If you're an experienced traveler, you know there's jet lag — and then there's jet lag. If you're traveling from L.A. to New York, for instance, you'll have a hard time knowing when it's lunchtime. If you're traveling from L.A. to Tokyo, you'll have a hard time even existing.
Jet lag symptoms include sleep disturbance, fatigue, irritability, digestive upset and feelings of fuzziness or fogginess. The Mayo Clinic estimates the required recovery time as one day per time zone crossed.1 But that's not going to work if you only have a week to enjoy at your destination! The next time you fly across multiple time zones, try these proven tips to help you avoid jet lag.
Travel writer Rick Steves has an interesting strategy to help him avoid jet lag: "Plan from the start as if you’re leaving two days before you really are."2 So if your flight to Berlin actually leaves June 8, have all your bags packed and your house in order on June 6. Then, he advises, "you have two orderly, peaceful days" to spend resting and relaxing.
You can even begin adjusting your sleep routine before you depart by moving your bedtime up or back. The Jet Lag Rooster app helps you figure out the best schedule for your destination.
Here's another trick: Trick yourself. As soon as you arrive at the airport, set your watch or phone to your destination time, and live by that time. If it says 6 a.m., have breakfast. If it says 10 p.m., try to sleep. Wearing blue-blocker sunglasses can help fool your body into thinking it's night.
While flying, drink as much water (or juice/herbal tea) as possible, and avoid alcohol. Adjusting your meals can help reset your body clock, too. That means avoiding food during nighttime hours (destination time) to let your blood sugar drop, as it normally does during sleep, then following that fast with a healthy breakfast.3
What about how to avoid jet lag once you arrive? The number one rule, flight attendants say, is don't sleep. Even if you're so tired that you feel like you might collapse onto the baggage carousel and be whisked away into the innards of the airport, have another coffee and stagger on. “Do not sit down on the hotel bed; once your behind touches the hotel bed, it’s over," warns flight attendant and author Heather Poole. "Get out of the room. Go for a walk. Get in the sunlight.”4
That's easier said than done, though. That's why, if you're visiting friends, you should ask your hosts to help you adjust. When you arrive in London at 5 p.m. local time, but your body still thinks it's noonish, having your friends usher you to the local pub for a pint can set you straight.
You arrive in Tel Aviv with the best intentions of staying up late... and then promptly fall asleep face-first on your hotel bed. The next day, you feel all out of sorts. You need jet lag remedies, fast.
Many travelers advise taking melatonin, a hormone your body uses to regulate sleep. You can try a dose after dark on the day you travel and for the first few days you arrive, according to WebMD.5 Talk to your doctor first, however.
Once you wake up the next day, get some sun. "Bright light exposure is the most powerful way to cause a phase shift — an advance or delay in circadian rhythms," Scientific American explains. In one study, researchers found that they successfully shifted people's circadian rhythms by 2 hours by exposing them to early-morning bright light for three days. We don't recommend shining a flashlight in your own eyes at 3 a.m., but sunlight can be an effective jet lag cure. If you traveled west, expose yourself to morning sunlight and avoid afternoon sun; if you traveled east, do the reverse.
If all else fails, just decide to make the most of your jet lag. You could time your arrival in Paris to the Nuit Blanche (White Night) celebration in October, when the city stays awake all night to enjoy art, theater and dance performances. Or, if you find yourself unwillingly awake at 5 a.m. in Sydney, get up, go out and watch the sun rise spectacularly behind the Sydney Opera House. Travel happy!