When you think about it, air travel is magical. You board a steel tube in one country along with a few hundred other strangers, levitate over the Earth while you watch the latest hit movie, and 12 hours later you’re on the other side of the world. Of course, when you arrive after hovering in the air for half a day, your body is wrecked and jet lag inevitably derails a few days of your trip. While there is no way to completely eliminate jet lag, there are a few ways to minimize its effects so you can get to exploring the other side of the world without nodding off.
Stay hydrated to minimize jet lag
Even if you do nothing else, simply avoiding travel dehydration can help fight jet lag. Dehydration can cause fatigue and lethargy and interfere with your body’s natural rhythm, both of which can affect your body’s ability to sleep. Hence, drinking a ton (of water) can seriously help minimize jet lag. So, drink up, perk up, and get on with exploring!
Adjust your internal clock before you arrive
Most travelers try to shift their internal clock upon arrival to their destination, but according to the CDC, your body will adjust more quickly if you begin altering your schedule a few days before. If you’re traveling east, force yourself to go to bed and wake up a few hours earlier than usual. If you’re traveling west, move back bedtime and sleep in. Even though you can’t replicate a multi-hour time change at home (it takes approximately one day to adjust to one timezone), a subtle shift in bedtimes will help prime your body for the upcoming time change and minimize jet lag.
Control light & dark
Jet lag is ultimately the result of your body’s internal clock adjusting to a new time zone, and one of the body’s fundamental cues for adjusting is by exposure to light and dark. When it’s light outside, your body wants to be awake. When it’s dark, you want to sleep. Therefore, you can help combat jet lag by regulating the light in your surroundings on the way to your destination.
If you arrive at your destination in the evening, prime yourself for bedtime upon arrival by staying awake on the flight and keeping your overhead light on. Conversely, if you arrive to your destination in the morning, try to mimic nighttime by keeping things dark in the air. If you’re one of the lucky ones who can sleep on a plane, great! Strap on an eye mask and doze during bedtime in your upcoming location. If you can’t sleep on a plane, Steven Lockley, a consulting professor at NASA and a sleep specialist at Harvard, suggests that you wear sunglasses throughout the flight. You may feel a bit silly, but when you arrive to your destination and it’s light out in the morning, your body will be more alert. And feeling silly is worth it to minimize jet lag.
Take melatonin (but ask your doctor first)
If you’re not opposed to a little synthetic help and you’ve checked with your doctor to make sure that it’s okay for your body, a little melatonin could go a long way in helping you adjust. One study suggested that just 5mg of melatonin can help decrease jet lag, especially when traveling through five time zones are more.
Brooke is a professional chef, writer, and thyme traveler currently meandering around the world. After co-founding and growing New York City’s Prohibition Bakery into a sustainable business, she decided to leave her predictable life and travel around the globe. Her workspaces of choice include cute cafes and shanty restaurants on the beach, though she’ll take a hammock if things get really dire.