Travel Tips to Conquer Jet Leg from TravelLatte

Travel Tips to Conquer Jet Lag

Anyone who has taken a long-haul flight will tell you: Jet Lag is real, yo! The struggle to find a fix is real, too. There is no cure, but you can minimize the drag with our simple anti-jet lag strategy. We took the best advice from health professionals and frequent fliers to find the best Travel Tips to Conquer Jet Lag.

What is Jet Lag?

We asked medical professionals to explain just what this modern malaise is. It might surprise you to learn it has a name: desynchronosis. Buckle up, because we’re going to get “all medically” on you.

Jet lag happens when two separate, but linked, groups of neurons in a part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, get disrupted. One group is associated with deep sleep and physical fatigue, while the other controls the dream state of REM sleep. You already know that REM sleep is important, so we don’t want to mess with that. But jet lag does: The neurons involved in REM sleep find it harder to adjust to the cycle change when you travel, and the two groups of neurons get out of sync. See? Simple. And it really is, literally, all in your head.

When you cross time zones faster than your body can adjust, it confuses your body. Your Circadian Rhythm gets, well, out of rhythm, and that impacts your body’s normal routine. Generally speaking, our bodies don’t like that. They are used to getting to bed at a certain time, and getting x hours of sleep. When you change time zones, you change that rhythm.

Once you’ve stopped moving, it takes about a day per time zone to adjust when you are traveling west, and a day and a half when going east. In the words of Sweet Brown, Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Jetliner Landing - Tips to Conquer Jet Lag - TravelLatte

Who is affected by Jet Lag?

If you are not yet “of a certain age,” rest assured that you will one day find yourself saying that you never used to feel this way after a flight. It’s probably not surprising that, as with many things, the affects of Jet Lag get more pronounced with age.

Unfortunately, we have bad news for ladies of any age. A study at the University of Surrey found that jet lag impacts women more than men in general. Pregnancy only makes matters worse, with more severe jet lag symptoms. And menopause seems to be a dividing line between bouncing off a flight, and feeling like you were the one bounced.

What are the Symptoms of Jet Lag?

You’ve probably experienced jet lag symptoms yourself. It’s that general feeling of malaise that lasts a day or two, maybe up to a week. And while the symptoms are generally not dangerous, they can be pretty severe.

Most common are impacts to your energy level, your digestive track, and your mental acuity. Daytime fatigue, coupled with difficulty sleeping. Nausea, digestive issues, and even menstrual difficulties often accompany jet lag. It can be hard to focus and remember things, and you may sometimes feel confused.

The worst impacts may be on your family and travel companions. Jet lag can make you irritable, temperamental, and generally grumpy. Remember Grumpy Cat? That is you, with jet lag.

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It all sounds horrible – and it is – and probably makes you wonder if the joy of travel is worth the trouble! We think it is, and are here to help with our

Simple Anti-Jet Lag Strategy

Notice that we did not say “cure.” There really is no way to prevent or cure jet lag. The best we can do is travel smartly to reduce the blahs when you get where you’re going. Like any strategy, it starts well before game day, and requires practice to perfect. If you stick to it, though, you’ll find jet lag doesn’t have to derail your plans.

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The Anti-Jet Lag Strategy: Before You Fly

Like a Boy Scout: Be Prepared

Step one in fighting jet lag starts a few days before your trip. Adjust your sleep and eating schedules to match the times at your destination. If you’re flying east, start going to bed and getting up an hour earlier each day. Do the same thing, but make it an hour later each day if you’ll be going west. Don’t forget to adjust meal times, too.

Sleep Right, Sleep Tight

The more rested you are before you fly, the less a lack of sleep will affect you afterwards. In the days before a trip, avoid anything you know will affect your sleep, like stress or late coffee breaks. You may be tempted to not bother with this until the day before your trip, but you’ll have plenty of stressors to break your sleep habits by then. Make sure to get a full night’s rest for several nights before your trip. Related to this…

Eat for a Marathon

Okay, taking a trip is nothing like running a marathon, but here’s why this works for getting a good night’s sleep: Starchy carbs are a source of tryptophan. Tryptophan converts to serotonin. Serotonin helps you fall asleep faster. You know how you can never stay awake after Nana’s spaghetti-fest? Same deal. Researchers at the University of Sydney found the ideal time for this meal is four hours before bedtime.

