Ease the stress and fatigue from air travel with the following jet lag tips, compiled by a host of travelers and researchers, which should help moderate the biological clock-resetting process necessary to counter jet lag.
Planning Your Flight
- Avoid selecting a flight with a morning departure so early that you have to lose sleep in order to get to the airport on time.
- If feasible, plan to arrive at your destination in time for a full night’s sleep.
- Avoid red-eye flights. Although you may save some time and the cost of another night in a hotel, the cost of losing sleep can be even greater, in terms of mood, health and performance.
- In preselecting a seat, request one away from bathrooms, the gallery, or where young infants are often placed.
- Be aware of which side the sun will be on, and try to sit on the opposite side.
- Consider a seat location that will afford you the greatest leg room, such as the emergency row with adjustable seatbacks.
- Give yourself time. Plan ahead and arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare and a chance to upgrade to roomier and quieter seating areas.
- At the gate, ask the boarding agent if there are any completely empty rows. Three empty seats makes a quasi-bed.
- Pack a small bag of items to help you stay comfortable on the plane. Include an eyeshade, earplugs, slipper socks, gum (for equalizing ear pressure on takeoff and landing), moisturizer, lip balm, a nasal decongestant, and a bottle of water.
- Plan to wear loose-fitting clothing on the flight and dress in layers for warmth and comfort.
- Start to preset your biological clock five days before you leave: If flying east, start going to bed and waking up earlier each day; if heading west, stay up later and get up later.
- Stay calm while preparing for your tip, to ensure a relaxed departure. Don’t leave trip preparations until the last minute. Be well rested, not exhausted, when you start your journey.
During Your Flight
- Ask for a pillow and blanket as soon as you board. Many flights do not carry enough of a supply to go around.
- As soon as you sit down, change your watch to the time at your destination and begin living by that time—acclimating yourself to that time zone.
- Drink lots of water and juices to counter dehydration from the dry cabin atmosphere.
- Dehydration can retard the process of resynchronizing your biological clock with destination time.
- Avoid alcohol. Cabin pressure at higher altitudes raises your blood-alcohol level such that two drinks at high altitude are as potent as three drinks on the ground. Alcohol tends to exacerbate the dehydration problem and interferes with your body’s ability to process oxygen. Perhaps most significant of all, alcohol will disrupt REM sleep and fragment sleep throughout the night.
- Avoid smoking, overeating or eating spicy foods, all of which may interfere with your sleep.
- Take several strolls down the aisle to improve blood circulation.
- Do some stretching. Stretch your arms above your head as if you were picking items off a high shelf, and rotate your head right and left, then up and down, to relieve tension in your neck muscles.
- Loosen your clothing as an aid to circulation. Take off your shoes.
- If you wear contact lenses, consider removing them while in flight so that your eyes do not become irritated because of the extremely dry atmosphere in the cabin.
- While airborne, eat and sleep according to your new schedule, not the airline’s imposed schedule. Even though it’s still daytime outside the plane, if it’s nighttime at your destination, forget the movie and meals and get some sleep. Put on your eyeshades, put in your earplugs (or put on headphones), and tell the cabin crew you do not wish to be disturbed by meal service. Covering yourself with a blanket helps keep you comfortable as your body temperature drops from inactivity and sleep.
- If necessary, consider using an antihistamine to induce sleep. Melatonin may be promising for reducing the effects of jet lag. Because inappropriate dosages can produce mood-altering side effects, and because we don’t know melatonin’s long-term effects, you should check with your physician before using this drug.
- If you will be flying long distances eastward at night, do wake up and have a good breakfast at 7 a.m. local time, then stay awake and walk around on the plane while you can.