Top 10 Tips for Avoiding Jet Lag

Posted by Fodor's Editors on February 02, 2014 at 12:38:09 PM EST | Post a Comment

Most travelers try to make the most of their limited time overseas, yet fail to take into account the leap in time zones they make in a matter of hours. It can take your body's internal clock several days to catch up to that leap, and in the meantime you’re likely to experience the disruption of your sleeping and waking cycle known as jet lag. Symptoms of jet lag include sleepiness during the day, insomnia at night, poor concentration, confusion, hunger at inappropriate times or lack of appetite, and general malaise and irritability. Here are our top tips to fight jet lag.


1. Adjust your internal clock.
Several days (at least four) before departure, gradually shift your sleeping and eating times to coincide with those at your destination. Once you arrive, adopt the local time for your daily routine.

2. Opt for overnight flights.
You’ll have dinner at a normal time and be much more likely to sleep than on an afternoon flight. Depending on the length of the flight and the number of time zones you cross, you’ll arrive at your destination in the morning or afternoon. This is the best way to replicate your normal schedule, and it’ll be easier for you to reset your clock.

3. Curtail coffee.
For 12 hours before, as well as during, your flight, avoid overeating and caffeine. Although caffeine can help keep you awake longer, it makes you wake up more often once you do fall asleep and so reduces total sleep time.

4. Stay hydrated.
Drink at least 8 ounces of water for every hour you’re in the air—even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you wear contact lenses, clean them thoroughly before your flight, use eye drops in the air, and consider removing your lenses if you nap. In your carry-on pack a bottle of moisturizing lotion, lip balm, and a hydrating spray with essential oils (not just water) to spritz your face with occasionally. Just be sure all toiletries are TSA compliant.

5. Avoid or limit alcohol inflight.
Cabin air dehydrates passengers, and altitude changes can quicken the effects of alcohol (the rule of thumb is one drink in the air is the same as two or three on the ground). A cocktail may relax you, but it's also apt to dry you out, and even worsen symptoms of jet lag.

6. Try to sleep on the plane.
This is especially important when you’re traveling overnight or flying west to east. Travel is extremely tiring, and the more rest your body gets en route the more prepared you’ll be to deal with the stresses of jet lag. If you’re taking a very long flight—United States to Asia, for example—consider saving up enough dollars or frequent-flier miles to fly business or first class, as it’s a lot easier to sleep when your seat reclines all the way back. If you can’t avoid coach, opt for a window seat and bring enough padding (pillows or something that can act as such) to prop yourself up against the wall.

7. Use sleeping pills wisely.
A pill with a short cycle may be helpful on overnight flights. Make sure, however, that you time the dosage correctly or you may be very groggy when you land. Also, an airplane is not the place to try out a pill for the first time, so only take medications you are already familiar with.

8. See if melatonin is for you.
Consider taking the nonprescription drug melatonin. Research suggests that the body uses this hormone to set its time clock. Because melatonin seems to control when we go to sleep and when we wake up, a number of scientists advocate supplements to alleviate jet lag. Some (but not all) studies suggest that taking 3 milligrams of fast-release melatonin prior to bedtime for several days after arrival in a new time zone can ease the transition.

9. Get outside.
After arrival, spend a lot of time out in the sunlight, which will help your body reset its natural time clock to coincide with your new surroundings.

10. Don’t drift off too early.
Unless you arrive at your destination at night, and reasonably close to a normal bedtime, don’t go to sleep as soon as you reach your hotel. Unless you’re used to taking regular short naps at home, you’re better off staying up until bedtime: If you’re really exhausted from travel, a 20-minute nap could easily become a three-hour nap, which will disrupt your sleep schedule even more—you might find yourself wide awake at 4 AM.

Photo Credit: sextoacto / iStockPhoto

Member Comments (26)  Post a Comment

  • StepStyle on Dec 3, 14 at 03:05 PM

    Nice article, good advise. I travel every week between florida and California for business and I found the perfect solution that really cures Jet Lag. www. all natural cure like no other i tried. and its cheap! love it, never travel without it.

  • Sify on Sep 29, 14 at 01:10 AM

    Hey, that's really nice tips to avoid jet lag and I think after following your tips, traveller easy to get rid of travel frustration. But If it’s daytime at your destination while you are flying, do your best to stay awake. If it’s the middle of the night, try to sleep.

  • AnneyAuster on Jul 17, 14 at 02:01 AM

    Jet lag is also known as time zone change syndrome or desynchronosis. Jet lag can occur when people travel rapidly from east to west, or west to east on a jet plane. It is a physiological condition which upsets our body's circadian rhythms - hence, it is classified as a circadian rhythm disorder. Jet lag symptoms tend to be more severe when the person travels from westward compared to eastward. Read more to know about jet lag and how to avoid it:

  • RobOrlando1 on May 1, 13 at 12:27 AM

    Probably the best tip is #10. There's research out there ( ) that suggests a person can completely avoid jet lag by fighting sleepiness on arrival and going to bed at the local normal bed time (whatever yours is). This is equally true if you arrive deep into the night. Either sleep and set an alarm, or stay awake till the next day.

