You stagger off the plane in Kathmandu after making the 20-hour journey from New York City. Your body thinks it’s 2 a.m.. But here in Nepal, it’s almost noon. This jet lag is like nothing you’ve ever experienced — you can’t even think straight. Is there a magical jet lag cure you can try?
Jet lag — the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms by crossing time zones —is no joke. Jet lag symptoms may include disturbed sleep, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, digestive upset and feelings of fuzziness or fogginess.
As with almost anything in life, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Travel experts say you can avoid jet lag with tricks like adjusting your sleep routine and meal times before you leave.
But sometimes, you’re not able to follow the jet lag prevention guidelines. Maybe the call of the hotel bed is just too strong, and you end up sleeping when you shouldn’t. Maybe you had a few glasses of wine on the plane instead of herbal tea. Whatever the reason, you’re now feeling awful, and you can’t afford to just wait it out. (Recovery usually takes one day per time zone crossed, according to the Mayo Clinic.1) Take heart — we’ll tell you how to cure jet lag.
1. Take melatonin to help reset your internal clock. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. “Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours,” WebMD explains.2 You can use small doses of melatonin to help your body shift its inner rhythms. Take a dose after dark on the first few days after you arrive.3 Talk to your doctor first, however, because melatonin isn’t recommended for everyone.
2. Soak up the sunshine. Sunlight is an effective jet lag cure because it’s a powerful way to adjust your circadian rhythms. If you traveled west, get out in the morning light and try to avoid afternoon sun; if you traveled east, do the reverse.4 And if you’re up at the crack of dawn, make the most of it! “Get out and enjoy a ‘pinch me, I'm in Europe’ walk, as merchants set up in the marketplace and the town slowly comes to life,” says travel guru Rick Steves. “This may be the only sunrise you'll see in Europe.”
3. Commit fully to your new time zone. Your stomach says it’s waffle time; the clock says it’s falafel time. Go with the clock on this one. “Don't try to ease into it. Embrace it,” Solo Traveler says of a major time zone shift.5 This will speed up your adjustment period.
4. Eat light meals. Nutritionists recommend eating smaller meals that include protein, complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables. That way, your energy levels will stay steady, instead of rising and crashing.6 Delish recommends specific foods that serve as jet lag remedies, such as cherries, chicken, and quinoa — but if you’ve just landed in Rome, are you really going to look for a place that serves quinoa? Stay hydrated, too. Caffeine and alcohol may make jet lag symptoms worse. Drinking lots of water, juice or herbal tea can help your body recover faster.
5. Move around. Exercise, especially outdoors, is considered to be one of the best jet lag remedies. If you already have a regular workout routine, try to do it at the usual time (in your new time zone). Writer John Donnelly credits early-morning runs with helping him swiftly shake off jet lag: “On the first morning in a new place, I lace up my running shoes, I find a running route, and I set out. ... By the second day on a trip, my inner clock almost always seems just right.”7
6. See a doctor about serious jet lag. Jet lag usually eases after a few days, depending on how far you’ve traveled. But can jet lag symptoms last for a week or two? Definitely. If you travel frequently and you have a hard time recovering from jet lag, or feel like you’re in a perpetual fog, you should consult your doctor. Possible prescriptions include sleeping medications or light therapy.
Travel insurance can’t help ease your jet lag, but it can defend you from other travel hazards, such as canceled flights, trip delays, lost and stolen baggage and missed connections. Get a quote for your next trip!