20 genius remedies for jet lag

Have you ever suffered from jet lag? Arrived in your destination feeling worse for wear? Or too exhausted to explore? Follow these jet lag hacks to feel bright and refreshed on your next long-haul holiday
 Yoga meditation at airport. Photo: Shutterstock
Yoga meditation at airport. Photo: Shutterstock

Those of us who've been bitten by the travel bug are all too familiar with jet lag. Unfortunately, feeling drowsy and out of sorts is par for the course if you're crossing multiple time zones (according to the experts, jet lag hits us harder when travelling east, FYI). Of course, this shouldn't stop you from enjoying your next epic vacation. We did a bit of digging and uncovered 20 tried-and-true jet lag remedies; give them a try on your next tailor-made Insight Guides getaway

1. Stay hydrated

It's no secret that being dehydrated can wreak havoc on your health. It turns out that it also intensifies jet lag symptoms. Experts at Harvard Medical School warn that air travel on its own is associated with mild dehydration, which means that reaching for a cup of coffee mid-flight will likely make it worse.

Bloggers and seasoned travellers Karolina and Patryk have this bit of wisdom to share: "Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol."

Another downside is that cocktails or caffeine may make it harder to catch some shut-eye when you're ready to wind down.

2. Try deep breathing exercises

According to YogaNonymous, air travel is associated with a drop in blood oxygen levels due to low cabin pressure. This can definitely leave you feeling out of it. Try deep breathing exercises to bring you back to center.

Author and avid traveller Marc Reklau is a fan. "Inhale (count to seven), maintain (count to seven), exhale (count to seven). Repeat seven times."

3. Melatonin

This little substance plays a big role in how sleepy or alert we feel. According to the NHS, our bodies release it in the evening to signal the brain to prepare for sleep. In recent years, it's become one of the most popular jet lag remedies.

"On a long flight, usually about two hours after take-off, you receive your first meal," says Laura Buchkovich, an American expat in Dubai who regularly takes long-distance flights. "After the meal, we take one 5mg tablet of melatonin, which significantly reduces the effects and recovery of jet lag."

How? It's rumoured to help reboot the body's internal clock.

"Prior to going to sleep at our destination, we take one more 5mg of melatonin at bedtime," she adds. "We continue the night-time regimen of melatonin for a day or two. For our 14-hour flight to and from Dubai, this reduces the effects of jet lag to about two to three days."

4. Consider fasting

For some travellers, giving digestion a rest while on a long-haul flight can help keep jet lag at bay.

"Fasting is the single best way to combat jet lag," suggest Gillian Morris, co-founder and CEO of HitList. "Don't eat any food on the plane; it's loaded with salt and sugar anyway. When you land, eat a protein-rich meal at the first local meal time."

Experts at Live Well recommend getting started three days before your trip, alternating days of feasting and fasting to shorten jet lag recovery time.

5. Avoid screen time

Turning to the glowing screen of your phone or tablet for relaxation may actually have the opposite effect. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation suggests powering down your electronics about half an hour before bedtime.

Bruce Wallin, editorial director and resident travel expert for Robb Report, echoes the same.

"As tempting as it is to sit and watch movies the whole flight, I try to refrain from turning on the TV," he says. "I believe in sleeping as much as possible on the plane, and staring at a screen for fours keeps me awake unnaturally. Much better to read a really boring book that I can't help but doze off to."

6. Get some sun

According to The Washington Post, catching some extra sunlight, especially in the early morning, can do wonders for beating jet lag symptoms. Sandy Pradas of Joyful Heart Travel agrees.

"When you arrive at your destination, walk outside in the sun as much as possible," she says. "The light will help you adjust your body’s clock, and walking will keep you awake. Have breakfast in an outdoor cafe, do some sightseeing, take an interest in your surroundings; you’ll notice that you’ll feel ok when you’re out in the sun, but as soon as you go into a dark restaurant or shop, you’ll fade fast."

Travel blogger Kassie Ricci of The Fly Away Life has similar advice to share.

