Busting jet lag: 14 ways to arrive – and stay – in better shape

All frequent flyers have their own techniques for minimizing jet lag, which when it strikes, is miserable: waking up at unsociable hours, falling asleep in meetings, and at worst, feeling physically ill, with exhaustion and loss of appetite.

Nobody has yet found a miracle cure for jet lag but here are some popular hacks for the curse of the long-haul traveler.

  • Reduce your chances of being jet lagged in the first place. Stay hydrated during the flight, don’t drink too much alcohol or caffeine, or eat too much heavy, sugary food, and try to get some sleep if you’ve chosen a night flight.
  • Try to get closer to local time in your destination before you depart, whether that means going to bed an hour earlier or later.
  • Set your watch to local time as soon as the plane takes off; it can help psychologically. Then eat and sleep as you would in the destination, if possible.
  • Try to adjust to local time as soon as you arrive by tricking your body into shifting its circadian rhythms into the new time zone. Exposure to bright light in the evening will help you adjust to a later time zone, when you’re travelling west, while exposure to bright light in the morning should help when travelling east.
  • This changes if you’ve crossed more than eight time zones and your circadian rhythms can be so topsy-turvy that your body mistakes day for night. In this case, heading east, stay out of bright light in the morning but expose yourself to it in the afternoon. Heading west, avoid bright light in the afternoon. Confused? Try British Airways’ handy jet lag calculator, which tells you when to stay outside and when to hide in the dark:.
  • Take melatonin (under medical supervision). It’s not available over the counter in the UK but it is elsewhere (in the USA, you can buy it at any good drugstore). Melatonin is the sleep hormone produced by your body when it’s bedtime. Many travelers report that it helps them sleep and doesn’t produce a hangover, although it can give you strange dreams after a few days.
  • On a very short trip, it’s often worth staying on home time. If you’re awake very early in the morning, make the most of it by getting some work done, or exercising.
  • If you’re flying in business class, choose a night flight, eat in the lounge before you board, and straight after take-off, recline your seat, don eye mask and ear plugs and get some sleep.
  • If you’re flying long haul in economy and have to disembark the aircraft and plunge into business meetings, think seriously about going a day early and allowing time to recover.
  • Some travellers swear by fasting during the flight, apart from drinking water. Break your fast with a snack just before landing in your destination.
  • Others swear by ‘superfoods’ both before, during and after the journey: goji berries, quinoa (neither of which you’re likely to be served in a typical in-flight meal), cherries, bananas, lemons and ginger.
  • Use gadgets like noise-cancelling headphones during the flight – they’ll be more effective than what the airline provides.
  • Try natural remedies. Lavender oil for sleep, homeopathic treatments like NoJetLag (nojetlag.com), or vitamins to support you on your travels (jetease.com).
  • A lot of travelers say they avoid sleeping pills. Being semi-comatose on a long flight can be dangerous, as you won’t move around at all, increasing the risk of DVT.

Do you have a tried-and-tested remedy for jet lag? Let us know.

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About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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