6 Tips to Help You Get Over Jet Lag, According to a Sleep Expert
Many Americans are returning to travel after a longer-than-usual hiatus—especially with the holiday season just around the corner. There are several reasons to look forward to a trip away from home, but one thing that isn't as enjoyable is the jet lag that can come with longer journeys. Your sleep might be affected (especially if you travel to a different time zone), which can take some of the fun away from your trip. But with a little know-how, there are several ways you can get ahead of the effects of jet lag and enjoy your travels. We spoke with Proper Sleep Coach, Kelly Day O'Brien, NBC-HWC, about six tips to help you get over jet lag—or stop it before it starts.
How to Beat Jet Lag
1. Get outside.
"Everyone has a circadian rhythm, or internal clock, that helps in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. This circadian rhythm is approximately 24 hours long and helps us sync to daytime and nighttime," explains O'Brien. Our circadian rhythm helps us know when it's time to be awake and time to sleep, but if your 24-hour schedule gets disrupted, so does this sleep-wake cycle.
To help us reorient ourselves to a new time zone, O'Brien recommends getting some fresh air. "Natural light exposure is the most potent factor in regulating our 24-hour cycles. Just 15 minutes of natural, outdoor sunlight (morning is the best time of day) helps to reinforce our circadian rhythm." This trick is more helpful when experiencing jet lag from a time change of a few hours, rather than a change of 8 to 12 hours. If it's daytime when you land, resist the urge to nap in your hotel and get some fresh air instead.
2. Be mindful of your sleeping space.
If you are traveling for work or have an overnight stay while you're in transit, it can be especially hard to control the space you'll have to rest. But there are a few things you can do, regardless of the size of your space, to make it more sleep-friendly. O'Brien recommends avoiding blue light exposure one hour before going to bed. Blue light is found in high amounts in the LED screens of laptops, televisions, cell phones and tablets. It can mess with several things from sleep to metabolism, so avoiding it prior to bed is important for better rest. She adds that you should turn the clock around before going to bed and make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature so you can avoid disturbances during the night. (FYI- here's the best temp for sleeping, according to experts!)
3. Try melatonin.
As the sun goes down, our brains naturally release melatonin. You can thank this hormone for making us drowsy about two hours after it gets released. That said, the time that the sun sets might be different at your destination than what you're used to. Our bodies only naturally produce about 0.2 milligrams of melatonin, so any changes in daylight can make it challenging to feel tired and ready to sleep at night. When in doubt, you can take a melatonin supplement. Just note that supplements are in much higher doses than our bodies produce (usually between one and three milligrams), so it shouldn't be relied on every day. And as with any supplement, it's important to check for a third-party certification to determine if it's safe (luckily, there's a scorecard to help).
4. Limit alcohol.
Vacation is usually a time to celebrate, and after a long day of travel it can be tempting to have a few drinks to unwind. But alcohol, especially when consumed late at night, can have negative consequences on your sleep. "Although alcohol can be relaxing, it may have adverse sleep effects if consumed too close to bedtime (within three to four hours). This can include fragmented and non-refreshing sleep, increased snoring, delayed onset of REM sleep (the dream stage) and more frequent bathroom breaks," adds O'Brien. Instead of imbibing late at night, stick to relaxing tea or one of our festive mocktails to help get ahead of jet lag.
5. Stay hydrated.
Even though we are at rest, our bodies lose a lot of water while we sleep—a large portion of the 300-400 milliliters of water that we lose daily from breathing alone. Couple that with the super-dry air inside of a plane for an extended period of time and it's a recipe for dehydration.
To stay ahead of it, make sure to bring a reusable water bottle with you when you travel (just make sure it's empty before you go through security). Most airports have filtered water filling stations in each terminal so you can stay hydrated for free while you wait. Also, ask for water instead of (or in addition to) sugar-sweetened beverages like soda while flying. After you land, be sure to hydrate before turning to alcohol or salty foods and sip on plenty of water closer to your bedtime. An easy way to check your hydration level is by keeping tabs on the color of your pee.
6. Avoid taking over-the-counter sleeping pills.
Most supplements are unregulated, meaning it can be hard to know exactly what you're getting compared to the claims they make. "A Consumer Reports study found that most antihistamine-based OTC sleep aids do not significantly increase total sleep time. And when it comes to sleep quality, there's an adverse effect at the expense of REM sleep," says O'Brien. Skip the supplements and try other jet lag remedies like getting outside, staying hydrated and limiting alcohol. But if you do want to try a supplement, O'Brien recommends melatonin or the Sleep + Restore supplement by Proper which includes melatonin and tart cherry.
The Bottom Line
Jet lag can unfortunately be an expected side effect of travel, especially if your destination is in a different time zone than what you're used to. But there are a few easy things you can do to minimize its effects on your body and your trip. If you arrive during the day, get outside and drink plenty of water. Consider cutting back on alcohol and trying melatonin if you are really struggling. A little expert advice can help make your vacation more enjoyable.