"The key to stopping jet lag right off the bat is to spend the first day in your destination outdoors. I try to plan my first day in a new time zone with lots of outdoor activities, even if that just means a leisurely meal in the sunshine," suggests Ricci. "I find that just being in natural light helps me get my internal clock more in tune with the new time."

7. Give light therapy a whirl

Don't have access to natural sunlight? Light therapy may also do the trick. Enter the Human Charger, a portable device that offers up UV-free, blue-enriched white light on demand. The coolest part is that it works via headphones that channel this bright light through your ear canals right into the light-sensitive part of the brain.

"This bright light will increase the serotonin levels in a natural way (same as sunlight), and this helps the traveler to feel less tired when the normal jet-lag tiredness would hit," says Human Charger spokesperson Veikko Sillanpaa.

8. Start adjusting to the time change a few days before your trip

As we mention above, tweaking your eating habits a few days before your departure date just might curb jet lag symptoms. According to travel writer Katie Lara, the same goes for your sleep patterns.

"I find that gradually shifting my bedtime to match that of my destination is helpful – even if just by a couple hours. Every little bit helps! I start this a few days before I leave. Each night I adjust it by an hour or two if possible. This makes a big difference when I reach my destination because I find that it helps me avoid those pesky 4am wake-ups where your body is telling you: you shouldn’t be asleep."

Storyteller Megan Snedden takes it a step further, turning to an app called Jet Lag Rooster to modify her sleep schedule.

"I first used it last year in preparation for travel to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles, which is a 10-hour time difference," Snedden shares. "It isn't necessarily a 'magic cure,' though. In order for it to be effective, you basically have to enter your travel dates, then follow the app's instructions to start altering your sleep pattern in the week leading up to your trip.

"That meant the couple nights before travel, I was staying up until like 1 a.m., whereas my usual bedtime is an early 10pm. However, when I landed and joined my tour group I really was ready to go and not dragging at all! It felt incredible to land on track, and honestly the trade-off pre-departure wasn't so bad. Staying up late meant I got a lot of work done."

9. Schedule your flight time accordingly

There is definitely some debate in this department. Some travellers swear by taking late-night flights, while others say that a morning departure makes for less intense jet lag symptoms.

"To begin with, you have to determine whether the destination you are landing in will represent time lost or extra time in order to come up with a game plan," says David Bakke, travel expert at Money Crashers. "After all, settling into a city that is three hours ahead of your home city will be a lot different from one where you are a half day behind."

That said, the National Sleep Foundation suggests choosing a flight that gets you into your destination in the early evening. From there, stay up until 10 p.m. before heading to bed.

  "Take the latest flight possible overseas," suggests travel expert Colleen Kelly. "So, if a 5 p.m. is offered but also a 9:45 p.m. at night, take the later one. You will be more tired and hopefully able to sleep on the plane, but also you will arrive the next day later in the day (and closer to when you can check into a hotel)."

10. Keep up with your exercise regimen

Consider the possibility that staying active just might get your internal clock sorted when crossing time zones. In a story for The Washington Post, avid runner John Donnelly touts the positive impact physical activity has on travel fatigue. He points to research suggesting that exercise appears to help our bodies adjust to time changes. Some of the experts we connected with agree.

"If I’m not too tired, I like to try and add in a brisk hike or physical activity to help me sleep through the first night," says Ricci.

11. Put essential oils to use

Aromatherapy has long been tied to natural health remedies. Jet lag, as it turns out, is another ailment that could be squashed by our sense of smell.

"Essential oils are great for travel," says traveller and chiropractor Dr. Jackie Romanies. "Peppermint will help stimulate and wake you up (make sure not to get it near your eyes), while lavender can help calm you to sleep. I always bring these with me as they are easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and effective."Travel pillow. Photo: Shutterstock

Get cosy with a travel pillow. Photo: Shutterstock

12. Explore your new surroundings

Exercise is certainly one way to get your body (and mind) going, but simply exploring your new destination can also do wonders in a battle against jet lag.

