Traveling by air across multiple time zones often results in jet lag, a temporary condition caused by the disruption of our body's internal circadian rhythms. Symptoms of jet lag like fatigue, insomnia, or gastrointestinal issues can interfere with work and leisure activities after a long flight. However, with some planning and self-care strategies, travelers can take steps to minimize jet lag effects.
One key tactic is to start adjusting your sleep-wake cycle before travel to match the schedule at your destination. For eastward travel where time zones gain hours, aim to stay up late and sleep in closer to your destination time in the days leading up. For westward travel losing hours, go to bed earlier to catch up on sleep (Waterhouse et al., 2005). Gradual pre-travel adjustment eases the abrupt change and helps cue our circadian rhythms.
On the plane, choose clothing and seating with max sunlight exposure if traveling east and minimal sun if westbound to align with new light cues at destination (Waterhouse et al., 2005). If safe, request an aisle seat allowing brief walks every few hours. Stay hydrated with water and limit alcohol and heavy meals, as these promote sleepiness counter to desired circadian switching.
Upon arrival, expose yourself to natural sunlight as soon as possible for resetting cues through the eyes (Waterhouse et al., 2007; Groeger et al., 2004). If arriving during night at the destination, consider tackling important daytime tasks using sunglasses to block melatonin suppression from indoor light. Stay active throughout the day to reinforce the new circadian cycle.
Careful meal timing is also important. Aim to eat your main meal at the appropriate local time rather than following old body clock cues (Waterhouse et al., 2005). For eastward travel in particular, have your last meal no later than three hours before your new destination bedtime to avoid digestive issues.
Supplements like melatonin aren't a cure-all but may help promote sleep at a new bedtime up to a few days if timed correctly (Petit et al., 2021). 0.5-5mg doses taken 1-2 hours before desired sleep time can aid circadian shifting, though check for medicinal interactions. Some herbal options like valerian or chamomile may also relax the body before bed.
Staying caffeinated during destination daytimes is another proven tactic to combat jet lag fatigue, though avoid coffee near bed (Fennessy & Mamet, 2021; Waterhouse et al., 2005). Getting regular exercise is highly advised too for maintaining energy levels throughout realignment. Additionally, relaxation methods like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or meditation may aid in falling or staying asleep during transition.
With consistent application of strategies from pre-travel scheduling to post-arrival sunlight, meals, supplements and rest, most travelers can significantly reduce jet lag symptoms after crossing multiple time zones by air. While full realignment may take a few days, smart planning and self-care routines empower flyers to hit the ground running on vacations or work trips abroad.
Fennessy, M., & Mamet, J. (2021). Jet lag: Strategies for prevention and management. BMJ clinical evidence, 2021.
Groeger, J. A., Viola, A. U., Lo, J. C. Y., von Schantz, M., Archer, S. N., & Dijk, D. J. (2004). Early morning executive functioning during sleep deprivation is compromised by a period of prior wakefulness but restored by sleep. Sleep, 27(7), 1087-1095.
Petit, L., Rojo, L. E., Bretenac, D., Voituron, N., Vaugeois, M. H., Dissel, S., ... & Sterpenich, V. (2021). Strategies for managing jet lag: A review. Sleep medicine reviews, 58, 101432.
Waterhouse, J., Folkard, S., & Minors, D. (2005). Desynchronosis and desynchronization. In Principles and Practice of Chronotherapy (pp. 7-15). CRC Press.
Waterhouse, J., Reilly, T., & Atkinson, G. (2007). Jet lag: Trends and coping strategies. The Lancet, 369(9567), 1117-1129.