The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Jet Lag Proof Journey


If you love or have to travel between different time zones, you must be acquainted with the main drawback linked to it – jet lag. Instead of stepping off the plane filled with excitement and anticipation, ready to explore a new destination, you are taken aback by fatigue, tiredness, and an excruciating headache. Evidently, this can ruin all your plans.

And, in spite of all the medical breakthroughs that have been made, there aren’t any jet lag remedies on the market that promise long-lasting results for every traveler out there.

Swallowing a pill won’t help. Also, the more time zones you travel across, the worse the effects will be. Still, there are some things that we can do to minimize its intensity – or simply avoid it altogether. This guide will tell you exactly how.

What is Jet Lag?

Jet lag, also referred to as flight fatigue or desynchronosis, is a temporary disorder associated with various side effects such as excessive tiredness, insomnia, headaches, migraines, general discomfort, and so on. It is a sleep disorder that results when you’re traveling between different time zones.

Jet lag occurs due to a disruption of the body’s internal clock. Aside from insomnia and fatigue, one might experience other symptoms such as anxiety, confusion, irritability, nausea, sweating, indigestion, dizziness, daytime sleepiness, and so on. (source)

What Causes Jet Lag

Now that we’ve learned what jet lag is, we’ll move on to answering the most trivial question on the topic, namely what causes jet lag? Usually, jet lag is determined by an imbalance between the internal and external clocks. We’ll explain below.

East vs. West Travel


There is an expression that says the west is best; east is beast. And it is accurate, to some extent, especially when it comes to jet lag and its severity. According to this study, travelers can encounter more difficulty in adjusting to the east, than to the west.

Reason being? Let's know...

Deep inside our brain, in the hypothalamus, our internal clock is ticking. Every 24 hours, there are thousands of pacemaker cells referred to as the suprachiasmatic nucleus. They tell the body if it’s day or night. Basically, the cells receive light input from the environment, establishing the time of the day.

Nonetheless, when you travel to multiple time zones, the pacemaker cells get confused. The entire internal body system is confused as well, which leads to jet lag. In general, the body’s internal clock is a tad slow.

Plus, in the absence of light cues, the pacemaker cells tend to prolong the day. That is due to the following reason: the body’s internal clock has a natural period of 24 hours. That is why it is easier for the body to lengthen the day, by traveling to the west, than shortening the day, when you’re going east.

When you are traveling east, you are basically advancing your internal clock – which will mess with body’s natural 24-hour period. This is why we go west, to get that extra lost time. So, in plain English: westward recovery is far easier than eastward recovery.


Day vs. Night Travel


The body’s internal clock, namely the circadian rhythm, monitors all the processes that your body experiences over 24 hours. Your daily schedule, as well as the time of the day, and the order in which you perform your daily tasks influences your internal clock, creating built-in routines.

Of course, traveling across different time zones will confuse the body’s biorhythm, as it plays havoc with our established routines and habits.

The production of melatonin is altered, as well. The body’s melatonin cycles and the circadian clock are determined by the amount of sunlight you expose yourself to. In fact, exposure to light has the most important impact on the circadian clock. (source)

Melatonin is the hormone that initiates that feeling of sleepiness that makes you fall asleep; this also controls the temperature of the body.

The hormone is produced in a given rhythm, increasing after dark, and diminishing before dawn. According to researchers, the melatonin production cycle plays a fundamental role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

Jet lag derives from the nerve cells of the hypothalamus, which is also the part of the brain that monitors temperature, sleep, hunger and appetite patterns, and other important elements. The hypothalamus also regulates the hormone levels in the body and the blood pressure. And this part of the brain responds rather slowly to unexpected changes that affect the internal clock. (source)

On that note, if you have a lot of difficulties with jet lag, an idea would be planning to arrive late in the afternoon. This way, you can get a full night sleep, as opposed to feeling drowsy throughout the day if you arrive in the morning. However, if that isn’t a possibility, you should use the guidelines below for fighting jet lag.

