When you’re traveling rapidly between time zones, your sleep and energy levels may be thrown off by jet lag.
This happens because your body’s circadian rhythms are thrown off by the environment, particularly as the sun sets or rises sooner or later than your body is expecting. Jet lag can cause tiredness, insomnia, impaired performance, even digestive issues.
Jet lag may make it difficult to enjoy vacations, stay on the top of your game while traveling for business, or simply get back to real life once you’ve made it home. But there is good news: there are helpful strategies for overcoming jet lag, including being well prepared for travel and using light and sleep timing to get adjusted.
What You Can do to Get Over Jet Lag
You can reduce jet lag gradually by adjusting your bedtime over the course of a few days. You’ll want to adjust it by one to two hours each day as you shift to the local time zone. For example, if you’re traveling between one to two time zones, you’ll adjust your sleep by one hour each day for up to two days. Or if you’re traveling abroad, you’ll need to adjust your sleep by one hour each day for up to five days.
There are also strategies for reducing the impact of jet lag. These include:
- Travel healthy and reduce stress: If possible, avoid flying while you’re sick, tired, or even hung over. Doing so will put you in an already difficult position for sleep and energy levels.
- Get comfortable and sleep while flying: Wear comfortable clothing for your flight and try to sleep on the plane if you’re traveling when you would normally be sleeping either at home or your destination. Arriving exhausted regardless of the time zone will not help with jet lag.
- Stay active while traveling: Avoid sitting still too long on your flight. Stretch in your seat and get up to walk the aisles periodically during the flight. If you have a stopover, deplane and stretch your legs in the airport.
- Don’t go to sleep as soon as you arrive: You may be tired, but unless it’s nighttime in the local time zone at your destination, you shouldn’t try to get a full night’s sleep. Instead, try a short nap so you’ll feel refreshed but will still be tired enough to to go sleep at night according to the local time zone.
- Expose yourself to light in the morning: Daylight is a powerful cue for sleep. It tells your body when it’s time to be awake, so light exposure can help you reset your internal sleep clock to align with the local time zone at your destination. It’s a good idea to go for a walk in the sun when you wake up. At the very least, open windows to let light into your hotel room. It’s also a good idea to use the hotel’s blackout curtains when it’s time to go to sleep.
- Get out and be social: If you’re feeling fatigued from jet lag, socializing may be the last thing you want to do. But if you spend time with other people, especially those already adjusted to the local time zone, you’ll acclimate easier, eating meals and participating in activities according to the local time.
- Practice good sleep hygiene: Wherever and whenever you sleep, it’s always smart to practice good sleep hygiene to maximize the quality of sleep you experience. Make sure your sleeping area is cool, dark, and quiet. Use a white noise machine or app if needed. Limit screen time, caffeine, large meals and alcohol before bed. Sleep on a mattress mattress that’s comfortable and not too hot and ask for a pillow that’s suited to your needs.
While there are no quick fixes for getting over jet lag, you can practice good travel sleep habits to move through jet lag as quickly as you can. Avoid long naps at the wrong time, practice good sleep hygiene, and try to follow the social and sleeping hours practiced in the local time zone when you reach your destination.
How to Pvercome Jet Lag, written by Sara Westgreen
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck Sleep. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.