How to Beat Jet Lag While Traveling

Last updated November 21, 2022

For seasoned travelers, jet lag is a pain in the butt.

Nearly 93% of all frequent flyers will experience jet lag at some point. That figure is quite disturbing.

In fact, jet lag is a physiological condition caused by disturbance to the body’s natural circadian rhythm, or internal clock that signals your body when to stay awake and when to sleep. Jet lag occurs because your body’s clock is still synced to your original time zone.

The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to suffer from jet lag.

Symptoms can vary with sleepiness and daytime fatigue at the top of the list. Many people suffer from a lack of concentration, gastrointestinal problems and mood swings.

It only makes sense to try to beat jet lag, right?

Fortunately, a number of simple jet lag strategies exist to help you cope—or at least minimize the effects—so you’ll be on top of your game while traveling.

Beat jet lag by waking up early

Before you travel: gradually adjust your schedule to prevent jet lag

Jet lag differs based on the direction of travel—it’s generally easier to delay your internal clock than advance it.

If flying west, you will seemingly gain hours, which tends to be much better tolerated in terms of feeling jet lag. So, you will want to start staying up later and going to be later a few days beforehand.

But if you are flying east, you have a perception of losing hours (and sleep), which is more challenging. In this case, you will want to attempt to go to bed earlier and wake earlier a few days in advance. 

And you might consider switching up your meal schedule to align with the new travel time zone. This somehow helps you shift your sleep schedule and prevent (to an extent) jet lag. 

Woman wearing sleep mask

During your travels: get in the zone to prevent jet lag

First things first. Immediately set your watch or phone to the time of your new destination. By doing this, you will begin to mentally adjust to your new time zone. This little strategy “tricks” the mind into making a time shift earlier than expected.

A common question that often arises is whether or not to sleep en route. This decision actually depends on the direction of your travel.

If traveling east, then sleeping is suggested. This will better allow you to stay awake the first several hours on your arrival and readjust to the new time zone. Some frequent flyers swear by the use of sleep accessories during travel, like sleep masks, earbuds and headphones.

If traveling west, it’s best to avoid sleep during travel—you will more easily sleep at the correct time and through the night at your destination.

Lastly, selecting the right diet can also help beat jet lag. For sleep during travel, carbohydrate meals tend to be better while protein-heavy meals are better if trying to stay awake. And as always, stay hydrated and drink ample amounts of water.

Sunshine beats jet lag

Upon arrival: stay active to prevent jet lag

After arriving at your destination, do your best to adopt your new time zone.

Sleeping poorly on a plane and arriving in the early part of the day can obviously pose a challenge. If you’re a napper, it’s advised to take a short nap (noting that napping for more than 30 minutes can keep you from falling asleep at night); otherwise, try to settle into meditation mode before heading out on the town.

Because light serves as a stimulant and reduces the natural secretion of melatonin, exposing yourself to sunlight during the daytime can quickly help you adjust to your new surroundings. Likewise, darkness enhances melatonin production, which encourages sleep.

While it may be the last thing on your mind when you’re tired, exercising during the day in your new time zone can prevent jet lag symptoms significantly. Research shows that exercise and physical activity causes heightened levels of alertness and can reset your circadian rhythms.

Time travel

Master time travel

Not everyone struggles with jet lag disorder in the same way. Older travelers have a higher incidence of jet lag, and those who travel frequently are also at higher risk. In addition, those traveling eastward and over multiple time zones are more likely to experience jet lag.

The good news, though, is even small gains can serve as an effective jet lag solution.

With a little patience and preparation, you’ll be able to synchronize your body clock to the time around you as quickly as possible.

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