Your Anti-Jet Lag Game Plan


Unfortunately, jet lag is something that occurs even to the most experienced travelers. In fact, most flight attendants report a lack of energy and motivation, ear, nose and throat problems, broken sleep, tiredness, and the list may go on.

That being said, it might be difficult to completely steer clear of the symptoms linked to jet lag. Nevertheless, there are some strategies you could use to speed up the recovery process, as follows:

1. Things to Do Before the Flight


Being prepared for your flight can genuinely make the world of a difference. One strategy that can bring results is boarding on the plane well-rested, as opposed to being fatigued and exhausted.

So, in the event in which you have an overwhelming schedule at home, it would be best if you tried to unwind, and clear that schedule a few days before the flight.

  • Get Some Sleep: Having a rigid schedule at home will make it more challenging altogether to adjust to a new time zone. On that note, having a good night’s sleep before the flight can help. Many times, though, people assume that excessively tiring themselves can help them battle jet lag. That is far from being true – it goes the other way around.
  • Plan Your Day Ahead: Last minute alterations to your routine will make the adaptation process more difficult. The key to achieving that is by planning ahead so that the last 48 hours before the flight are stress-free. This way, you’ll be physically ready for your flight.
  • Get a Drink: If you’re stressed out about the flight, you might want to get a drink, to relax. However, you should keep in mind that, at high altitudes, alcohol becomes increasingly more potent, dehydrating the body. That might make you feel nausea, headaches, or experience a general feeling of discomfort. So, you should try to swap the alcoholic beverages for a natural drink, such as a fruit juice.
  • Avoid Coffee: Drinking coffee is just as tricky as alcohol since coffee has the same dehydrating impact on the body – which will worsen the jet lag effects. What is more, artificial stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks or coke will impair your ability of sleeping during the flight, and it will increase the jet lag recovery time.
  • Ditch the Sleeping Pills: What about sleeping pills – should you get one before a flight? No, you shouldn't. Relying on sleeping pills for long flights isn’t the best idea either. Such a pill means you’ll be under the influence of the medication for a couple of hours and when you reach your destination, you may feel drowsy. So try to avoid them.
  • Pack Some Healthy Food: The food that you eat before a flight also matters, since it can seriously make you feel more sluggish upon arrival. And this applies in the case of sugary meals that are high in fats. We advise you to avoid eating the typical range of processed airport food. Instead, try to pack a light, healthy snack for the flight so that you feel reinvigorated.

Once you have prepared everything, you will be ready to get on and off that plane, without any significant sleeping issues.

2. Things to Do During the Flight


Now that you have gotten on the plane, there are several aspects that you need to keep in mind if you want to prevent jet lag.

Believe it or not, the things that you do while simply standing on a chair can greatly affect you – and your body’s ability to stay awake. Here are some of the most important aspects:

  • Drink Enough Water: As a general rule, airplanes are quite dehydrating. And dehydration can aggravate the feeling of tiredness that is specific to jet lag. Still, you shouldn’t drink all that water at once. If you do that, you won’t be fighting against dehydration, because the kidneys will excrete the water way too fast. Research says that you should try drinking around 8 ounces per hour in order to prevent dehydration.
  • Snack on Something Healthy: You might consider getting a hydrating and sleep friendly snack, such as fruit or veggies, or even yogurt. If you’re coping with dry sinuses, getting a saline nasal spray could prevent you from feeling any discomfort.
  • Avoid the Movies: Many people watch movies during flights, to make them fall asleep easier. But, many times, this may have the opposite effect, preventing you from falling asleep. That’s because of the blue-spectrum light that is emitted by laptops, cell phones, and tablets. It delays sleep by activating the circadian clock that regulates the circadian rhythm.
  • Use Earplugs: Considering that an airplane is far from being the ideal place for getting a well-rested sleep, you should come prepared. So, you should pack a bunch of earplugs, an eye mask, a good travel pillow, and make sure you are dressed comfortably.
  • Keep Yourself Warm: Feeling warm is important – if airline to see if it offers blankets; if not, use your coat to keep warm.

