20 Unbelievably Effective Tips For Beating Jet Lag

Use these tips to arrive at your next destination feeling energized and ready for work or vacation.

flying

By: Chris Castellano of Fittest Travel

Jet lag affects nearly all travelers that cross time zones. Studies have shown that professional athletes, business travelers, pilots, and flight attendants suffer from reduced energy and performance when arriving at their destination after a long distance flight.

Long flights are the same for most of us: they start off with enthusiasm and energy but end with aches, pains and lethargy. It's no surprise that this happens to us. We're stuck in a sitting position for an extended period of time, we're dehydrated and our feet are swollen from water retention in the legs.

What is jet lag?

We all have internal clocks that control our body's processes. These clocks run our principal rhythms on cycles of 24 hours, called circadian, and synchronize with light and dark. This rhythm is disrupted when you cross time zones and are off your usual light and dark cycle. 

For example, if you catch a flight from New York to London at 7 p.m. and arrive in London at 5 a.m. (midnight London time), your day-night cycle would be off and your body rhythm would be disrupted. For many of us, it takes a day to fully recover from this. But there are ways to speed up that recovery or minimize the effects altogether.

Feeling this way is the last thing you want when you arrive at your destination, whether it's for a vacation or you're at the start of an important business trip. Wouldn't you rather arrive fresh-faced and full of energy?

Here are twenty tips that will help you conquer jet lag once and for all.

1. Fly east early; fly west late

Think about it. If you're flying east, getting an early start will give you the entire day and plenty of daylight when you arrive. Leave later in the day when you're heading west. There's no need to lose a night's sleep by leaving early in the morning and you'll be gaining time as you go west. 

2. Be active before your flight.

Before you even board, you should have it in your mind what steps you can be taking to get your body ready for the flight.

In my experience, the time between getting through security and boarding can be long and provides a perfect opportunity to prepare for a long flight. Enjoy the open space that the airport terminal provides you. Take a long walk, stretch your legs and if you're up for it, find some stairs and walk or run up them a few times.

Think about it this way: you're about to be sitting on a plane for at least a few hours so why would you want to sit some more in the airport terminal? Make the most of the opportunity, move around and get your blood flowing. 

3. Break up long bouts of sitting by taking a walk up and down the aisle. 

Once you're on board, your options for moving about become much more restricted but there's no reason to think that you can't stretch out and stay loose in-flight. Get up and walk the aisle. This is especially practical on longer flights, which tend to be serviced by larger aircraft. This will make it less awkward to get up several times during the flight. 

 Avoid alcohol before long flights

Avoid alcohol before long flights

4. Consider staying awake during the flight. 

This can help you fight off the jet leg and keep you in your circadian rhythm. Many people say to avoid caffeine if you're trying to beat jet lag but this works for many frequent travelers. Have some coffee during the flight. Remain productive by getting some work done on your laptop or read a book.

5. Avoid alcohol and sleep aids. 

They both will only increase the disruption to your circadian rhythm and can have additional negative effects. You don't need ambien or melatonin. And a glass of wine isn't going to help either. 

6. Workout immediately after your flight.

Paul Levesque, aka Triple H, is a 14-time world champion in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). As a professional wrestler, he travels a lot - over 200 days a year. Here's what Triple H does to combat jet lag, from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss: "When I landed, I would check into the hotel. The second we checked in, I'd ask them: 'Is the gym open? Can I go train?' Even if it was to get on a bike and ride for 15 minutes to reset things. I learned early that it seemed any time I did that, I didn't get jet lag."

The lesson here is to get some exercise, even if it's a short workout, right after you land.Once you arrive at your destination, one of the most important things for you to do is loosen up your tight muscles and joints with some stretching and a few calisthenics. It doesn't need to take long. I like to focus on opening up my hips and activating my glutes as soon as possible after my flight. 

7. Stay hydrated. 

Dehydration will negatively affect your circadian cycle and make you feel tired. You're more likely to be dehydrated while traveling, so be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. Carry a refillable water bottle, like a Hydroflask, with you in your carry on.

8. Workout during the flight.

This isn't as crazy as it sounds. You can find a spot on a plane to do some air squats or even push-ups. The larger the plane (the Boeing 787 Dreamliner seems to be the best), the more spaces that are available for you to do some bodyweight exercises.

You might get some funny looks but this works. Someone might even be inspired to join you - it happened to me once on a trans-Atlantic flight. The only downside was that we had less room.

9. Fly business class (if you can).

 Photo credit: Virgin Air

Photo credit: Virgin Air

This one isn't an option for everyone but it's too good to not mention. Flying in business class is an amazing experience and can be a key factor in beating jet lag on long flights. You'll have more room to stretch out and even lay down during your flight. And the food is better.

If you think flying business class is out of the question for you, check out The Points Guy. It might be in the cards (pun intended - you'll get it if you know TPG) for you after all.

