The trick to dealing with jet lag is to first understand why it happens. Both the underlying cause and the basic cure for jet lag are dependent upon a natural body process called the circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm regulates your 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. When you travel through different time zones, your circadian rhythm gets thrown out of whack and jet lag can set in.
The easiest way to avoid jet lag is to trick your brain into resetting your body’s internal clock. It may sound simple, but it does take some work. Here are five proven ways to deal with jet lag.
Soak up the Sun
The strength of the sun is one of the most important factors in regulating our sleep-wake cycles. Our bodies have adapted to understand that sunlight is a signal for us to be awake and active. As a result, light therapy is a proven jet leg remedy, as it resets the body’s circadian rhythm. But if you don’t own a portable lightbox to take on your travels, don’t fret. Light therapy is as easy as taking the time to be outside, even if it’s cloudy. To learn the best time to get sunlight during your trip, head to Jet Lag Rooster, which offers detailed light therapy plans depending on travel dates and destinations.
Take a Melatonin Supplement
Melatonin, a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland, is largely responsible for maintaining your sleep-wake cycle. As a result, studies have shown that taking a melatonin supplement can decrease the symptoms of jet lag. However, since melatonin levels are influenced by exposure to light, using melatonin in conjunction with light therapy may yield the best results. When using melatonin for jet lag, it’s also important to consider the direction of travel. Flying east requires an advancement of the circadian clock, due to the longer days, so plan on taking melatonin in the evening and getting light in the morning. Adversely, if you’re flying west, morning melatonin and evening light will reverse your internal clock and help you adjust more quickly.
Monitor What You Eat
Another simple way to reset your circadian rhythm is by monitoring your food intake. One study revealed that military troops who followed the Argonne diet, an anti-jet-lag meal plan, struggled less with the symptoms of jet lag. The Argonne diet tells dieters to alternate between days of feasting and fasting. Feasting days are meant to stimulate the body into alertness with high-protein daytime meals, before luring the body into sleep with a high carb dinner. Fasting days are meant to deplete the liver’s storage of carbohydrates, with dieters eating less than 800 calories throughout the course of the day. According to the creator of the diet, this depletion prepares the body to reset its internal clock and helps travelers acclimate to new time zones.
Drink Plenty of (Hydrating) Fluids
Staying hydrated is a simple and easy way to fight off jet lag, according to the Mayo Clinic. Mild dehydration is a common consequence of air travel — humidity levels are low on airplanes and the recycled oxygen is drying for the body. Since dehydration worsens the symptoms of jet lag, it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your flight. It’s also important to avoid other dehydrating beverages, like coffee and alcohol, however alluring they may be. Until you know you’ve fully adjusted to your new time zone, it may be best to stick to water all around.
Make Sure to Exercise
Exercising after you land may be a sure-fire cure for those dreaded jet lag symptoms. Research has shown that cardiovascular exercise can help reset the body’s internal clock. A well-known 1987 study showed that hamsters who used a running wheel were able to adjust to time zones much faster than their sedentary counterparts. Hamsters who exercised on the wheel needed 1.6 days to adjust to the new light-dark cycle, while “undisturbed animals” needed 5.4 days. This means the next time you find yourself suffering from jet lag, skipping your nap and going for a run may make all the difference.