napping, you’re more likely to fall asleep at an appropriate time that night. If you must nap, do so before 4 PM, and don’t sleep longer than one hour.
Stick to light meals.
Try not to eat heavy foods that will make you feel tired and sluggish afterward. Keep your energy up by enjoying lighter foods and staying as active as possible.
When it’s time to return home, try to get back to your normal routine as soon as possible.
If you’re really struggling with jetlag, give yourself a few days to get “back to normal.” It can be tough to overcome but know that it will eventually pass.
[Editor’s Note: The content provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. Any information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We encourage you to consult with the appropriate health expert if you have concerns.]
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Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.
He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.
Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.