Jet Lag: 15 Prevention and Recovery Tips

PHOTO: FareCompares CEO Rick Seaney recommends bringing a personal pillow and noise-canceling headphones on flights to help avoid jet-lag."Getty Images
FareCompare's CEO Rick Seaney recommends bringing a personal pillow and noise-canceling headphones on flights to help avoid jet-lag."

The Mayo Clinic defines jet lag as a "temporary sleep disorder that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones." In other words, you don't have to go to Europe to get it!

But you know that. The real question is how to prevent it, or cure it once you've got it. I've got some answers, thanks to the folks at Mayo and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the non-profit National Sleep Foundation, plus some remedies from veteran travelers and some entertaining wild card suggestions. I hope some of these 15 ideas work for you.

Before You Fly

A little planning goes a long way.

1. Take care of yourself: You know the drill, eat right, sleep right and exercise. Now for the hard part: You've actually got to do this! It's been suggested that the better you feel overall, the lighter the jet lag.

2. Move your bed time: Several authorities say you should gradually change sleeping patterns before departure.

• If heading east: Try to go to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days. • If heading west: Try going to bed an hour later, again for a few days before you leave.

3. Pack a pillow: You can't bring your mattress but you can bring your pillow. Nothing wrecks a night's sleep like trying to settle your head on a puffed-up piece of foam when your noggin cries out for your pancake-flat feather pillow (or vice-versa).

4. Pack your headphones: My noise-canceling headphones have kept me smiling in the face of wild 2 year olds and often help me nod off. Ear plugs can help, too. Others recommend sleeping-masks but not all of us can drowse with something draped across our faces.

5. Wild card: No night-before bon voyage parties, the kind were everyone raises a toast to your travels and you gulp along with them (we'll assume those glasses don't contain ginger ale). In fact, no night before anything except for a good night's sleep. Here's how: All packing is done, period. Get it done at least 24 hours before departure, with everything you need (electronic tablets, passports, medication, maps, pre-printed reservations, boarding passes, etc.) ready to go alongside your suitcase. If begin your trip in a stress-free frame of mind, that's half the battle.

During Your Flight

Do's and don'ts for a long plane ride.

6. Set your watch: Move it ahead (or behind) to destination time, the better to start synching the rest of you.

7. Watch what you eat: Don't fall into the, "I'm on vacation, I can eat or drink anything" trap, especially on the plane. Don't overeat, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum and the same for coffee. See the next item for the only thing you can overindulge in.

8. Plenty of water: Plane rides can be dehydrating and this can worsen jet lag. Drink up.

9. Try to sleep: Don those headphones or earplugs you packed and try to fall asleep on the plane especially if you'll arrive in the morning (and this is often when U.S. flights to Europe arrive).

10. Try to exercise: No yoga moves, just a simple stroll down the aisle every now and then but only when you won't disturb meal or beverage service and only when seat belt signs are off. When you return, buckle up no matter what the sign says (turbulence can come out of nowhere).

11. Wild card: Ever hear of the Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag Diet? It was developed years ago by a scientist at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and is said to be effective but "difficult to stick to." I don't doubt this since it involves alternate days of feasting and fasting before departure. Another approach calls for no food at all for 12 to 16 hours before breakfast time at your destination. Note: The Mayo Clinic says no anti-jet lag diets have been absolutely proven to work but give them a whirl if so inclined (though you should talk to your doctor first).

At Your Destination

12. Don't make important decisions first day: I think this CDC tip is meant for those who suffer extreme jet lag but if you're flying in for a business meeting and know you won't be super-sharp, consider arriving a day ahead of time.

13. Synch up with local time: If you arrive at your destination at 9 a.m., don't go to bed. Get into the rhythms of the city and stick with it. If you must nap, lie down for no more than 20 minutes or so, otherwise you may have trouble sleeping at night. A friend of mine who travels to the UK all the time tells me, "No! No afternoon naps. Walk around the city, stop for coffee, go for a hike and stay up at least until 9 p.m. local time."

14. Get some sun: According to the Sleep Foundation, daylight is "a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock." Staying indoors, they add, will only worsen jet lag.

15. Wild card tip: According to an Australia-based travel blogger, you can get rid of jet lag quickly by putting your bare feet on the ground (or the grass or the sand). Apparently, you just wiggle your toes around for a while. I can't vouch for this, but probably couldn't hurt and probably feels great.