Check Your Meds

If you have medications that are taken on a regular schedule, check with your doctor ahead of your trip. She can best advise you on any adjustments to your medications and schedules to make sure you stay in tip top shape. Be sure to ask about changes when you get back home, as well.

Plan Your Arrival

There are two competing schools of thought: Jump in right off the plane, versus laying low for the first day on the ground. Plan your itinerary so your first day will accommodate your energy levels. Only you know you, and time will tell you which strategy works best for you. We have more on the subject below.

Arrival time is important, too. If your plane lands at night, you’ll want to head to the hotel and try to get some sleep, even if your body disagrees. If you land bright and early, you can get a start on your adventures right away!

A man walks the aisle of an airplane - Tips to Conquer Jet Lag - TravelLatte

The Anti-Jet Lag Strategy: Travel Days

Stay Active in Flight

The longer the flight, the more you need to get up and move around. It’s not always easy, but getting out of your seat and walking the aisle is one of the best things you can do. Not only will stretching and moving help fight jet lag, it can help you avoid DVT and other circulatory issues.

Stay Hydrated

That’s good advice anytime, but dehydration actually intensifies Jet Lag. While you’re traveling, avoid caffeine and alcohol, which dehydrate you. Many people complain that dry airplane air dehydrates them even more. That makes your water bottle your best friend in fighting jet lag, even before you land.

Avoid heavily processed food, as well. They are often heavy in salt and sugar, and reheating dries them out even more. That adds up to drying you out, too. Instead, stick with healthy snacks and meals, including fruits that are naturally hydrating. Decaffeinated green tea, which can help fight jet lag, is a good beverage choice.

Get Some Rest

For some, getting to sleep on a plane is all but impossible. Turns out, the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” actually works. Sitting quietly with your eyes closed results in about 80% as much rest for your body as sleeping. Who knows? You may actually drift off for a little bit. Ear plugs, an eye mask, and a comfy pillow may help, too, so make sure they’re accessible in your carry-on bag.

An older couple asleep on an airplane - Tips to Conquer Jet Lag - TravelLatte

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The Anti-Jet Lag Strategy: On Arrival

Your strategy on arrival will depend on whether you’re arriving early or late. We’re going to guess that, on most trips, you’ll land fairly early in the day. A lot of flight plans operate on the premise that a sleeping passenger is a happier passenger, so you’ll fly overnight. Then you can put these tips to use as soon as you’ve cleared customs!

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A Body In Motion…

Earlier we mentioned two ways to spend your first day off the plane. Option A: Jump in. A body in motion stays in motion, right? So just keep going until it’s bedtime. You may not feel 100%, but keep going as long as you feel you can safely push through. This works best when you arrive early in the day, and can make the most of sunshine and fresh air.

The Slow roll

Knowing that you won’t be at 100% on day one, you may want to plan more low-key adventures on your first day in-country. Take a walking tour instead of more high-intensity bike adventures, for example. We still recommend against attractions where you’ll be sitting, especially in a darkened theatre where you’re likely to nod off. You might want to move that late night rave party back a day or two, also.

Take a Run

A run or brisk walk is great exercise anytime, but is particularly helpful when you’re traveling. If you land early, start your trip with a run or walk outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine are anathema to Jet Lag, and will help you recharge and reset your body clock.

Hit the Hay

Once you’ve arrived, a good night’s sleep will be invaluable. You may struggle to stay awake the first few days, and will be tempted to take a nap. Trouble is, that can lead to sleep struggles later, so save the sleeping for bedtime. It will help encourage a sound, deep sleep, which will help fight jet lag the most.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, No Jet Lag in the Tub!

This is actually a two-in-one tip that depends on when you arrive. If it’s early, take a cold shower. It works about the same way, and as well as, taking a brisk walk or jog. The cold water will get your blood flowing and help you recharge. If you arrive at night, take a warm bath before getting into bed. You probably already know that you sleep better after a bedtime bath. The warm water is relaxing, and it’s even better if you add some soothing bath salts. (We always pack a little Dr. Teal’s Lavender Epsom Salt, which is also helpful after long sightseeing and hiking days.)

Put Away the Phone

The trouble with anything that emits blue light – like your smartphone or tablet – is that it can disrupt circadian rhythms and affect your ability to go to sleep. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what jet lag does. So don’t compound the issue by checking your phone at bedtime, or leaving it lit up on the nightstand. Put it away or, at very least, set it to Do Not Disturb and turn off the screen.

More Anti-Jet Lag Tips

Those three steps are an effective strategy, but you can always improve things with a few Pro Tips!

Opt Outside
Sunshine is an indicator to your body and senses that it’s time to be awake and alert. Natural light helps your body clock adjust to your new time zone.
Live on Tulsa Time
It’s not just a great song, it’s one way to battle jet lag on shorter trips spanning just one or two time zones. Instead of adapting to the new time zone, stay on your old schedule. It may limit your hours for work or sight seeing, but you’ll avoid some of the ill effects. Why Tulsa Time? In the U.S., it’s in the Central time zone, so you’re never more than two hours ahead of or behind local time.
Stick with Natural Remedies
Most doctors don’t recommend taking anything to combat the symptoms of jet lag. Melatonin helps signal your body that it’s time for bed, but there is no substantial evidence that supplements help curb jet lag. If you do have trouble sleeping, and regularly take sleep aids, continuing them won’t hurt. However, you shouldn’t look to them as a solution for jet lag. Relying on natural light, healthy eating, and exercise is the way to go.
You don’t have to rely on caffeine. Having a fresh apple gives you a boost equivalent to a cup of black coffee, but works in a different way. While caffeine stimulates your brain and fights drowsiness, it’s not actually a source of energy. Apples, high in fructose, give you that energy without spiking your blood sugar, so there’s no crash later on. Of course, nobody said you can’t have both!

Your Turn!

Hopefully, you found these travel tips to conquer jet lag useful. Of course, you’ve probably developed your own tricks to fight back against jet lag, and arrive refreshed and ready to go! We’d love to hear your solutions, too. Please share them in the comments, and we’ll re-post the best. Be sure to include your Twitter handle and a link to your blog, if you have one! Or click for more #Travel140!

26 comments on “Travel Tips to Conquer Jet Lag

    • Thanks Shona! We don’t think of ourselves as being prone to jetlag either, but we know that doesn’t mean we’re immune to it. We usually adjust pretty well, but following these tips are a part of that. The biggest change for us was trying to adjust during the week or two before we travel. It has helped on longer trips, where the effects catch up with you after a couple of days, when the adrenaline of being in a new country has worn off. As always, thanks for your comment!

  1. Great tips. When I did a 12 hour jump forward, it took me almost two weeks to get dully adjusted to my new time zone. Deciding to take a nap at 2pm and accidentally waking up at 9pm definitely didn’t help either. I stayed up for almost 36 hours before my flight that way I could sleep through the flight and wake up close to my new time zone, but I like your first tip better. I should have started trying to adjust days before my trip.

    • We would be lying if we said we never did that. Funny how easily a “quick nap” can turn into a marathon snooze! We haven’t stayed up that long before a flight, though. That’s impressive – but does not sound fun. 😉 Although, we usually get very little sleep the night before a long flight, but that’s usually because we haven’t prepared other things – like packing! – for the trip. Thanks for your comment, and welcome to TravelLatte, Kiyoko!

  2. jet lag is aweful and some suffer more than others. It’s been a while since I travelled and changed timezones in any major way. I always found the best way to adjust as to just push yourself through the first day. DO NOT go to sleep until it is night time in your new destinaton, then you will sleep solidly and wake in the morning refreshed and your body clock will be a the correct time.

    • Truth be told, that’s been our go-to method. Only recently have we tried preparing more in advance. It does seem to help, especially on Day One in a new destination. For us, it’s harder going west, and when you arrive when your body’s ready to get up but everyone else is going to bed. That’s when the gradual adjustment seems to help the most. Thanks for reading Sally!

  3. Good tips – I hate jet lag. All that waking up at the wrong time! To avoid it on our trip from the Uk to Australia this year we stopped off on the way so we jumped only 3 time zones at a time max! Took us 3 weeks but was great!

    • That’s the way to do it! Jet lag is definitely a symptom of modern travel, where we can cross continents in a day. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should, right? We look forward to being able to take things more slowly, and explore more fully along the way. We definitely have a little travel envy going on over here! 😉 Thanks for your comment, Tracy!

  4. Jet lag is definitely a struggle and it doesn’t help when I have trouble sleeping on the plane. Like some here, it isn’t as bad going to the destination but getting home takes days to adjust back. I guess all that adrenaline and excitement being in a new place keeps us going at first. Yes, water definitely helps but I really should try your tip about adjusting a few days earlier.

    • Hi Mary – We think you’re right. The excitement seems to help adjust in a new destination, but getting back to normal at home takes a while. Sometimes, a long while! We joke about needing a vacation to recover from vacation…but that’s no joke! 😉 Thanks for your comment!

  5. I actually do the opposite of tip #2 – I find it impossible to sleep on flights, so I inevitably arrive at my destination running on fumes. It makes me sleep like a baby at the first available opportunity. It’s not terribly healthy and I really wish I could sleep on flights. Have tried sleeping pills but they only last a few hours for me. But hey I figure at least I use the flight time catching up on movies!

    • There seem to be two types of people: Some cannot sleep on a plane no matter how hard they try. Then there’s Rob, who’s asleep as soon as the plane is in the air, even in the middle of the afternoon! We pass flight time with movies, too, or a good read, or a nice writing session. When we can’t sleep on the plane, the excitement of a new destination usually keeps us going until a reasonable bed time hour. Thanks for your comment, Michelle!

  6. Thanks for sharing these tips, Rob. For me the best way to avoid the jet lag is to get some sleep on the plane. Unfortunately, most of the time that doesn’t happen because of the uncomfortable sits in coach class. Once however we have been upgraded to Business Class and we managed to sleep for 5 hours. We had no jetlag whatsoever after that. So I guess the cure for jetlag is Business Class (lol!)

    • That’s funny – but true! We save up our miles for that very reason, using them to splurge on business class for those trans-oceanic flights when we can. We definitely need a better frequent flier strategy, though, so we can do that more often! Thanks for your comment, Anda!

  7. I usually don’t get jet lag when I’m heading to the destination because I’m excited about the trip. Yeah I might feel a little tired but it won’t be the case of not being able to sleep at night or feeling very sleepy during the day. However, the jet lag kicks in when I’m back home. 2 travel tips to overcome jet lag that might help somewhat – (1) try to book a flight that lands in your destination in the late afternoon or early evening. This might not be possible every time but at least it helps you to adjust to the new time zone by going to bed at a reasonable hour just like everyone else in that city. (2) Exercise helps, be it working out at a gym or walking. Walking is the best exercise. The more we walk, the more tired we get at the end of the day, therefore helps us to sleep better 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Good tips, Kat! We do the same, though it’s hard to find a flight from the US to Europe that lands in the afternoon. So we employ your second tip by dropping our bags off and taking a long walk around our new destination. No better way to adjust to a new city, both the climate and atmosphere, and the time zone. 🙂 Thanks for the tips, Kat!

    • Same here, although Rob is a coffee fiend and that doesn’t help. Once again, plain old water is one of the best things for us. Airplane air is always so dry, water helps with that, too. Thanks for reading, Lolo!

  8. I just moved to another country and I have been fighting jetlag for about a week now and it sucks! You are so right! “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Thanks for sharing these tips. Hopefully they will help me out.

    • Yuck! We hope they help, too! It’s amazing to us that something as simple a time change can take so long to adjust too. It’s a small price to pay for the privilege of travel, though! Thanks for reading, Victoria!

    • Congratulations to Brian! Rob is, too. They make pretty good travelers – all those years of orienteering and camping paid off. 🙂 It’s harder for us to beat the jet lag on the way home, too. Maybe the answer is right in front of us: Just keep traveling! We volunteer to test that theory. Who else is in? 🙂 Thanks for your comment, guys!

    • You’re right – adjusting schedules sounds great but is hard to put into practice. Especially when you have a busy schedule already! We have mixed luck – Ann’s a night owl anyway, so going to bed later is no problem. Rob’s an early riser, so he struggles. Let’s say it’s a work in progress. 😉 Thanks for your comment, Anisa!

  9. Need to follow your tips since jetlag is real for me. Well, I do not feel that bad when I arrived at a destination. I usually arrive early and keep going till the night. But, once I get home I feel like I was in a boxing ring. Like you mentioned, I try to rest and drink tons of water. #feetdotravel

    • We’re the same way, Ruth – It always seems to hit harder when we get home than when we’re traveling. Our theory is that we push ourselves past it on the road. By the time we’re back home, we can’t push past anymore! Thanks for reading!

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