Jet Lag: Effective Ways to Treat and Prevent It

by Nick Collins

Have you ever experienced that awful feeling of grogginess and fatigue when you get off the plane? The whole day of business meetings or vacation leisures is ahead while you barely open your eyes and keep yourself from falling asleep on the floor. Flights are stressful enough with all the bureaucratic red tape, hours in the waiting room, and baggage checks. Add here a sleepless night or a flight to a completely different time zone, and you’re done. You feel broken, tired, and the chances are that you will doze off instead of following your plan for sightseeing or meeting with clients. Sounds not so productive, huh?

Imagine this situation happening each time you travel abroad for long distances. Be it a work trip, family vacation, or a quick weekend trip, this tiredness can ruin your day and stand in the way of your plans. Evil has a face - it’s called jet lag. Luckily, there is a way to fight it and stick to whatever you’ve planned for your trip. Dive in and learn how to forget about the terrible effects of jet lag once and for all.

How does jet lag affect your body and brain?

Every day, your body lives according to circadian rhythms. This inner biological clock decides when you’ll wake up, feel hunger, or start to prepare for sleep. But when the brain cells, regulating circadian rhythms, can’t synchronize with the time zone, your body and brain begin to struggle while performing the simplest activities. So, for example, if you travel from London to Sydney, you will face an 11-hour time difference.

A man in the airport waiting for his flight

If you cross many time zones quickly, all your body’s circadian rhythms will mess up, affecting your digestion, sleep, immunity, and mental performance. No wonder that after long-distance flights, you may face fatigue or insomnia (depending on the time of your arrival), feel less productive, and struggle with gut issues.

Sleep Medicine Clinics study has found that facing jet lags too often may increase your risks of getting heart disease or diabetes. Therefore, if your career involves regular business trips, you should know how to fight jet lag and reduce its influence on your productivity and health. Now let’s discover the most common reasons for jet lag to eliminate them in advance.

Reasons why you may face jet lag

Not everyone faces jet lag during long travels. Society for Endocrinology research has discovered that it relates to 60-70% of travelers, and the reason for it doesn’t necessarily lie in long-distance flights. Jet lag may occur if:

  1. You tend to drink coffee or alcohol during flights. You may think that drinking booze will help you overcome flight stress or that three cups of coffee will keep you energized after the land. Unfortunately, they only disrupt the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, making you dehydrated and overstressed later.
  2. You had a poor sleep before travel. Suppose you’re having difficulties falling asleep on the eve of work trips due to stress or the late departure. In that case, it may disrupt your wake-sleep regimen later and cause jet lag.
  3. You arrive early in the morning. Adjusting to the new time zone may be way more challenging if you arrive in the morning. If you don’t have time to rest, you may feel tired and groggy for the whole day.
  4. You travel eastward. Scientists have found that symptoms of jet lag are worse when you travel to the east. It happens because you’re shortening your regular 24/7 day cycle.
  5. The airplane cabin atmosphere and pressure are uncomfortable. Pressure drops and changes in the atmosphere can also contribute to the development of severe jet lag.
  6. Light exposure. Blue light, which comes from the device’s screens, may disrupt the melatonin production in your body, messing with your sleep-wake cycles. Plus, if the airplane cabin has a too-bright light, it can also intervene with your sleep regimen.

Since jet lag can occur for various reasons, you should know how to define that disorder. By learning the most common jet lag symptoms, you’d be able to differentiate it from regular insomnia or stress and adequately treat it.

A man in the plane looking on his smartphone

Symptoms of jet lag

Jet lag manifests itself differently for each person - you may face only one symptom or a bunch of them at a time. So here are the symptoms of jet lag, according to Mayo Clinic research:

  • Severe tiredness and daytime fatigue. You may feel like you haven’t slept for ages even though you napped during the flight.
  • Poor concentration. “Brain fog” after a flight is a widely-spread symptom of jet lag because your body focuses on aligning all inner processes to the new time zone.
  • Guts issues. Travel constipation is a common symptom of stress and a change in your routine. With the additional stress from jet lag, you can also face diarrhea and stomach pain.
  • Irritability and unpredicted mood changes. Jet lag can make you easily irritable, mainly because of the lack of sleep. Get ready for instant mood swings since your neural system may struggle after a drastic change of time zones.
  • Sleep problems. Jet lag may disrupt melatonin production in your body and mess up your sleep-wake regimen. So you could face difficulties with falling asleep, sleep disturbance, and early waking. Meanwhile, lack of sleep leads to muscle aches, leg cramps, and an overall bad mood.

So there’s no way you can combine jet lag symptoms with a productive day. It could be incredibly annoying when you’re going on a business trip to meet your partners or make a decisive deal. Just imagine being sleepy and irritated in the middle of a life-changing meeting when you can’t miss a word. That wouldn’t work!

But you still can prevent jet lag and stay on top of your performance after a long, exhausting flight. Read on and learn how to prepare yourself for an imperceptible change of time zones.

Prevent jet lag before it occurs

Of course, when you’re going on an unexpected work trip, there’s no way you can prevent jet lag. But when you’ve scheduled a flight a week ahead or earlier, you can try a few measures to avoid jet lag or make its symptoms less severe.

A man looking in the window while flying on the plane

Start adjusting to a new time zone before the trip

When you know the destination and arrival time, try preparing your inner clocks for a time zone change. If you’re going to fly westward, you can start preparing for sleep an hour or two later than usual. In turn, when you’re traveling east, try falling asleep a few hours earlier. That way, you’ll be able to compensate for a few lost hours of sleep later when you arrive.

But sleep isn’t the only body’s process that messes up because of jet lag. Your digestive system also may suffer from a change of time zone. So if you want to avoid possible gut problems and maintain a healthy appetite, change your meal hours. You can make them closer to the meal hours in the destination place time zone. That also works for bathroom visits. So by adjusting to the new time zone before the trip, you lower your chances of getting jet lag and reduce the stress your body may face.

Reduce travel stress

Jet lag may also occur not only because of the time zone change. If you’ve come through severe stress before the flight, you may feel overwhelmed and tired during the trip. For example, if you’ve packed your things at the last moment and can’t stop wondering whether you forgot your phone charger or laptop with the presentation. Or if you didn’t manage to book the hotel room in advance and are afraid of uncertainty. Such situations can be even more stressful than the flight itself.

Still, you can reduce travel stress by preparing everything in advance. If work trips are a routine for you, always have a small package of clothes and essential things ready for an unexpected trip. Plus, you can always book a hotel room on your way to an airport through online booking services. Try to get out of your home earlier - it’s better to wait in the airport a bit than to be in a rush, afraid that you’ll miss your flight.

A woman sleeping during the flight

Increase bright light exposure

Another effective way to prevent jet lag is to trick your circadian rhythms by increasing bright light exposure. So if you need to delay your inner clocks, surround your bed with bright lights when falling asleep - that way, you’ll wake up later. In turn, you may expose yourself to the bright sunlight early in the morning to advance your inner clocks and wake up earlier.

For example, you can go on early walks or make outdoor workouts a few days before your trip to wake up earlier and adjust to the new time zone quicker. If you need to delay your body’s clocks, don’t turn off the bright lights in your bedroom until you almost fall asleep.

Get a micronutrient boost right before your flight

Jet lag can have extremely severe symptoms for you if you have a fear of flying, which affects 40% of people worldwide. So if you have uncontrolled anxiety during the flight, it may result in insomnia, tiredness, and mood swings later. Luckily, you can avoid this unproductive state by taking supplements right before your flight. The most effective micronutrients to calm down before flight and reduce jet lag symptoms are:

  • Magnesium. This mineral is a total blast for soothing an anxious mind. Scientists have found that magnesium may act as an anxiolytic, a remedy for reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. What’s more, this mineral is also helpful when you want to fine-tune your sleep cycles.
  • Ginger root extract. Here’s another effective anxiety-reducing supplement, which contains a massive load of antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress in your brain cells and protect them from damaging stress. Plus, ginger is possibly effective in helping you prepare for sleep. So if you’re going to fly at nighttime, taking it will help you doze off quicker.
  • Vitamin B12. Maintain high energy levels and stay calm by taking this vitamin before the flight. Research shows that vitamin B12 may help you relieve anxiety and improve your mood.

These measures may help you reduce the risks of getting jet lag after a long flight and time zone change. Sometimes, you don’t have enough time to prepare for a work trip, and jet lag relentlessly overtakes you. That’s why we have come up with helpful suggestions on beating jet lag and sticking to your plans.

Tips on how to treat jet lag most effectively

Okay, your boss has called you yesterday and told you to pack your things because you’re going on a work trip. Or your company has unexpectedly planned a conference on the overseas branch. You should perform at your best during this work trip, but jet lag stands in the way of your productivity. Here’s how you can overcome it:

A plane cabin with people inside

Drink much water during the flight and after it

“How in the world can water help me get rid of jet lag?” you may think. But there’s a direct link between dehydration and jet lag symptoms. First, humidity in the airplane is low; plus, some people may not drink during flights to avoid bathroom breaks. That may make you dehydrated, disrupting your body’s natural processes, including sleep-wake cycles, mood, and brain productivity. So jet lag can easily affect you with its negative drawbacks, like poor performance, sleepiness, or headache.

Still, by drinking plain water or zero sugar and non-alcoholic drinks, you may keep your body well hydrated and reduce the symptoms of jet lag. Try to get more fluid even after getting off the plane to maintain the curing effect and avoid dehydration.

Sleep during the flight

This tip applies only to nighttime flights. Instead of scrolling your smartphone or watching a series, put on the sleep mask (a must-have for nighttime flights) and try to fall asleep. You can turn on a meditation video and listen to it through your headphones. That way, you’ll manage to avoid tiredness the next day and reduce possible symptoms of jet lag.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine

Be it morning or a nighttime flight, try not to drink alcoholic beverages and caffeine. These drinks have a stimulating effect, which may disrupt your sleep patterns and intensify jet lag symptoms. Alcohol may make you dizzy and cause a headache after the flight. That’s why it’d be better to opt for juice, water, or a cup of tea.

Prefer light foods

You can get plenty of various foods during the flight, including chocolate, snacks, or hearty meals. Still, if you want to reduce jet lag effects, choose healthy and light foods like fruits, healthy snacks, or veggies. That way, you can avoid jet lag-related heaviness, gases, stomachaches, and digestive issues.

Take melatonin supplements

If you face sleep problems after long flights, you may fix your sleep-wake cycles with melatonin supplements. Melatonin supplement contains the hormone that helps you fall asleep. It speeds up the relaxation process by slowing down the work of the nervous system. Also, this hormone lowers the level of dopamine used by the human body to provide a sense of vitality. By taking it a few hours before sleep, you may adjust to the new time zone easier and fix your sleep-wake cycles.

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