As a journalist traveling the world, avoiding jet lag was always near the top of my list. I had to hit the ground running, not like a ragged cloth ejected by a washing machine, which is how I often felt.
So I experimented with jet lag remedies and finally found what worked for me. It won't work for everyone - we have yet to find out how to cure jet lag for everyone.
Lets get a few technical things out of the way.
Jet lag is a misalignment of circadian rhythms that occurs when you travel quickly across time zones. Simply put, it means that you've traveled so fast that your insides haven't quite caught up to the outside world, resulting in what the medical world calls a secondary circadian dysrhythmia.
Symptoms of jet lag can include sleepiness and a drop in alertness - when I'm jetlagged I'm woozy and all I can think of is getting to bed. It's often known as jet lag sickness or jet lag nausea.
These symptoms can last for several days until you adapt to your new time zone.
It might be worth exercising some jet lag prevention, even before you get on the plane. There are things you can do even before you get on the flight to help minimize jet lag. (The Cure for Jet Lag by Lynne Waller Scanlo gets rave reviews on what to do to avoid jet lag).
You can eat well and hydrate yourself before you fly, so you're feeling at your best when you board. Flying dehydrates you so anything you can do to counter that is a good idea.
You can try to be as relaxed as possible by making sure you have everything at hand - passport, ticket, money. All that last-minute fumbling causes stress.
You can try to get plenty of exercise in the few days before your trip. This will expend some of that excess energy and help you relax you on 'the day', although it won't really do much for your jet lag.
And if you have the possibility, you can build in a stopover to your journey. Flying from Europe to Australia? Stop in Bangkok or Tokyo for a couple of days and see the sights. Even a layover of half a day may help between flights.
But no matter how much advance work you do towards avoiding jet lag, at some point you will have to fly...
Jet lag is unpleasant enough, but it can feel even worse depending on a several factors.
I use all the above tips in various combinations, depending on my mood.
But there's one absolute rule I follow when I'm flying across time zones: I don't go to sleep until the evening, local time, wherever I am.
Whether I arrive at my destination at 10 in the morning or halfway through the afternoon, I stay up until nighttime. I may be dragging myself around in a wretched sleep daze, but no matter. If I give in and sleep, the jet lag will immediately kick in. If I manage to stay up until my usual bedtime, it'll be much less noticeable, and often I'll avoid jet lag altogether.
If you take a night flight and arrive in the morning:
Try to sleep during the flight. You'll have a few energy reserves when you land, and you'll be respecting your natural cycle - asleep at night, awake during the day. Then stay up all day, go sightseeing as though it were a normal day, and go to bed as usual in the evening. You'll probably have to fight drowsiness during the day and drag yourself around a bit but it could be well be worth it if you want to shave days off your jet lag.
If you take a day flight and arrive in the evening:
Do your best not to sleep during the flight or you'll be throwing off that natural cycle and encouraging jet lag. Make sure you've got a few books and games, and catch up on your inflight movies. Once you land, eat something if you're starved (I usually am because I don't usually eat on planes) and go to bed. You'll again be respecting your natural rhythms by sleeping at night and will avoid those jet lag sleep patterns.
There's a popular belief - at least I believe it - that it takes one day per time zone to recover from jet lag.
In other words, if you cross eight time zones, your body clock should take eight days to get back to normal. There isn't a scientific basis for this but for me, as a rule of thumb, it has proven effective.
So yes - you could simply ride it out, feel the jet lag and let it dissipate slowly. But if you suffer from severe jet lag and don't want chemical help, here are some natural jet lag remedies that might help.
Homeopathic remedies for jet lag are on the market and some travelers say they work beautifully. Homeopathy, for those unfamiliar with it, is a type of alternative medicine that uses a diluted form of the symptoms it's trying to cure. Diluted is key here because the amount of each substance is minute - larger doses would be toxic.
You'll find homeopathic jet lag remedies, most of them arnica-based, in health food stores and drugstores that deal with homeopathy.