It’s best that you try to find a balance between your body and the environment. Drinking enough water is crucial, since the air at higher altitudes is much drier than the air at ground level.

Plus, the things that will make your body comfortable on the ground will also make you comfortable when flying – so swap the processed snacks and sexy clothes with some fruits, comfortable clothes, and blankets.

3. Things to Do After the Flight


Let’s move on to preventing jet lag after the flight; the safest way to do that is by getting into the rhythm of your destination the minute after you arrive there. Although this may seem like the most difficult thing to do (and it actually is), since a fluffy bed is infinitely more attractive, it’s the sensible thing to do. A daytime nap will only worsen the jet lag effects.

Nonetheless, considering that you arrive really early at your destination, it would be acceptable to give your body an hour, an hour and a half of sleep. Still, do make sure that you’re up and about in the afternoon.

The first night is the most important in fighting jet lag, and you should sleep through it, although you might find yourself waking up a few times.

  • Get Out of Bed: In the morning, by all means, you should leave the accommodation, to avoid the temptation of staying late in bed. Another thing that could make your body adjust more easily is getting outside. The fresh air and natural light will definitely make it easier for you to stay awake.
  • Get Some Sun: In order to aid the body to recover, you should be out in the sunlight – as much as possible. This constrains the production of melatonin – which is the hormone in the body that makes you feel tired. You should definitely benefit from this by staying out in the light as much as possible. For instance, if you’re traveling for work and you cannot spend too much time outside, you should still take an early walk, as this could help.
  • Breathe Some Fresh Air: Fresh air is really beneficial, especially after spending a lot of time on an airplane. Staying active is also recommended in order to prevent fatigue.
  • Avoid the Sleep Supplements: Once more, if you find it difficult to get some sleep, you shouldn’t take sleeping pills during your stay at your accommodation. While they may seem like the obvious solution, they will only confuse your body even more. An alternative would be using earplugs and an eye mask when you’re trying to go to sleep.
  • Go for Healthy Foods: You should refuel on the right meals to help your body to recover. It is advisable to have a bunch of fruits and veggies that are rich in antioxidants. This way, you boost your immunity.
  • Drink Plenty of Water: Staying hydrated is just as important as eating right. Once again, you should avoid alcoholic beverages, as well as highly processed and sugary meals.

As long as you follow these tips, it shouldn’t be that difficult for you to get over your jetlag symptoms. Sure, you may feel a bit tired at the end – but it won’t be so bad compared to how you’d feel if you didn’t do anything.


When to Seek Medical Help?


Recovering from jet lag depends on a number of elements. The number of time zones you travel across plays a role in the equation; however, the disorder is temporary, which means most people will recover in a few days.

As a general rule, treating jet lag doesn’t require medical assistance. Nevertheless, if the typical symptoms linked to jet lag don’t disappear in about two weeks’ time, then it’s high time to call your healthcare provider.

Jet lag complications aren’t common. However, people with pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart disease, who also experience the stress of high altitude traveling, jet lag, and other factors, might suffer from strokes.

Additionally, people who have a regular routine, as well as older people, might find it more difficult to recover from jet lag. Nonetheless, even in these scenarios, the symptoms should go away in two weeks tops.

Must Read Before You Go!

On a final note, jet lag is something that each enthusiast traveler is likely to experience. Even so, it shouldn’t make you feel miserable and ruin your trip.

By taking a few of the steps mentioned in this guide, you can attempt to battle the severity of the jet lag symptoms we are all acquainted with.

While there’s no such thing as the ultimate remedy for fighting jet lag, the tips mentioned in this guide will definitely help.

The key is to get ready for the trip a few days beforehand and avoid the stress and anticipation associated with traveling. What is more, you should pay attention to what you eat before, during and after the flight and focus on staying hydrated at all times. Happy Journey!

About the Author Jessica Larsen

I am a big advocate that having a great sleep is something everyone deserves. With over 10 years of experience in this field, I would love to use this platform as a means to help you achieve a good night sleep.

follow me on: