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Preventing Jet Lag

By , PhD, ELS

Jet lag is a condition that commonly affects travellers who fly across several times zones on a plane, due to changes in the circadian rhythm and the body’s natural body clock. Although the absolute prevention of jet lag is not possible, the effects of the condition can be reduced with the implementation of specific techniques.

As a general rule, symptoms of jet lag are more profound when more time zones are traversed, and when an individual travels from west to east. However, anyone can experience jet lag and some individual notice the effects even when short distances are travelled.

Before the Flight

The following techniques can help to reduce symptoms of jet lag when implemented before the flight across international time zones.

  • Break up long journeys with a stopover
  • Ensure sufficient sleep time prior to travelling
  • Focus on healthy living, including a nutritious diet and physical activity
  • Reduce stress where possible before the flight (e.g. check-in online and be packed and prepared early)
  • Alter your sleep routine at home to match the destination country time zone more closely. (e.g. one hour earlier if travelling east or one hour later if travelling west)
  • Spend time in the sunlight or bright life in the morning (if travelling west) or the evening (if travelling east).

During the Flight

The following techniques can help to reduce symptoms of jet lag when implemented during the flight across international time zones.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking water
  • Avoid large meals
  • Limit caffeine consumption
  • Restrict alcohol consumption
  • Take short naps throughout flights
  • Take regular walks around cabin to reduce risk of deep vein thrombosis
  • Change your watch to the destination time zone from the beginning of the journey.

After the Flight

The following techniques can help to reduce symptoms of jet lag after the flight across international time zones.

  • Adapt to local schedule as soon as possible (e.g. activities, meals, sleep)
  • Sleep at nighttime at destination
  • Spend time outside in the sun and physically active during the day
  • Use ear plugs or eye mask if helpful to sleep
  • Avoid making important decision immediately after arrival
  • Take short naps if needed, but limit to 20 minutes to avoid disruptions of nighttime sleep

Use of Melatonin Administration

Melatonin is sometimes recommended as a nutritional supplement to prevent jet lag, due to its action on the circadian rhythm of the body. However, the evidence to support this recommendation in practice is controversial.

The effect of melatonin has been well established by scientific research, which supports its use in the prevention of jet lag and recognises it as safe with minimal side effects. However, many commercially available products that contain melatonin do not undergo adequate quality control testing and contaminants have been identified in some products.

Melatonin is likely to offer a benefit for travellers moving across five or more time zones. The positive effects are likely to be more noticeable when travelling east.

Advice for Short Trips

For short trips that span less than three days in the destination country, it is usually preferable to allow the body to remain on the home country time, as there is insufficient time to adjust.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 22, 2015

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