"My favorite thing to do in pretty much any city is to head out from the hotel and start wandering the streets on foot," says Wallin. "Not only is it good exercise, which always helps with jet lag, but a long walk immerses me in the local time of day and helps my body adjust accordingly."

In other words, you don't have to lace up your running shoes to reap the benefits. Leisurely exploration may be stimulating enough to curb travel fatigue.

13. Meditate intermittently

It's no secret that adopting a regular meditation routine can have a profound effect on our health and well-being. The New York Times reports that it's associated with everything from lowered blood pressure to reduced anxiety. Where jet lag is concerned meditation may also help improve sleep, rest quality, and immune function.

"The theory is that by resetting the body’s nervous system every time we meditate, we are able to adjust to the new time zone almost instantaneously, reducing or eliminating the disorienting effects of a de-synchronised rhythm with our environment," writes Will Williams Meditation.

14. Invest in the right travel accessories

Since restful sleep is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal, investing in a few must-have travel accessories can go a long way. At the end of the day, it's all about comfort. In our research here at Insight Guides, we've found the Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow to be a top pick for jet setters. Pillows aside, do all you can to get as cosy as possible during your flight, especially if you're flying coach.

"After takeoff on a flight that crosses more than seven or eight time zones, we change out of our street clothes and into pajamas or sweats; no shoes," says Buchkovich.

15. Change the time on your watch

This is a quick-hit jet lag hack that almost every expert we spoke with mentioned. As far as they're concerned, stepping on the plane is an opportunity to psychologically prep for the time change. The simple act of setting your wristwatch to the local time of your destination can semi-trick your brain into adapting. If it's bedtime in your arrival city, then try and get some sleep. Alternatively, if it's daytime there, act accordingly on the flight.

16. Pamper yourself a little

Being stuck in a cramped airline seat for hours on end doesn't exactly set the stage for high-quality rest. Tonia Steck of the lifestyle blog Fo40.com says this is a situation where pampering yourself a little is well worth it.

"Buy a water mister and carry it around to keep your face moist (and keep you awake!)," she says. "Get a 10-minute airport neck or foot massage; or better yet, an hour-long massage at your hotel the first evening."

Buchkovich also believes in the idea, opting for a massage prior to and soon after long-haul travel. "It works for us almost every time."

17. Take advantage of layovers

Years ago, when my family flew west from Florida to Hawaii, we made a three-day pit-stop in San Francisco. Since Honolulu is six hours behind Florida, it essentially broke the time difference in half. Doing this made it a lot easier for us to adapt when we made it to our final destination.

A friend of mine in New York put the same idea to use during a recent trip to Scotland, stopping in Iceland on the way. When it comes to adjusting to major time changes, sometimes doing it gradually is the best bet.

18. Give herbal teas a go

Most experts say that loading up on caffeine isn't among the best jet lag remedies. Since that sort of eliminates espresso shots, consider opting for a hot cup of herbal tea instead.

"Bring chamomile tea to help you relax and green tea when you need to be energized," suggests Morris.

Some tea companies, like Tealeaves, even offers specialty jet lag teas.

19. Pass on sleeping pills

While some travellers have no issues with sleeping aids, others might feel out of sorts or not totally like themselves when arriving at their destination. This is exactly why Gentle Living cautions against using sleeping pills as a jet lag cure-all.

"After waking up from a pill-induced sleep you often feel very groggy, which is not the right way to kick off a trip in a different time zone," writes Gina Guariglia-Kelly.

20. Grab a short nap

The idea here is to act in accordance with the local time. This means that if it's mid-morning, you should be up and at it. But if you're really hurting and losing the battle against sleep, there's nothing wrong with a little catnap; just be sure to keep it short.

According to a New York Times report, the most useful naps are less than 45 minutes. (Crossing that line makes you more likely to wake up groggy.)

Now for the real question: Where will your next luxury vacation take you? Stoke your inspiration with a peek at some of Insight Guides' most popular getaways.

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