Don't let jet lag slow you down on your next trip.
woman in an airport looking out the window at an airplane in the sky

Photo: Getty Images / Kiattisak Lamchan / EyeEm

If you've traveled across two or more time zones, you know the feeling: you get off the plane feeling tired, moody, a little fuzzy-headed and generally out-of-sorts-compounded by difficulty sleeping that night. Sound familiar? Say hello to jet lag!

Jet lag is a bummer, mostly because you're likely traveling across time zones either for work or for a vacation-and neither is bettered by jet lag. However, there are several things you can do to head off jet lag before it ruins your next trip.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is caused by a disruption to your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythms rule your sleep-wake cycle, and can get out of whack when they don't sync with the time at your final destination. The reason this makes you feel so "off" is because your body is used to running through a certain set of biological routines according to the time of day. Certain functions-such as the production of sleep-promoting hormones or elevated body temperature in the mornings-are on a 24-hour cycle. If you disrupt that internal time gauge, you throw everything off. The more time zones you cross, the harder your body has to work to get back in sync.

Stay hydrated to help beat jet lag

Airplane cabin humidity hovers at around 20 percent (your house is probably between 30 and 60 percent), so you lose water faster. Dehydration is associated with feeling tired, experiencing low energy levels and having trouble thinking clearly-all symptoms that are compounded by jet lag. Luckily, staying hydrated is as easy as packing an empty water bottle that you can fill up after getting through security-and then reminding yourself to drink from it frequently. Avoid alcohol and caffeine the day before and day of your flight. Both can interfere with your circadian rhythms.

Consider taking melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that signals your body when to sleep. Melatonin is in foods like tart cherries, oats and bananas, but you'd have to eat 1,600 cups of tart cherries or nearly 60,000 bananas to get an effective dose. Instead, try taking a .5 to 5 mg supplement timed to coincide with your new destination's bedtime. Melatonin levels naturally rise about two hours before sleep, so time your dose within that two-hour window.

Switch up your mealtimes

While there are specific foods to help you sleep better, like kiwi and bananas, simply trying to time your meals to your new time zone will help your body adjust to its new routine. If you're hangry while waiting for your meal, have a small snack and drink a glass of water. You should be able to keep your energy-and hydration-up, until you make it to your new timezone's mealtime.

Pictured Recipe: Green Fruit Salad

Take a daytime walk

Your body's circadian rhythms are largely governed by the sun's light. If you can, take a walk outside when you get to your destination to help your body adjust to the new normal. Also be aware that flying eastward is generally harder than going west, simply because it's easier to stay awake later than it is to put yourself to bed earlier to jive with your new schedule.

Bottom line

Even if you do your best, jet lag may still affect you. If you know you're prone to it, do your best to give yourself a day to adjust to the new normal before asking your body to do anything especially taxing.