15 Ways to Avoid Jet Lag – Or Make it Better

The following jet lag tips were assembled with the help of several veteran travelers, along with suggestions from well-known institutions. If you ever find yourself jet lagged (or fear you might be), I heartily recommend you check out the following links: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic, and the National Sleep Foundation.

LISTEN: Rick Seaney knows jet lag. Oh, how he knows.

Plan Ahead

1. Eat right and exercise: If you feel better overall, any jet lag will be easier to endure (or may not occur at all). The hard part is following this advice, but give it a try. You have nothing to lose (except maybe a bonus pound or two).

2. Change sleeping patterns slightly: All of us can make an adjustment of an hour or so.

  • If you’re traveling east: Go to sleep one hour earlier each night for a few days.
  • If you’re traveling west: Go to sleep an hour later each night for a few days.

A quick and easy summer travel to-do list

3. Bring the pillow from your bed: Familiar objects can alleviate jet lag plus you won’t go crazy trying to sleep on a hotel pillow that is the exact opposite of what you’re used to at home.

4. Lower the noise level: Noise-canceling headphones are a big help to me on planes (others like ear plugs or face masks). Make sure these are readily accessible in your carry-on or on your person because they’ll do you know good in your checked bag. And sleeping en-route to your destination can help you adjust to your eventual local time zone which will also help with jet lag.

5. Pack early: And speaking of what to put in a bag, do not leave packing until the last moment. Get it all done at least 24 hours before departure, and that includes putting all boarding passes, passports, snacks and vouchers for attractions – or anything you’ll need – in one handy place, ready to go.

On the Plane

6. Start living in your new time zone: This means making sure your watch and any electronic devices are set to the time zone you’ll be visiting. Do this after you get settled in your airline seat.

7. Don’t overindulge: Don’t eat too much and definitely don’t drink too much coffee or alcohol.

8. Drink water: Flights can be dehydrating and dehydration can make jet lag worse, so do drink plenty of water. Remember, if you want to bring your own bottle, wait to buy it after the security checkpoint because liquids in containers that hold more than 3.4 ounces are not allowed.

9. Special diet: I cannot vouch for this personally (and I sure wouldn’t attempt this without first consulting a doctor) but some have touted a feast/fast diet that goes by the name of Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag Diet, developed by a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. Others suggest a somewhat similar “diet” of eating nothing for several hours before breakfast time at your destination. You can learn more about this here.

10. Take a nap: Many U.S. to Europe flights arrive in the morning and you’ll want to be fresh (more on that later). So use those headphones, turn off the tablet and get some shut-eye.

11. When you’re awake: Try to get a little exercise like a stroll down the aisle (but do not attempt this when flight attendants are serving meals or drinks). Don’t get up if the ride is the least bit bumpy and any time you’re in your seat, keep your belt buckled because turbulence is unpredictable.

Upon Arrival

12. Avoid big decisions: The CDC says those who do suffer jet lag probably shouldn’t make any big decisions the first day of the trip but this is probably meant more for those who have business meetings or other work-related events. If that’s you, it might be best to arrive a day early.

13. Get acclimated to local time: If you arrive in the morning, most veteran travelers say, don’t go to bed. Instead, walk around, see some sights, have lunch and dinner at the usual times and if possible, stay up until at least 9 p.m. The experts are divided as to whether you should try to sneak in an afternoon nap or not, but if you do, lie down for no more than half an hour.

14. Natural light: If you’re following tip number 13, you’ve already go this covered. Get outside and get some sun. Even if it’s raining or you must stay indoors, get as much light as you can.

15. Get in touch with nature: This tip comes from a well-traveled Australian blogger who suggests jet lag can be cured by taking off your shoes and socks and literally getting in touch with nature, by planting your feet on the ground or grass or maybe some nice warm sand. Who knows, it might just help.

More from Rick Seaney:

Jet Lag: 15 Prevention and Recovery Tips

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Published: March 3, 2014