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The holidays are a time for family, food, relaxation, and oftentimes, travel. I, for one, don’t look forward to long travel days or the repercussions of disruptions to my regular schedule. Sleepiness, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems can all be symptoms of jet lag. The more time zones you cross, the worse your symptoms will be. Some studies estimate that our natural, circadian clock can only adjust about one hour per day when we have crossed many time zones. It can take at least six days for your body to fully adjust after travelling across ten time zones. Whether you are flying across the country to visit family or taking advantage of the holiday by going on a trip abroad, these jet lag remedies will help you to easily adjust to the new schedule of your destination.
1. Shift Your Schedule in Advance
One of the best ways you can prepare for travel is to adjust your eating and sleep schedule before you leave on your trip. A few days before your flight, start to gradually move your bedtime closer to the schedule of your destination, and wake up closer to when you will have to when you arrive. Do this with meals as well, moving your mealtimes closer and closer to those of your destination. By the time you take your flight, your body’s clock will already be closer to that of your new time zone, so it will take a shorter time to fully adjust.
2. Take Melatonin
Melatonin helps to regulate the 24-hour sleep wake cycle. Taking melatonin at the right time can therefore help to shift your body’s internal clock to adjust to a new time zone.[2,3] Try 3 to 5 mg an hour or two before the time you want to go to bed. Melatonin will help to trick your body into thinking it is the regular time to fall asleep. (Read more about melatonin for insomnia here.)
3. Light Exposure
Properly timed light exposure can shift your circadian clock, just as melatonin supplementation can. For this reason, strategic exposure to and avoidance of light can be an effective way to prevent jet lag. If you are travelling east, avoid afternoon and evening light when you arrive. Make sure you seek out bright light in the morning hours instead. If you are travelling west, avoid light in the morning and make sure to get afternoon and evening light exposure at your destination. Even when you’re not travelling, light exposure affects your sleep. Learn more here.
4. Hydrate to Avoid Jet Lag
Dehydration is very common among travelers, and it can make jet lag symptoms worse. While you are traveling, drink plenty of water. Continue to hydrate when you arrive. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.
Try these four jet lag remedies for your upcoming travel plans. Research shows that a combination of techniques is best. For example, one study found that using both exposure to light and 5 mg melatonin before bed was significantly more effective than either intervention alone, because the combination was able to shift the circadian clock more substantially.
Share Your Own Jet Lag Remedies
What are your favorite jet lag remedies? What have you found works best for adjusting to a new time zone? Share your tips in the comments section below.
This article was originally published in 2014. It has since been updated.