Some travelers say the popular over-the-counter No Jet Lag pills work better at avoiding jet lag than anything they've ever tried. I can't vouch for them (so far I've managed without the extra help) but if I ever do feel the need I'll definitely give them a try. Just read some of the reviews to see how people swear by them and consider them the best jet lag pills on the market.
Some travelers use lavender essential oil, whose relaxing properties may help with sleep, although the research about its effectiveness as jet lag medicine is still anecdotal and infrequent. That said, a few drops into a bath or a pillow have been known to help calm people down (and ward off those airborne germs), along with a good sleep schedule and avoiding things like caffeine and alcohol.
Vitamins, too, are acceptable jet lag supplements, especially B12 for energy and D for melatonin.
And why not valerian root? It is also used by some travelers because it is a natural herb that helps you sleep. Just don't mix with alcohol and again, as with any supplement, check with a medical specialist.
Melatonin for travel is an increasingly popular jet lag remedy and these days, accepted by many health experts. It acts by supplementing your hormones to manage your sleep cycles (or more technically, regulating your body's circadian rhythm).
Here's what happens: your melatonin levels will go up in the dark (or at night) and down in the light (or in the morning). When you get light at the wrong time - in the middle of the night, for example - your melatonin cycles go haywire and you get jetlagged, until your body clock adjusts to its new time.
This is exactly what seems to happen when you take a long haul flight and cross several time zones.
In other words, a melatonin sleep aid may help you adjust to your new time zone. (We naturally manufacture melatonin in our bodies and release it according to the amount of light outside.)
Long-term effects of using a melatonin supplement haven't been studied and while some people swear by it, there is at least one study that reports it can actually make jet lag worse if it's not taken when it should be. Melatonin is also credited with possible side effects like insomnia or nightmares or fatigue if taken in high doses.
In the US it's available over the counter as a natural substance (even though synthetic melatonin is what you usually get) whereas in other countries it is either forbidden or requires a prescription. Make sure you get sound medical advice before trying this!
And remember that it might interact with other medication (check!).
Another possible way of avoiding jet lag - a few studies exist but this is still a new area - is the use of bright light therapy to help reset your body clock.
A number of lights are touted for their anti-jet lag properties but research has yet to prove that bright lights really make a difference.
Still, it's not an unpleasant alternative so whether or not it works, there seems to be no harm in it as long as you use them at the right time of day - to stretch the day rather than truncate it. And remember, an artificial light isn't your only choice: there's always sunlight if it's available.
About a quarter of people who fly suffer significantly from jet lag - and about a quarter hardly suffer at all. The rest fall somewhere in-between.
In addition to many of the jet lag solutions presented above, any travelers swear by self-hypnosis, accupressure, an anti jet lag diet or eating at certain times of day only. Some methods are more complex than others, but there still doesn't seem to be a failsafe way to prevent jet lag that works for everyone.
For me, the easiest is the most natural: let your body talk to you.
Stay up during the day, sleep at night.
And avoid ending up like Stripey here.
Jet lag definition - what does jet lag mean?
According to Wikipedia, jet lag is a physiological condition that results from alterations to the body's circadian rhythms caused by rapid long-distance trans-meridian (east–west or west–east) travel.
What are typical jet lag symptoms?
A typical symptom is the feeling of dizziness and tiredness, a bit like a hangover. There are plenty of other symptoms ranging from anxiety to insomnia to occasional memory loss.
How long does it take to get over jet lag?
The body usually adjusts to one time zone a day, possibly two. So if you cross six time zones, you'll need an absolute minimum of three days, but usually six.
What causes jet lag?
Jet lag is when our bodies fail to instantly adjust to a different time zone and are playing catch-up.
How can I avoid jet lag?
Jet lag can be avoided or at least minimized by accustoming your body to the new time zone as soon as possible. This can be done by starting the adjustment before you fly, by adopting the time at your destination immediately, by getting enough sleep and by using natural aids. There is no fully effective jet lag medication but much can be done to provide jet lag help.