10 Brilliant Hacks For Combatting Jet Lag

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
You know the feeling: You step off the plane in a new place that you can’t wait to explore, but all you can manage to do is crawl up and take a nap. Jet lag, simply defined by sleep specialist Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, is when your internal biological clock is out of step with the local clock in a new time zone. We’re all too familiar with the symptoms: fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and digestive upset.

Whether you're adjusting to the time zone in a new place, or trying to get back into a normal groove back at home, there’s nothing worse than feeling perpetually sluggish and disordered. Ahead, we've compiled 10 easy hacks from the travel pros to help you combat jet lag and get you back on your feet in no time.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
First thing’s first: Be proactive rather than reactive. Your best bet for reducing jet lag’s impact on your body is to prepare ahead of time. Kerry Ringham, general manager of The Westin Houston, Memorial City, sticks to this rule of thumb on his frequent business travels: “A day or two before your journey — the earlier the better — try to go to sleep when you would at your next destination. It’s as simple as shifting your bedtime to an hour earlier if you’re heading east, and an hour later if you’re traveling west.” Once you make the adjustment, don’t forget to maintain that same sleep schedule while on your flight.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Flying overnight will take a toll on anyone’s sleep cycle, especially if you have trouble napping on planes. Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., and author of The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, explains that it’s important to spend as much time as possible relaxing with your eyes closed on the flight: “Even if you can’t sleep, the rest will help decrease your travel stress.”

Of course, upgrading to business or first class is one way to maximize your comfort, but if that's not an option, you can still create a comfortable atmosphere. Tanja Roos, founder of Nectar & Pulse travel guides, suggests wearing comfortable clothes, packing an eye mask, and bringing your own earplugs and sleepy-time playlist: “Be sure to carry on travel-size cosmetics such as a toothbrush, hydrating facial cream, and lavender-scented oil to help you maintain a sense of normalcy in your bedtime routine. I’ve also found that taking my own pillow helps me to feel more at home and capable of snoozing.”
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
It’s easy to use traveling as an excuse for unhealthy eating — you’re away from home and your normal routine, and options are often limited. Starting your day with fast food at the airport and ending it with sodium-heavy airplane meals may be convenient, but if you want to avoid feeling sluggish in a new time zone, it’s important to pay attention to your travel diet. Roos suggests packing your own snacks to discourage yourself from loading up on junk food that has zero nutritional value. Think dried fruit, nuts, raw veggies, protein bars, and other easy bites. Get a leg up on your travel diet by monitoring what you eat up to 24 hours before your flight. Health coach and certified fitness instructor Andes Hruby encourages clients to eat foods that are alkaline (not too spicy, sweet, or sour). A bloated or gassy stomach is not pleasant for you — or those near you — at 30,000 feet. Hruby also recommends eating foods that are high in fiber before takeoff to help your body offset the dehydrating effects of flying.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
You’ve heard it before, but we can't emphasize it enough: Staying hydrated is crucial for feeling healthy and alert after a long day of traveling. Purchasing a large water bottle at the airport will help motivate you to take continual sips throughout your flight. Hruby stresses the importance of starting the hydration process before a trip begins: “Be good to your body before you fly. Drink [lots of] water in preparation for your trip, and continue to do so while on the plane.” A glass of wine may help you relax, but avoid consuming alcohol in excess while traveling, as it causes dehydration and can make you feel weary after you land.
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Instead of using your overnight flight to catch up on TV shows and movies, opt for a good book or a stack of magazines. Board-certified psychiatrist Jeremy Martinez, M.D., explains that avoiding blue light (i.e., computers, TV monitors, and iPads) in the evening hours is important if you want to adjust to local time: “One reason the day-night reversal of traveling causes jet lag is due to the brain's secretion of the molecule melatonin. When the brain registers darkness, it secretes melatonin, which helps to regulate our sleep cycle.” So do your brain a favor and turn off those electronics.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Small mental steps can be taken, in addition to physiological ones, to help reset your internal biological clock. Setting your watch to the destination’s local time as soon as you board the plane can help you mentally prepare for the schedule ahead, says Tina Iglio, senior vice president for Delta Vacations. Use your reset timepiece as a guide to determine your in-flight activities — if it’s daytime at your destination, keep yourself occupied by TV, reading, exercises, talking, and anything else to keep yourself awake until a reasonable evening hour.
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Sitting on a plane for hours at a time increases your risk of developing a blood clot, and it also reduces your body’s energy levels. Keep your heart rate up with in-flight exercises (no matter how silly you might look), and by walking around the plane. Hruby encourages folks to move around, “even if it disturbs your neighbor. Once on the plane, stretch, take little walks, [or] touch your toes,” he suggests. Dean recommends wearing compression socks to help improve blood circulation in your legs and feet.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
If it’s daytime at your destination, the worst decision you can make is to take a nap upon arrival. “To reset the sleep-wake pattern, stand facing the sun (make sure your eyes and skin are protected) for 10 to 15 minutes so that you get a healthy dose of sunlight. This simply resets your nighttime melatonin and makes sure it’s not activated to make you sleepy during the day,” explains Dean. Hruby says that it’s important to throw yourself into the cycle of life around you. Whether grabbing an espresso at a cafe, taking public transportation, or exploring an open market, immersing yourself in the energy of the place will distract you, and you’ll soon forget about your jet lag.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Turns out those shades you bought for your trip were worth the splurge. Martinez advises travelers to wear sunglasses before the trip and on the plane during the hours that correspond to nighttime in the location you're headed to: “This technique helps to tell your body when it is night. The same goes for having bright-light exposure during the day periods of your destination.” As if we needed an excuse to wear sunglasses.
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Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
Day one and two of a trip are often adrenaline-filled and a bit of a whirlwind. By the third day, the full effects of jet lag and exhaustion begin to settle in. Roger Brinkley, an avid traveler and the CEO of Pac2Go travel gear, suggests scheduling a full day of activities on day three to keep you awake and energized: “After the third day on any trip, I am usually fully adjusted to the new time zone.” In other words, plan ahead, stay busy, and push yourself over that third-day hump, and then it’s smooth sailing.
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