Dealing with jet lag

Air travel is tiring (Photo by Neil Rickards)
Air travel is tiring

Truth is, there is no cure for jet lag—but there are 7 ways to make jet lag easier to bear and quicker to dissipate

Everyone and their guidebook has a homespun remedy for overcoming the inevitable jet lag that occurs when you land in London and your watch says 7am but your body says 2am (the fact that you managed to do no more than doze fitfully on the plane ride over doesn't help).  

Seven ways to alleviate jet leg

  1. Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol. Actually, that's the same thing said two different ways. The problem with drinking on the flight is not that you might make an ill-conceived pass at the flight attendant, but that the booze dehydrates you something fierce (that's what hangovers are all about). The recirculated air on the plane dries you out anyway, so you really need to suck down as much water as you can. Hey, look at it this way: more trips to that little bathroom means you're also getting up and moving around periodically, which is also important on a long flight even if you aren't scared by all that Deep Vein Thrombosis talk.
  2. Try pills. There are three main ingestibles that might help you sleep (not alcohol), two homeopathic, one prescription.
    • Melatonin—No, not the stuff in your skin than makes you look tanned, but a hormone that's naturally released by your pineal gland at bedtime and that helps regulate sleep cycles. It is now sold in pill form (and gummies!) as a sort of natural sleeping pill and body clock-resetting device. I used to pooh-pooh this idea, but have since tried it at home and it actually seems to help. Maybe it's just psychosomatic, but who cares if it's working, right?
    • No-Jet-Lag—This little homeopathic pill is sold over the counter and claims to counteract the effects of crossing too many time zones. I've tried it and didn't notice much of a difference, but it if works for you...

    • Sleeping pills—You will need a prescription for these, but if you already know they work for you, godspeed and have a decent night's rest. (Please don't test pills out for the first time on a flight; they can have funky side effects. Try one at home first to see if they work.)

  3. Use noise-canceling headphones. This is the one seemingly silly travel gadget I actually use. These things really do make flying less stressful—and they do it on a biological level. The low frequency, often subsonic roar of the jet engines can raise your autonomic stress levels, putting your body into a slow-burn version of the classic fight-or-fllght reaction (no pun intended), which basically means you're dripping a constant trickle of adrenaline into your system. Not only does this make it terribly hard to sleep, but then, once when the plane lands and the roar subsides, the adrenaline shuts off and you crash. This is what we call "jet lag." And that's how these headphones work. If you put them on at home, you hear nothing more than a faint hiss, but in the sky they actively cancel out the ambient noise (and that subsonic roar), disrupting the whole stress-induced cycle. Also, they make it way easier to hear the movie. There are tons of models available.
  4. Expose your face to bright sunlight. When you arrive and for the first few mornings, make sure you let your body drink in the natural sunlight. Your body knows how to reset its own internal clock if you let it.
  5. Try to sleep on the plane. I know, that's really hard. I can never do it properly. But after you settle in and avoid eating the in-flight meal, put away your book and your headphones (unless they're the noise-canceling versions), ignore the 24 channels of movies and television they now pipe directly to the seatback screen in front of you, and try to get some shut-eye. A neck pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs all might help. Even if all you manage is a catnap, it'll help you fight off jet lag without adding a full night's lost sleep to the equation. » more
  6. Do not nap when you arrive! I know the temptation is strong, especially by mid-afternoon on that first day when you look like a tourist zombie stumbling around the British Museum with a thousand-yard stare. Do not give in! The only way to reset the body clock is to force it into the new time zone. It will take several days for your body to catch up, so until then: eyes open, back straight, and plow through each day to the end.
  7. The best advice really is simply to get acclimated to local time as quickly as possible. You can even start resetting your internal clock before you leave by just getting up and going to bed earlier than usual. Once you've crossed the Atlantic, go to bed at a decent time according to the clocks of the country you're in, not what your body tells you (try for 10pm; don’t stay up past midnight). Wake up at a normal time the next day—even when your alarm beeps that it's 8am, but your tired body is telling you it's 3am.

Then again, some people never feel jet leg.

These people deserve a beating.

More practical, though, would be to make them carry your stuff for the first few days around town while they're chipper and you're still zonkered.

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