No one likes jet lag. We get off a flight feeling wrinkled and exhausted and then head into a day full of meetings or jump full swing into a vacation. Here’s how to reset your body clock and sleep better. There are 15 million of us who fly across multiple time zones every year, with 500,000 of us in the air at any given moment. And for those of us who fly more than a couple of time zones from home—particularly those who fly eastward around the globe—jet lag can be a serious challenge. It takes away our edge, makes us groggy, and disrupts our sleep. Here’s how to be focused and alert during the day—and sound asleep at night.
If you’re going to be gone longer than a couple of days, begin acclimating your body to the new time zone by altering your eating schedule three days before your plane takes off. If you’re heading west to San Diego from Boston, for example, three days before you leave, eat an hour earlier each day. Flying from San Diego back to Boston? Help reverse the acclimation and get back on home time by eating an hour later each day for three days.
Fly a Day Early.
Some business travelers try to schedule multi—time zone meetings on a Monday so they can fly out Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. That gives them a day or so to adjust their body’s clock. It helps, travelers report. Employers don’t appreciate the extra night’s hotel bill, but since you’re giving up your weekend, they usually fall in line. Unfortunately, nothing’s going to square sacrificing yet another work weekend to your family.
Stay hydrated with bottled water. Avoid alcohol and anything caffeinated during your flight. Both can dehydrate your body, mess up your internal clock, and exaggerate jet lag symptoms.
Fly Business or First Class.
If you’re flying overnight and need to hit the ground running in the morning, book a business or first-class seat so you can get some sleep. Sitting upright in a narrower economy seat with no legroom, your body generates adrenaline-like substances to keep blood flowing up to your brain. The adrenaline keeps you from sleeping, and if you do doze off, it keeps you from dropping into a restorative sleep. On the other hand, lying in a flatter position with the legroom accorded to first-class and business-class seating prevents the problem altogether, and you can arrive at your destination rested, focused, and ready to go.
Hit the Linguine.
Or any other carb-dense food at dinner on the night before your flight. Scientists have been arguing for some time about whether or not this decreases jet lag and increases your potential for normal sleep, but recent research on clock genes has uncovered subtle effects that indicate carbs boost your ability to sleep—particularly when you fly westward. No one’s quite figured out how they help, but they do know that carbs provide your brain with a source of tryptophan from which it can make the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin.