Geriatrician, Hospitalist, Patient Advocate, Healthcare Educator

Ways to Minimize Jet Lag

Photo by Eva Darron

It is always exciting to go to a new country and see and experience new things. However, it can be difficult to make the most of a short trip when that jet lag kicks in. Jet lag is a constellation of symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, daytime drowsiness, problem concentrating, stomach/digestive problems, which occur when traveling across different zones. Jet lag occurs when your internal circadian rhythm does not match the local day-night cycle. Jet lag can last for days to weeks. On an average, it takes about one day to adjust to 1 to 1.5 hours of time change. For example, taking an 8 hour flight from Chicago to London will take you around 8 days to fully acclimatize to the new time zone.

Don’t shy away from globetrotting and seeing new and exciting places. Be prepared for the associated jet lag. There is really not way to prevent jet lag but there are some tips to minimize jet lag.

Before traveling:

  • Schedule first few days of activities in new time zone knowing you will be jet lagged-don’t overdo it
  • Minimize stress by preparing early(get packed, get documents in order)
  • Get good quality sleep for few nights before travel so you are going in rested and not in sleep debt

In the plane:

  • As soon as you get on plane, change your clock face to new time on phone, watch, and computer
  • Try to sleep when it is nighttime in the time zone you are going to
  • Keep hydrated-mild dehydration is common when traveling by air and will worsen physical symptoms of jet lag
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol as both promote dehydration and both also disturb your sleep
  • Move around-walking in cabin, standing up, gentle stretching-prevents muscle stiffness and blood clots

At new destination:

  • Adjust to the sleeping and eating pattern of the new time zone as soon as you arrive
  • Get sunlight in the daytime hours to jump start alertness
  • Exercise in the morning if possible and in the daylight
  • Avoid using sunglasses initially in the first day or so as sunlight will reduce the melatonin your body is producing making your daylight activity hours more productive
  • Drink lots of water as anticipate dehydration from the flight
  • Eat smaller meals that are easy to digest, especially for first few days
  • If you are sleepy during the daytime, take short naps only(less than 30 minutes) so you can sleep at night and get your internal clock synced with new time zone