How to Get Rid of Jet Lag

How to Get Rid of Jet Lag© Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Oh, to travel like George Clooney in Up in the Air: ultracool and unruffled by jet lag, motion sickness, and stuffed sinuses. Advice from medical researchers and seasoned travelers can get you there.


For each time zone you cross, your body needs about a day to catch up, says Robert Sack, MD, a sleep researcher at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Get a jump on things by starting to shift your sleep schedule before you leave, he suggests. Upon arrival, get out in the sun—in the early morning if you’ve traveled east and late afternoon if you’ve headed west. Melatonin can help too, Dr. Sack says. He takes 3 milligrams at bedtime on eastward trips, and 0.5 milligrams if he wakes up in the middle of the night after westward travel.


Whether you’re on a boat, plane, car, or spaceship, motion sickness seems to have the same cause, says Jay Buckey, MD, an astronaut and researcher at Dartmouth Medical School: Your brain is struggling with conflicting information coming from eyes, ears, and joints. Dr. Buckey endured motion sickness himself on the space shuttle Columbia. His hard-earned advice: Keep your head as still as possible and look at something far away (preferably the horizon); don’t read or stare at nearby fixed objects. On a cruise, get out on the deck for fresh air if you can, says John Bradberry, MD, fleet medical director for Carnival Cruise Lines. Ask for a cabin on the lower level and in the middle of the ship to minimize rocking motion.


Norovirus, the bug frequently responsible for news-making, cringe-inducing cruise-ship gastrointestinal outbreaks, can survive on door handles and other surfaces for weeks. Wash your hands thoroughly and often (soap and water seems more effective against this microbe than alcohol-based hand sanitizers). For constipation: “When I’m traveling, I make a point of drinking eight ounces of water every hour,” says Sophie Dojacques, MD, a traveling ob-gyn. “Water really moves things along.” Dr. Dojacques also carries magnesium supplements, since people who don’t get enough magnesium in food tend to get constipated; up to 350 milligrams a day is safe. (A little extra magnesium may even help you sleep better—see page 158.)


Yawning or chewing gum can “pop” your ears—but if they’re severely plugged, Dr. Buckey says, consider delaying your flight. Generally, though, taking a decongestant with pseudoephedrine at least half an hour before your flight helps keep ears unblocked.

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