8 Ways to Get Over Jet Lag Fast

How to overcome jet lag

Now that Covid is winding down (hopefully), international travel is becoming a part of life once more. Newly-vaccinated folks are boarding planes again and heading for exotic locations. With that comes one of the traveler’s worst enemies: jet lag.

Jet lag occurs when you cross a large number of time zones in a short period of time. It’s a fairly new phenomenon in world history, having begun when the airplane was invented. Passengers aboard the Titanic, for example, didn’t have to worry about jet lag (although they did have other problems).

If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, you know it’s not fun. While you may not be able to avoid jet lag completely, you can certainly take steps to relieve its symptoms. After all, you want to be able to fully enjoy a place like Paris without falling asleep in the middle of the Louvre.

Symptoms of jet lag

When you hear jet lag, you probably think about lying awake in bed at 3:00 AM or falling asleep after lunch. It’s true that jet lag has a huge impact on your sleep schedule, but that’s not the only problem that stems from jet lag.

Because jet lag is the result of a sudden change in your circadian rhythm, it makes your body feel completely out of sync. It takes time to align your body with the new time zone. While you adjust, you’re likely to experience some minor issues.

These are the symptoms you might feel if you’re jet lagged:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Sleeplessness at night
  • Intestinal problems such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Mood changes

How long does it take to get over jet lag?

The amount of time it takes to get over jet lag is different for everyone. Some people have no trouble adjusting and are ready for an all-day safari the day they arrive, while others feel slightly off during their entire trip. It’s important to understand how your body reacts to jet lag so you can set the right pace for yourself.

A general rule of thumb is that the time it takes to recover from jet lag is one day for every time zone you cross. For example, if you fly from New York to Istanbul, it should theoretically take you 7 days to feel fully normal because the time difference is 7 hours. 

That’s not to say you won’t be able to do anything for the first 7 days of your trip. You’ll probably feel up to an adventure after a couple days of rest. Still, it’s important to have grace for yourself if you still feel lousy several days into your trip. 

Keep in mind that jet lag tends to be worse when flying east than when flying west. This is because flying east shortens the days, while flying west lengthens the days. If you cross 12 time zones (i.e. Munich to Honolulu or Beijing to Boston), it won’t matter whether you’re traveling east or west. You’ll get hit with plenty of jet lag regardless.

Tips for hacking jet lag

Having the tools to overcome jet lag is just as important as whatever other essentials you plan to take on your trip. Here are some tips for you to get over jet lag quickly so you can make the most of your travel adventure.

1. Rest up beforehand

There is always a lot to do to prepare for a big trip. Even so, it’s important to prioritize getting enough rest before you go. It might seem like you can catch up on sleep during your long flight, but you can’t pay off your sleep debt that easily. Starting out a trip sleep deprived is only going to worsen your jet lag.

2. Change your schedule prior to your trip

You probably won’t be able to completely shift your schedule before leaving, but you can mitigate jet lag by slightly adjusting your bedtime. If you’re traveling east, go to bed an hour or two earlier than usual. If you’re traveling west, try to stay up a little later than normal. This will make it that much easier to adapt once you arrive at your destination.

3. Have a flight strategy

International flights can be brutal. You might be tempted to cope by doing whatever you feel like during the flight, but not planning ahead could worsen your jet lag. First, think about when to sleep. If it’s nighttime at your destination, go ahead and sleep. If not, try to stay awake.

Say no to airplane meals, especially if it’s nighttime at your destination. Eating on a long flight can prevent your body from being able to sleep and can throw off your biological clock even more. Pack some healthy snacks to eat when you’re starving, and don’t forget to stay hydrated!

4. Go outside

Because sunlight is so vital to your circadian rhythm, it’s important to go outside during the daytime so you can reset your body clock. Reduce light exposure (including devices) at night so that your brain can produce enough melatonin for you to fall asleep.

5. Stay awake all day

This is one jet lag trick I swear by. I force myself to stay awake until at least 9:00 or 10:00 PM and don’t allow myself to take naps for the first week of my trip (I typically have a 9-hour time change to adjust to).

The best way to keep yourself awake is to plan some activities to fill your first few days. They shouldn’t be super demanding, but exciting enough to distract yourself from the fatigue you may be experiencing. If you absolutely need to nap, try to do it at least 8 hours before your bedtime. 

6. Drink plenty of water

Dehydration tends to make jet lag worse. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get dehydrated on long flights due to the dry air in the cabin. That’s why you need to start drinking lots of water before your trip, continue throughout the flight, and keep drinking once you arrive. And yes, you might want to choose an aisle seat for those frequent bathroom trips.

7. Eat healthy food

Because your gastrointestinal system is closely tied to your circadian rhythm, it can be deeply affected by jet lag. The best way to alleviate stomach problems is to eat lighter meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. This includes during your flight. Remember, healthy snacks (not plane food) are the way to go.

8. Try cold therapy

I don’t know about you, but I often travel to places that are a little more rustic. That means there aren’t usually flotation tanks or infrared saunas around. One biohacking tool that is almost always available, however, is cold therapy. You can take a cold shower (or bucket shower) no matter where you are to amplify your energy and support your immune system.