10. Try 1Above - a travel recovery drink.

1Above is used by pilots, flight crews, and business travelers. The key active ingredient is Pycnogenol®, a natural bark extract and research has shown that it can reduce the length and severity of jet lag.

11. "Do as the Romans do."

Adopt the new local time and adjust your biological clock when you arrive at your destination. This only makes sense for longer trips across multiple time zones but has been found to be effective for trips lasting a week or more. Just remember to adjust your sleep cycle two or three days before you leave home. 

12. Get some light.

Some commercial airline pilots use light therapy to help them beat jet lag. They sit in front of bright lights in special rooms before long flights. Research has found this to be effective for speeding up the brain's adjustment to time changes.

By conducting light therapy at night, the brain’s biological clock gets tricked into adjusting to an awake cycle even when asleep. 

Some hotels are beginning to offer light treatment and "circadian mood lighting" in rooms to help reduce the effects of jet lag on travelers.

13. Give yourself time to adjust.

Don't dive right into planned activities upon arriving at your destination - whether that's business meetings or sightseeing. Give yourself an adjustment period. Get a workout in at the hotel gym. Prioritize sleep and rest. If you can, schedule your least demanding plans early in the trip and the most demanding ones towards the end.

14. Take a nap.

 Take a nap above the clouds. But don't sleep too long. around 30-40 minutes is key.

Take a nap above the clouds. But don't sleep too long. around 30-40 minutes is key.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a study by NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. If you arrive at your destination wiped out and have a big meeting or event planned, take a nap lasting no longer than 45 minutes (anything longer could leave you feeling groggy and even more tired).

15. Use caffeine strategically. 

NASA Astronaut Garret Reisman once joked at a press conference about sleep schedules and keeping energy up a few weeks before a launch, "The main stratgey is we're all just going to drink a lot of coffee before we go out to the launch pad."

Caffeine boosts, with careful timing, can do wonders for combating jet lag. If timed with naps, you can increase the effects of both the caffeine and the nap. Caffeine takes 15 to 30 minutes to work and naps should not last longer than 45 minutes. So drinking a cup coffee right before napping will have to you waking up with a solid energy boost. 

16. Adjust your food-related clock.

What you eat - and when you eat - can have a big impact on jet lag. Eating meals that are lighter and consist of mainly protein can be beneficial for keeping your energy levels up after you arrive at your destination.

Eating patterns affect our body's circadian rhythm, just as much or even more than light does. Fasting might be a good choice for anyone traveling across time zones. According to the Harvard Gazette, an experiment involving mice at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center revealed the presence of a food-related clock that can be manipulated with fasts. In this study, a 16-hour fast was enough to override the animals’ light-based cycles and turn them into night owls.

“A period of fasting with no food at all for about 16 hours is enough to engage this new clock,” says Clifford Saper, Chairman of the Department of Neurology at BIDMC and James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. “So, in this case, simply avoiding any food on the plane, and then eating as soon as you land, should help you to adjust – and avoid some of the uncomfortable feelings of jet lag.”

17. Book your flight on a 787 Dreamliner.

 Photo credit: Boeing

Photo credit: Boeing

It's difficult to pick what aircraft you fly on, but it is possible. Boeing has outfitted its newest aircraft with an improved air pressure system, which will help you breathe easier, sleep better, and give you less chance of a headache.

This could have a big impact on jet lag if you experience it at all.

18. Book a flight that arrives during the day.

Catching sunlight after you arrive after a long flight can be very effective in helping to reset your body's clock. The best thing you can do after arriving, besides getting exercise, is to get outdoors and get some natural sunlight. Best case scenario: an outdoor workout complete with sunlight and exercise.

19. Change your sleep pattern before you leave.

NASA prepares astronauts for missions by shifting their sleep patterns in the days before launching. According to some scientists who participated in research on the effectiveness, "you can actually shift somebody to anywhere in the world in about two or three days" simply by altering normal sleep patterns. 

Starting a few days before your trip, gradually adjust your sleeping habits to the time zone of your destination.

20. Pack the right things in your carry-on. 

Having things in your bag that will keep you feeling fresh can go a long way in fighting off jet lag. These include deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, ibuprofen//tylenol, tissues, band-aids, and an extra set of clothes. These will help you arrive fresh at your destination and could be helpful if an emergency comes up.


Bottom Line

As someone who enjoys travel and wants to maintain my high energy levels, I've decided it's time to conquer jet lag once and for all. That's why I put this list together. Use these tips to ease the pain of crossing multiple time zones and get the most out of every travel adventure you take - for business or pleasure.

chris castellano

Written by: Christopher Castellano

Chris Castellano is a travel fitness specialist. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Briarcliffe College and attended graduate school at Boston University. He is a combat veteran and currently works as a firefighter in New York City. Chris lives in Babylon, NY with his wife and daughter.


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