Six ways to beat jet lag

Jet lag can steal precious hours from your vacation. Get on local time sooner with these six expert tips.

Woman at the airport near a plane

Photo, Masterfile.

1. Avoid alcohol on your flight

You might be tempted to knock back a few to doze off on an overnight flight. But while alcohol might make you fall asleep faster, it also lowers the quality of your sleep, so you’ll feel less rested. Dr. Jacqueline Brunshaw, director of psychology at Toronto’s Cleveland Clinic Canada, recommends you avoid it altogether. “When you combine alcohol with altitude, it makes you just feel even worse,” says Dr. Brunshaw.  “It’s almost like a worse hangover effect when you land.”

2. Use the plane as a “neutral time zone”
Get a head start on transitioning to your new time zone by acting as if you’re there already. So, if it’s 1 a.m. where you’re going, try and sleep instead of watching a movie or taking advantage of the late-night food trolley, which can keep you up and your body stuck on your home time. By using that time to rest instead, you’ll help “ease the gap between the two time zones and ease the transition to the destination time,” says Dr. Brunshaw.

3. Try melatonin
When it’s dark, our bodies produce melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. Levels of it are highest right before bedtime. If you’re travelling east, where the time zone is ahead, you can use it to help yourself adjust to sleeping earlier than usual. Dr. Raymond Gottschal, medical director of The Sleep Disorders Clinic in Hamilton, Ont., says to take 0.5 to 3 mg four hours before you want to fall asleep to help you shift your sleeping patterns. Start at the airport or the plane, and continue for the first few days in your new location. “Think of melatonin as a sleep magnet pulling the whole sleep pattern closer to when you are taking it,” says Dr. Gottschal.

4. Embrace the dark
Even if your body is wide awake, try and go to bed on local time, Dr. Brunshaw says. Take extra care to make your room as dark as possible, or wear a sleep mask, which will encourage your body to produce more melatonin and hopefully help you doze off.

5. Fit in exercise
If you work out at the same time every day at home, like in the mornings, staying on that schedule in your new time zone will help reset your internal clock. And even if you don’t feel like going to the gym, fit in a brisk walk around the block, Dr. Brunshaw says. “[It] will pump up some adrenaline and help you also get more in sync with … your destination time,” she says.

6. Get a personalized plan
To further ease the transition, Dr. Gottschalk recommends the customized transition plan created by the online jet lag calculator from British Airways. “It creates a schedule of activity and light, and when they should be used,” he says. Jet Lag Rooster, an online calculator and app, is similar. Punch in where you’re going, and it will calculate the ideal times for you to spend time near bright light, wake up, and go to bed.

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