Preventing Jet Lag

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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.

jet lagImage Credit: David Prado Perucha/Shutterstock.com

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 individuals notice the effects even when short distances are traveled.

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 traveling
  • 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's time zone more closely. (e.g. one hour earlier if traveling east or one hour later if traveling west)
  • Spend time in the sunlight or bright life in the morning (if traveling west) or the evening (if traveling 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 the cabin to reduce the 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 a flight across international time zones.

  • Adapt to the 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 earplugs or an eye mask if helpful to sleep
  • Avoid making an 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 recognizes 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 travelers moving across five or more time zones. The positive effects are likely to be more noticeable when traveling 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 in the home country time, as there is insufficient time to adjust.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Susan Chow

Written by

Susan Chow

Susan holds a Ph.D in cell and molecular biology from Dartmouth College in the United States and is also a certified editor in the life sciences (ELS). She worked in a diabetes research lab for many years before becoming a medical and scientific writer. Susan loves to write about all aspects of science and medicine but is particularly passionate about sharing advances in cancer therapies. Outside of work, Susan enjoys reading, spending time at the lake, and watching her sons play sports.

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