  • madgicsh on Apr 29, 11 at 01:24 AM

    I had a Pulmonary Embolism (close cousin to a DVT) in 2006 and travelled from Australia to the USA and Canada in 2008 without incident. The only special strategies we used were to stop in Hawaii each way for a few days - NOT an imposition at all; and to drink water more often than I otherwise would.

    Limiting your flights to 9 or so hours is a great way to beat jet lag!

  • swight on Mar 15, 11 at 11:58 AM

    A Harvard study found that you can use food to quickly fix your body clock. Don't eat for the 8 hours you are supposed to be sleeping, but do have something to eat, even a small snack at the end of it. Your body will wake up at whatever time you had that snack.
    Don't believe me? Try setting an alarm and having a sandwich at 3am. I guarantee you'll wake up at 3am the next night.

  • lexnlido2 on Mar 14, 11 at 10:00 PM

    I disagree with hint number 2. I always had horrible jet lag when I took night flights. Then I started taking flights that left early in the morning and arriving at night. I found that if I went to sleep shortly after arrival, I would wake up the next morning and have a normal day with little or not jet lag.

  • Marinette on Mar 14, 11 at 03:16 PM

    We tried waiting to pack for Europe (eastbound) until the night before we were leaving and by 6 p.m. departure time of flight, we were ready to sleep, waking refreshed in London. Also necessary to eat a big meal when you arrive.

  • sandals on Mar 12, 11 at 11:43 AM

    It is easy to help keep circulation moving even while sitting in the airplane seat by stretching out your legs in place, under the seat in front of you, and drawing small circles with your feet, first one direction, then the other. Learned this from a LeMaze instructor thirty years ago when I was pregnant and it is a handy exercise,

    Another sitting exercise is to do alternating knee lifts in place.

    Chico's travel pants, flight stockings, a neck pillow and a Pashmina shawl used like a burka help me create a comfortable, dark cocoon in which my light sedative can do its job. I like the comfort of the warm airline meal , and can usually go back into the sleepy "zone" if I listen to calming music while staring at the flight pattern, imagining my destination and what people are doing there at the curent time.

  • lynclarke on Mar 12, 11 at 07:26 AM

    Another Magnesium warning--- most people get the dribbling poopies within a few hours of taking Magnesium, especially the first few times. I would not suggest Mg for an overseas flight. And, I always wear the compression socks--I love those things. I take my shoes off when I board. But make sure you pack a pair of firm sole slippers in your carryon. By the end of the flight, the toilet floors are wet and disgusting. Catnap whenever you get the chance.

  • Sylvia_Milani on Mar 11, 11 at 10:24 PM

    coming from SF, we usually stop for a few days in either NYC or Atlanta. Helps us enjoy our European time without having major jet lag.

  • terra_firma on Mar 11, 11 at 09:00 PM

    i know everyone says don't sleep before bed time. i find a 1 hour nap in the afternoon, once settled into our room, refreshes one greatly, preparing for an enjoyable evening of activities. you won't miss a single night of fun.

  • twinkle60 on Mar 11, 11 at 07:13 PM

    Please........on a Travel site !! The clock for my home town of SYDNEY is shown as SIDNEY .... shame.

  • AlpertJ on Mar 11, 11 at 07:01 PM

    I find that going to bed at the normal destination bedtime is the biggest help. If I fly overnight, I do not sleep that well. Once I get settled in at my destination, I take a nap (no more than 2 hours). Depending on how far I travel, I am normally awake by about noon and ready to go for the day. If I do not get that nap, or wait until later in the day, I just feel like a zombie.

  • JanDelaware on Mar 11, 11 at 05:55 PM

    I'm fortunate to adapt pretty quickly to local time zones--mostly because I'm so sleep deprived by the time I leave that my body is happy to fall into any normal routine in a foreign time zone!

    For the women who follow this string, I suggest wearing a pair of pantihose on the plane--it keeps the blood from pooling in your legs where it may form clots. I can still remove my shoes and don a pair of flight socks. I don't sleep well on planes, and I drink a lot of water, so I'm usually up every 2-3 hours for a trip to the loo--and while waiting in line, I do leg swings or march in place to keep my blood circulating. Wearing pantihose also makes it easier to get your shoes back on at the end of the flight--your feet won't be swollen.

    I agree that you need to fall into the local time when you get to your destination. Only think about what time it is at home if you have to call someone there.

  • Euro888 on Mar 11, 11 at 12:42 PM

    One simple thing I do after arriving several times zones away is to avoid the temptation to peak at the time "back home". It's much better to immerse yourself totally into your new environment. I avoid this for at least a week after arriving at my destination. Peaking at the time back home will only serve to confuse your brain on what time it "really is".

