Ask An Expert·4 min read

How To Recover From Jet Lag — Starting Before Your Trip

Dear Expert, 

What’s the best way to recover from jet lag?

Dear Anonymous,

Believe it or not, recovering from jet lag starts way before your trip begins. Preparing ahead of time can play a part in how quickly you get your circadian rhythm back on track and hit the ground running on your trip.

First, what is jet lag?

Jet flag is essentially a short-term sleep problem associated with travel. It typically happens when you travel across two or more time zones. Jet lag symptoms like fatigue, feeling generally unwell, mood changes, and drowsiness can all come with it. Think: It’s 3 pm where you are, but 3 am in your body. 

How long does jet lag last? 

It depends on the person, length of the trip, and how far you’ve traveled. It typically takes about a day to recover for each time zone crossed. So, if you moved four time zones, it’ll take you roughly four days to adjust.

What can I do to prepare for jet lag before my trip?

Focus on the quality of your sleep. The last thing you want to do is travel when you’re already dealing with a sleep deficit. Instead, try to adjust your sleep schedule by going to bed earlier or later (depending on which time zone you’re traveling to) by 15-minute increments a few nights in advance. Melatonin can help you get those Zzz’s while you're in adjustment mode, if your doctor says it’s OK.

What can I do to prepare for jet lag during my journey?

When you’re on the plane, match your schedule with your destination’s. Especially if it's a long trip. For example: If it’s nighttime at your destination, sleep during the flight so you wake up in the morning when you arrive. Do the same on your way home. 

Stay hydrated. Dehydration can affect your quality of sleep once you get where you’re going. You may be tempted to start vacation travel with a mid-flight cocktail, but try to limit your alcohol while en route. 

How do I recover from jet lag after you arrive or return home?

Consistency is the best way to recover from jet lag. That means try not to take a nap during the day or keep your nap brief, whether you’ve just arrived in a new city or back home — it’s just going to make it harder for you to sleep at night. If you really can’t function without one, try to keep it to 20 minutes or less.

Exercise can help you recover too. Once you get to your destination, if possible, go for a run, get outside and move, or do some jumping jacks or squats in your hotel room to get your circulation going. Get some sunlight, too. All of this may help get your circadian rhythm back on track.

Speaking of circadian rhythm: Don't close all the blinds to sleep at night. Let in some natural light in the morning to help your internal clock adjust and make waking up a little easier. 

Once you’re back home, returning to work after a vacation can be rough. Prioritize taking frequent breaks. Get up, move around. It may be tempting to have more cups of coffee than usual, but try to avoid it. You’ll likely feel jittery and it may prevent you from getting sleep at night, which will just prolong your recovery. Opt for something that's a little bit lighter in caffeine such as green tea.

Featured Expert

Navya Mysore, MD

Navya Mysore, MD - Primary care physician, office medical director, and national program medical director for sexual and reproductive health at One Medical.

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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