The old saw says, "When a lot of different remedies are proposed for a disease, that means the disease cannot be cured." Jet lag may not be an official disease, but frequent travelers know it sure feels like one.
While different people are affected in different ways, no one's immune and there's no vaccination to prevent it. But there are plenty of ways to lessen the effect, short of staying home.
Worse than a bad hangover, jet lag affects those who fly across different time zones. That disrupts the body's 24-hour clock (or circadian rhythm), leaving you feeling tired, disoriented, irritable and achy upon arrival at your destination. Not exactly prime condition for an important meeting.
A common rule of thumb is that it takes one day for every time zone you cross to rid yourself entirely of jet lag. (Yikes! That means I need a week-plus to fully recover from my recent L.A..-London trip?)
Having just returned from that whirlwind trip, I'm living proof that you'll feel a lot better if you try the following tips:
- Reset Your Watch: Before boarding, set your watch to the correct time at your destination and start thinking according to that time.
Get Some Sleep: The more you can sleep on a long flight, the better you'll feel when you get there. Bring a boring book or a CD player with a relaxing jazz mix to lull you to sleep.
Take Drugs: Many travelers swear by melatonin, which, in supplement form, can help you sleep. The hormone -- naturally produced nightly by your pineal gland to induce sleep -- acts as a mild sedative, but doesn't have the "morning after" effects of stronger sleeping pills. Ask your doctor about the proper time to take the melatonin prior to, in flight and upon arrival, as it will differ according to your destination. Another alternative is kava kava, an herbal relaxant that may help you sleep.
Stay Awake: Upon arrival, do
not take a nap, especially if it's early in the day. Get as much fresh air and sunlight as you can, and try to stay awake until midnight if possible.
Drink Tons: Of
water, that is. Skip the alcohol and opt instead for constant refills of H2O. Doing so will prevent dehydration -- exacerbated by alcohol and altitude -- and the resulting headaches. Also avoid cola and coffee and all other carbonated and caffeinated beverages before and during the flight.
Eat Little: Airline food is not that great, so eat as little of it as possible. Stick to light, simple foods, nothing heavy that could contribute to constipation and other stomach aches that often accompany jet lag. Bring some healthy snacks (energy bars, popcorn, carrots) on board to ward off the temptation to eat junk. It's not a bad idea to preorder low-fat meals. They're healthier and often tastier than the standard fare.
Stay in the Dark: Use eyeshades and earplugs to help block out noise and distractions and convince your body clock that it's dark. Close the window shade; turn out your overhead light.
Don't Be a Seat Potato: When awake, get out of your seat at least once an hour to keep the blood flowing. To prevent your muscles from stiffening, stand against the wall while waiting for the bathroom and do some simple stretches and calf raises. While in your seat, keep your muscles from turning to mush. Do some simple isometrics. Clench your buttocks, count to 10, repeat 10 times. Do the same thing with your quads.
Dress the Part: Gone are the days of getting dressed up to fly. Wear loose-fitting clothes and shoes that are a little bit big. Your feet will undoubtedly swell, and it's no fun trying to squeeze them back into your shoes.
Work It Out: Try to work out before leaving and as soon after arrival as you can. Don't kill yourself, especially if you're tired, but aim for a light cardio routine (maybe a 30-minute exercise bike ride) and some stretches. This will do wonders toward keeping you from falling into the "I need a nap trap."
Mind Over Matter: Try not to think about what time it is at home. You aren't there so what does it matter?
Stay in the Right Place: Choose a hotel that has your well-being in mind. Many hotels offer "jet lag busting" massage and facial treatments at their spas, while others offer butler-drawn "jet lag busting" baths and in-room private yoga sessions.
Pamper Yourself: A good strong massage will do wonders for your well-being. Ask the therapist to use peppermint oil to energize your body rather than a fragrance that will send you dozing. Some carriers, such as Virgin Atlantic, offer complimentary in-flight jet lag spa treatments.
Take it from a frequent traveler who knows, the more of these tips you follow, the better you'll feel. Stick to the basics: No alcohol, lots of water, light food, lots of stretching, sleep a lot (in-flight), but fight the urge to crash at your destination -- until it's bedtime, local time.
Stacy H. Small is a freelance writer for publications including Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic Traveler. At time of publication, Small held no positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Small cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes feedback at