  • WileyCoyote on Mar 11, 11 at 11:48 AM

    For overseas travel, I take note of teh Arrival time at the destination. If the flight arrives in AM, I do my best to catch as much sleep as possible; on arrival I keep busy (outdoors in sunlight to teh extent possible) then go to bed at a 'normal' evening time.
    If Flight arrives in afternoon or early evening, I stay awake on teh flight, press on with activities at the destination even though tired, until a relatively 'normal' bedtime. No jet lag. Heading East to Europe, leave in the evening (US time) and sleep all the way. Heading west to Asia/Australia (much longer flights), take flight arriving in the AM...stay active/awake on the flight until 8 hours before arrival, sleep as much of that time as possible. As mentioned, if possible take Business Class and advise Flight attendant NEVER to disturb you for meals if you are sleeping...even pre-arrival snack/breakfasts.

  • tansay on Mar 11, 11 at 11:06 AM

    Regent, I would still try to sleep on the flight. We have travelled at least 10 times overseas and have always preferred the evening, overnight flight. Unless you are very lucky, you will doze more than sleep on the flight. Getting to the airport, through security to your flight, the flight, disembarking, passport control and customs, finding your luggage, finding your way to your hotel, etc.etc.-- you will be tired. And a light sleeping pill that first night will do the trick (no alcohol of course).

    Bon voyage and have a great time!

  • regent on Mar 11, 11 at 10:38 AM

    Any advice?: we're flying overnight from West Coast USA and arriving in Italy in the evening. If we sleep on the plane, we won't be tired to go to sleep when we land. I'm guessing the pro-travelers would advise to NOT sleep long on the flight.

  • BritishMusicFan on Mar 11, 11 at 10:22 AM

    For many years, I have been taking No Jet Lag tablets during my international flights and taking Airborne tablets. It has made a huge difference. I may be a bit tired, but I don't have that "fuzzy" feeling like I did on my first trip to the UK in 1994, where I was pretty much out of it for 5-7 hours the first day.

    I know that it is recommended to not sleep during the day up on arrival and go to sleep at 8-9 pm, but with this new routine of Airborne and No Jet Lag, I arrive at the B&B and take a 2-hour nap and feel great the rest of the day.

  • sandraschmitz on Mar 11, 11 at 10:17 AM

    Re Magnesium: If you tend to get leg cramps, magnesium may be helpful. Be aware, however, that it tends to work as a laxative for most people!

  • libra5310 on Mar 11, 11 at 10:00 AM

    I've had very good luck with "No Jet Lag" which you can purchase at REI or online. It's homeopathic and has worked great for other overseas travelers that I have spoken to as well.

  • tansay on Mar 6, 11 at 09:06 PM

    For some years, my husband and I have practiced "pre-emptive jet lag." A week before our flight to France, we get up each day 1/2 hour earlier (and of course go to bed 1/2 hour earlier. And it feels alright to be like a little kid and go to bed at 8:00 pm!). So by flight day we are getting up at 3:30- 4:00 AM. On flight day, our tradition is to be "the first customers at Phil's" at 6:00 AM. (Western Canadians will understand.) We walk there (1/2 hour) and back again. Then mess about doing last minute chores. Take a nap at 11:00. Mid afternoon light meal and head to the airport for the "3 hours early" for international flights. No kidding around, we do feel rotten. BUT we sleep reasonably well on the flight "No thank you, we don't want supper." ) I do wear flight socks and when I stir make sure I flex my legs. AND -- by day 2 we are on France's time zone and feel just fine! I'd rather have jet lag at home than on holidays.

    Calgary Alberta Canada

  • christrmpt04 on Mar 3, 11 at 02:24 PM

    You don't need to walk the whole time to avoid DVT. The best method is to sleep for 2-3 hours then take a short walk to the back of the plane and stretch. Don't worry if people look at you strange for stretching, it really helps. Although this will interrupt your sleeping, I doubt you would really be able to sleep soundly anyway.

    Get as much sleep as possible and walk around once every 3 hours!

  • Gothampc on Mar 3, 11 at 12:05 PM

    Someone recently told me that magnesium is a relaxer and suggested I take 500 mg during a long flight as a natural way to assist sleep. Has anyone ever tried that? Is it effective?

  • ParrotMom on Mar 3, 11 at 07:26 AM

    #6 Is what got me in deep trouble.. On a flight from Rome via Zurich to Boston I slept almost the entire time. Three days later I was admitted to the local hospital to the Special Care Unit with blood clots in my lungs (DVT)..which developed in my legs because of my sleeping and not walking the aisles..I am still dealing with the effects of that flight...So forget the sleeping and the sleeping pills, wear special stockings and walk the aisles.

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