How to Avoid Jet Lag When Traveling

Jet lag is caused when your circadian rhythms are thrown out of whack when changing time zones while traveling. Under normal circumstances, your body naturally attunes itself to natural cues so that it knows when to sleep, wake, eat, and perform other basic functions. The most obvious of these natural cues is sunlight – and when you shift time zones, the sun doesn't come up and go down when your body expects it will.

To avoid this problem, there are several ways to either fool your body into thinking it hasn’t suffered a shift in these circadian rhythms at all, or to make the transition from one time zone to another less noticeable (and therefore less difficult for your body to adjust to). These 5 ways to avoid jet lag perform one or both of those functions.

Stay on Home Time

If you’re taking a trip only one or two time zones away and won’t be staying long, try to stay on the same schedule of your usual time zone. This may mean getting up slightly earlier or later than everyone else in the house, as well as going to bed at a different hour, but it can lessen the effects of jet lag if you never deviate from your original circadian rhythms.

Another good way to help fool your body into thinking it hasn’t changed time zones at all is by using light cues. So if you’re going to bed while it’s still light out, draw the curtains or use an eye mask. If you’re getting up when it’s still dark, turn on a few bright lights so your body doesn’t notice the lack of sunlight.

Switch to the New Time Zone Before You Go

If you have enough advance warning, you can slowly shift your regular schedule to the new time zone so that the shift is less abrupt. For example, if you know you’re moving from New York to London in a few months and you have a five-hour time difference to adjust to, start moving your schedule back an hour at a time every few weeks. Sure, it’ll mean you’re on an odd schedule for the last month, but it will also mean that you’re alert and ready for action the moment you touch down.

Don’t Sleep

It can be difficult, but try not to sleep on the plane or before the usual bedtime in your new time zone. This is particularly difficult on big time zone shifts, when you may have to go as much as 24 hours without sleeping. However, tempting as that nap may be, it can mean up to a week of confusion and jet lag – as opposed to one day of slight discomfort as you struggle to stay awake until 9:00 p.m. in your new time zone. When you wake up the next morning, you’ll feel like you’re right on track!

Let Nature Do the Work

As we’ve said several times, most of jet lag is your body being unable to adjust quickly to a new circadian rhythm. It is much easier for your body to adjust if you give it lots of natural cues and keep away from unnatural ones that will confuse it. So leave your window drapes open when you sleep so the sun can wake you in the morning, spend lots of time outside so your body takes its cues from the changing light, and try not to stay in brightly-lit areas at night – at least until your body adjusts.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration makes you feel tired whether or not you’re traveling, and that feeling of tiredness can exacerbate your symptoms of jet lag. What’s more, dehydration can make it much more difficult for your body to adjust, since your system is trying to compensate for the lack of water and isn’t paying as much attention getting your internal clock back on schedule. Drink lots of water and stay away from alcohol, which will only dehydrate you more.

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