Last updated: 01:00 PM ET, Thu March 03 2016

How To Beat Jet Lag: The Definitive Guide

Features & Advice | Josh Lew | March 03, 2016

How To Beat Jet Lag: The Definitive Guide

Illustration courtesy of Thinkstock

Jet lag can range from a minor annoyance to a debilitating problem that can leave travelers feeling out of sorts for several days (or even longer). Most people are able to tough it out, but the disruption in your regular sleeping schedule can be inconvenient and unhealthy.

The Mayo Clinic blames jet lag on the disruption of something called circadian rhythms, which regulate wake-sleep cycles. Actually, jet lag can sometimes do more than make you feel tired. A disruption in circadian rhythms can also affect other habitual parts of your day, such as when you feel hungry and even when you go to the bathroom. 

Here are five things that experts from various fields suggest you try if you want to defeat the symptoms of jet lag. 

Artificial sunlight  

Sunlight is a major influence on your body’s subconscious biological patterns. Mayo Clinic does recommend over-the-counter sleeping aids (Ambien, for example) as a short-term solution for jet lag, but it also suggests that light therapy could be helpful.

Special bright lamps or desktop light boxes can be used to expose yourself to artificial sunlight for the hours that you are meant to be awake. This is probably only worthwhile for frequent business travelers, who can spend the time using a light box to get ready for an upcoming trip. 

Push through until nighttime

Travel guru Rick Steves suggests that one of the best ways to avoid jet lag symptoms is to simply stay awake until it is bed time in your destination. If you arrive in Europe in the morning or afternoon, for example, don’t take a nap. Sleeping, even for a short while, will keep your body out of rhythm and may make it hard to sleep at night. Instead, Steves suggests pushing through the fatigue until it is time to sleep (10 p.m. to midnight). Then, you will be tired enough to sleep through the night. When you wake up in the morning, you will feel like you are on local time.

READ MORE: 5 Ways To Counter Jet Lag

Get out

Flight attendants agree with the “don’t sleep until it’s time to sleep” strategy. Flight attendant Heather Poole, the author of "Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet," suggests that it is not simply enough to stay awake. You need to get out of the hotel room if you start to feel jet lag-related fatigue creeping up. “Do not sit down on the hotel bed; once your behind touches the hotel bed, it’s over. Get out of the room. Go for a walk. Get in the sunlight.”

Hydrate

Some of the symptoms of jet lag might not be related to your circadian rhythms at all. With all that pressurized, recycled air, airplane cabins are extremely dry places. It is easy to get dehydrated, even if you drink those little cups of water every time a flight attendant offers them to you. Coffee and wine (or any other type of alcohol) may make you more relaxed while you are in the air, but they can heighten the effects of dehydration.

Harvard Medical School agrees with this, saying that "mild dehydration is common when traveling by air — and being dehydrated worsens the physical symptoms of jet lag. So drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your flight, but avoid caffeine and alcohol."   

READ MORE: How Airbus Is Using Technology to Defeat Jet Lag, Drones

Supplement your natural hormones

 A study at the UK's Cochrane Centre found that a natural substance called melatonin can help counter the effects of jet lag. The study found that nine out of 10 people who took a supplement of the hormone, which occurs naturally in the human body, at the time when they were supposed to sleep at their destination experienced fewer symptoms than those who did not take the supplement.

Jet lag is a fact of life for long-distance travelers. People who travel across more than a few time zones regularly might need to experiment with light therapy, natural supplements or other treatments. For occasional globe-trotters, however, the best remedy is simply to tough it out on the first day and force yourself to sleep when it is bed time in your new time zone.

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