How to properly prepare for and combat jet lag

Crossing time zones is never fun, but you can do it with minimal friction

Traveling is great, but if you're jumping over two or more time zones, you'll most definitely be hit by jet lag. Jet lag is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that occur when your natural body clock is disrupted.

Your body clock is a small group of cells that tell other parts of the body what time it is and what to do. These genes also determine whether you're a morning person or a night owl. These cells become confused when you jump over several time zones, which results in jet lag. Even for the seasoned traveler, jet lag can be a hassle. Here's how to properly prepare for and combat jet lag.

1. Try to fly toward the west.

If you can reasonably avoid it, try not to fly toward the east. Going against the rotation of the Earth will worsen your jet lag. On average, it takes you about one day to recover from every timezone that you cross. So if you cross five time zones, you'll need five days to adjust. This time can drastically increase when you travel east. Think about how much you hate losing an hour to Daylight Savings Time and multiply that by how many time zones you'll be crossing. It's just much easier to adjust when you travel to the west.

2. Aim to land during daylight hours.

Light exposure is key to adjusting your sleep schedule. If you want to fall asleep at a normal time for the new time zone, arrive in daylight. The sunlight will help keep you awake and will prevent you from crashing right after you land. But if you can't make that happen, control how much light you're exposed to in the days leading up to your trip. By blocking out light at the appropriate time, you can help your body adjust to the new time zone before you land. This method is advocated by NASA sleep scientists so you know it's effective.

3. Change your schedule before you leave.

If you're going to be staying at your destination for an extended period of time, adjust your sleep and eating schedule before you depart. Make sure to eat your meals at the typical time you would in your new zone and sleep when it's nighttime where you're headed. By training your body to the daily rhythm of your destination, you'll have less recovery time when you arrive.

4. Sleeping on the plane won't always help.

Most travelers plan to sleep on the plane, but it won't always help you. Sure, on longer flights, you can't really avoid it. However, depending on where you're headed, staying awake during on the plane might be the most helpful. This is especially true if you're landing during daylight hours. So in order to stay awake, make sure to get a full night's sleep before you board.

5. For a short trip, just stay on your home time.

If you're only going to be in the new time zone for a few days, don't bother trying to switch. If you're only going to be there for 3 to 5 days, there's just no reason to. By the time you've finally adjusted to the new time, you'll be heading back home. Don't waste your time and efforts when they'll only end up hurting you.


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