Arrive at your destination refreshed
Anybody who’s flown between multiple time zones dreads jet lag: that groggy, sluggish, treading-water feeling that can last for days after a long-haul flight. Most savvy travelers know the time-honored tricks: avoid alcohol, sleep on the plane, and chug H2O onboard to keep headaches at bay. However, new research suggests that the single most important step to avoiding jet lag involves exposing yourself to light at the right times of the day. Here, experts share jet-lag avoidance tips so you can arrive at your destination without having to hightail it to the closest barista.
Monitor your light intake
Your body clock is highly sensitive to when you view light, according to Smith L. Johnston, MD, of the Fatigue Management Team at NASA Johnson Space Center. “Light suppresses melatonin and increases melanopsin, an alertness protein,” says Dr. Smith. On an eastbound red-eye? Cue your brain to sleep with sunglasses or an eye mask. Heading west? Expose yourself to light—natural is best, but artifical works, too—later in the day, tricking your body into thinking it’s still daytime.
Get on your new time zone
“Set your watch to the time of your destination just after takeoff,” says Wayne Mitchum, ambassador for Air New Zealand, which operates several of the world’s longest flights. “This will help you adjust to your new time zone even before stepping off the plane.” Keep in mind that it takes one day per time zone for your body to fully adjust, so begin altering your sleeping and waking routine a few days before departure, depending on which direction you’re flying.
Watch what—and when—you eat
Eat high-protein foods like meat, chicken, and eggs in the morning or afternoon because they encourage alertness. For dinner, eat as early as possible so your body can process the meal more easily. Avoid digestion-disturbing spices and caffeine, and choose small portions of sleep-inducing carbs like pasta or rice.
Drink more water than usual
You’ve probably heard it before but chances are you’re still not drinking enough during the flight! Water is critical when traveling, explains Mitchum: Your body dehydrates at high altitudes, leading to headaches and fatigue.
Get up on time, but take it easy
Remember that light-exposure trick? It’s important once you’re on the ground, too. Dr. Johnston advises getting up at your normal time, but wearing sunglasses for a few hours after you land, to help gently shift your body into the new time zone and reset your internal clock.
Watch the clock
Once at your destination, ignore your body and pay attention to the local time. Avoid naps until an appropriate bedtime—at least 9 p.m. at your destination—and if you’re suddenly revving up as the day winds down, try popping the sleep hormone melatonin instead of sleeping pills, which can leave you feeling groggy the next day.