How to Fight Jet Lag Like a Pro Traveler

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When you’ve only got a few days at an exotic destination, no one wants to deal with jet lag’s super fun symptoms, like being cranky at lunch and bright-eyed at 4 am, or just being asleep when it is clearly not the time for sleep. We rounded up some experts -- DeMarco Williams, travel journo, plus Tara Cappel and Peggy Goldman, founders of For the Love of Travel and Friendly Planet Travel, respectively, and Dr. Matthew Ebben, a sleep expert at Weill Cornell Medicine -- to share their best tips for taking the lag out of all your jetting around.

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Maximize your exposure to light

Jet lag happens because your body’s circadian rhythms are in sync with your regular time zone but not your current location. That’s why you pace around your hotel room at bedtime, but crash face-first into the free continental breakfast the next morning. Light exposure is key to helping your brain get in sync with your air miles -- but, you need to make sure you’re getting light at the right time of day. If you’ve headed east, and are now a few hours ahead of your regular time zone, you’ll want to seek out sunlight in the morning hours; west, and you’ll getting sunshine in the late afternoon/early evening will help you fall asleep and wake up later.

Get a good night’s sleep the night before the flight

Here’s what you definitely don’t want to do the night before your flight: come home from work, rush through dinner, and frantically throw what you need into a suitcase. Because 1) you’re going to forget something important, like, say, underwear and 2) you’re going to be up late and stressed out. Being stressed will leave you with what experts call the “On-Call Effect”-- where you sit up worried that the phone will ring any second, or that you have something you need finish. So better to have everything packed early so you can peacefully drift off at a decent hour.

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Reset your watch as soon as you take off

This is really just a mind trick, but 90% of the jet lag game is mental, and some travelers swear that seeing the right time throughout the journey helps them adjust to the reality that although it might be 5 o’clock somewhere, it is 2:37 where they’ll eventually be touching down.

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Don’t drink on the flight

Sure, that glass of wine (or makeshift Manhattan if you’re an ambitious sky imbiber) may help you fall asleep/tell off the ALL THE WAY seat recliner in front of you -- but we’re telling you, it’s not worth it. Alcohol will make you feel even worse when you arrive, because the high altitude amplifies its not-so-fun effects on the body, like  dehydration, dizziness and nausea. Water is your best bet to make sure that when you are greeted with blinding morning light at your destination, you won’t also feel like it’s 3am, and have a headache to contend with. (Of course, if you can't resist... just order that martini.)

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Try to get some sleep on your way there, but only if...

… it’s going to be daytime when you get to your destination. If that’s the case, maximize the time on the flight for some serious zzzs. You should probably pass on the inflight dinner, especially if it’s a later flight, because it likely won’t be served until much later than you’re used to, and eating at 11 pm will only make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Stay up if…

... it’s going to be nighttime when you arrive. Do what you can to stay up during the flight, and remember that Jurassic World is 40x better at 40,000 feet.

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Don’t nap upon arrival

This is going to be serious test of will. But unless you’re used to intentionally nodding off in the middle of the day, you shouldn’t rush to your hotel room and snooze for a few hours. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you stay up until at least 10pm local time to get your circadian rhythms in sync, plus napping will make it nearly impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep that night. Stay awake, pass out at the appropriate time, and you’ll be ready to carpe diem all over the damn place come morning.

Go for a walk

Traveling is about experiencing somewhere new (duh), and there’s no better time to start doing that than immediately. Plus, the National Sleep Foundation says that daylight is a super-powerful stimulant for getting your internal clock right. Muster up whatever energy you have and go for a walkabout, grab a bite to eat from a street vendor, and talk to some of the locals. Their energy will help you to feel less like a zombie, and the sunshine will fuel you better than drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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Stay hydrated

Not to sound like your mother, but then again your mother is most definitely a smart lady, and (as usual) she’s right that you should probably drink more water  -- especially when switching time zones. Jet lag symptoms like headaches, nausea, and even dizziness, are similar to those you’ll experience when you’re dehydrated, so it makes sense that not drinking enough water will only make those symptoms worse. When you’re dehydrated, you can feel even sleepier, until a blinding headache wakes you up that is.

Try melatonin

Besides being way easier to fit into your suitcase than Thanksgiving leftovers, melatonin (the hormone your body creates to regulate sleep) can not only make you feel tired, but also help shift your circadian rhythms. If you take even a small dosage a few hours before sleepy time, it will help you drift off into sweet oblivion earlier, and wake up earlier, hopefully not still in oblivion. Just a note: check with your regular doc before you take it, and synthetic melatonin isn’t regulated by the FDA.

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If all else fails, read a not-so-great book

Boring stuff is a weird reading recommendation, sure. But if you want to get to sleep, it will help do the trick. Grab the coffee table book that’s in the hotel room, or the local city guide, and try to persevere. The subject may not be super interesting, but that action-packed e-thriller about the person who doesn’t even realize they’re a spy but nonetheless keeps doing spy things is pretty likely to keep you up. This way, you’ll have better understanding of your travel destination, and some good zzzs.