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Jet lag is difficulty adjusting to a new time zone. It generally lasts for as many days as time zones crossed. Travelers who cross one or two zones typically adjust smoothly on their own. Jet lag tends to be milder with westward travel.
You can take steps to minimize jet lag and enjoy your destination sooner:
- Adjust your schedule starting at least one week before departure. If you will be traveling eastward across several time zones (each time zone represents an hour’s difference), then wake up and go to sleep an hour earlier than usual. After a few days of this routine, start and end your day even earlier. Continue this process so that your pre-travel schedule will approach your destination time zone. If you are traveling westward, simply reverse the strategy by awakening and going to sleep later.
- Stay well hydrated during your flight.
- Set your watch to destination time at departure or a few days sooner.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages for at least 72 hours before traveling and during the flight. Caffeine can affect your sleep pattern and contributes to dehydration.
- Do not drink alcoholic beverages for 24 hours prior to traveling and during the flight. Alcohol can cause drowsiness and contributes to dehydration.
- On your flight, try to sleep when it’s bedtime at your destination. This can be challenging on a noisy flight with cabin lights on. Close the window shade and use eyeshades and earplugs. Sit in the window seat, if possible.
- Consider melatonin supplements, a hormone that promotes sleep, particularly when crossing several zones and traveling eastward. While safe at recommended dosages, it is an unproven remedy. Purchase melatonin supplements from a reputable retailer, as melatonin is not regulated, and quality and purity vary. On the day of departure, take 2-5 mg at the target bedtime of your destination. Continue this routine for 2 or 3 days after arrival. Avoid the slow-release melatonin formula. Individuals with epilepsy or those taking blood thinners (warfarin) should not take melatonin.
- Take on the new schedule as soon as you arrive. Eat and go to sleep at proper times for your destination.
- Get early morning bright sunlight exposure for the first few days. This will help adjust your biological clock to the new time zone.
- Sleeping pills may be a good short term option. Discuss this with your travel physician before you depart.