How to Cope with Jet Lag

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, when you get to your destination you’d much rather be rarin’ to go than craving a good long nap. Fortunately, jet lag is temporary, and there are ways to minimize its effects.

For those flying across time zones, the Mayo Clinic says jet lag can disturb sleep patterns and make you feel sleepy, out of sorts, and sometimes, downright ill.

Our internal clock, or circadian rhythm, signals our bodies when to stay awake and when to sleep, notes the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. When we travel, the body clock gets disrupted. The more time zones crossed, the greater the chance of developing jet lag. Symptoms of jet lag can include daytime fatigue, feeling unwell, digestive problems, difficulty concentrating and mood changes.

Frequent travelers Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, and international etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, author ofAccess to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide” and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, offer these tips for coping with jet lag:

  • Several days before your departure, gradually adjust your mealtimes and bedtime to your destination time zone.
  • Set your watch to the new time zone even before leaving home.
  • Arrive a day in advance, if you can, to give your internal clock a chance to catch up.
  • Stay hydrated while on the plane. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises, like those offered by WebMD. Low cabin pressure on planes causes a drop in blood oxygen levels that can leave you feeling sluggish. Deep breathing exercises can increase those oxygen levels and relax you.
  • Avoid screen time. A glowing screen can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Bring noise-reducing headphones to help you sleep on the plane. Download soothing music, sounds of nature, or “white noise” onto your phone or iPod to help you sleep on the airplane and in the unfamiliar bed in your hotel.
  • If you must sleep when you arrive at your destination, limit yourself to a two-hour nap. Then, head outside for sunshine and fresh air.

Use sleep medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, with caution, and never for the first time when away from home, advises Victoria Sowards, director of nursing resources at Passport Health.

“Sleep aids—including natural ones like melatonin—don’t mix well with alcohol or other sedatives, and can have side effects such as sleepwalking, dizziness, and confusion,” she says.

Find out how you can get a better night’s sleep when away from home with our article, “Why Sleeping in a New Place Is So Tough and How to Fix It.