How To Beat Jet Lag

If you're a frequent traveler, you know what it's like to jump between time zones and get hit with jet lag. It's a predictable and annoying problem, but there are ways to minimize the time it takes for you to adjust to a new time zone and rewind your body clock.

Here are some of the ways to help your body do this (and some people say a mixture of methods is the best strategy):

Adjust Your Schedule Before You Leave

To get started with this, it's important to understand which way you're traveling, as most people have a harder time adjusting when they travel east than west. When you travel east-to-west, your body clock needs to be delayed so you wake up and go to bed later. This is a lot easier for us to adjust to than advancing our body clock when we travel west-to-east.

Some studies have shown that attempting to advance or delay your body clock gradually before you travel can make the adjustment faster and easier on your body, reducing the effects of jet lag.

Control Your Light Exposure

Controlling your light exposure seems to be the most in-depth process to avoid jet lag, but it may also be the most effective, according to some researchers. Dr. Smith L. Johnston, for instance, chief of the fatigue management team at NASA, advocates this process as the best way to adjust faster to a new time zone.

Steven W. Lockley, a neuroscientist and consulting member of NASA's fatigue management team, says that trying to adjust to your new time zone immediately is "exactly the wrong thing" to do. Adjusting to a change of multiple time zones, Lockley says, will only exhaust you if you attempt it right away:

What you need to do is to ease yourself into the new time zone by consciously manipulating your exposure to light.

To help your body clock reset to the new time zone, it's important to seek out and avoid light at the right times of day. If you're traveling east, you'll want to advance your body clock, so seeking morning light and avoiding late afternoon light will help your body clock adjust to your earlier time zone. If you're traveling west, you'd want to do the opposite.

If it sounds like too much effort to keep track of your light exposure, there's actually an app for that. Entrain is an iOS app developed by researchers at the University of Michigan to help you track your light exposure. It uses mathematics to recommend light exposure at different times of the day to help you with the process of entrainment—i.e. adjusting to a new time zone.

Take Melatonin

I suggest this with a caveat that you should talk to a doctor first. Melatonin is the chemical your brain releases to make you sleepy, and it's available over the counter, but it's not regulated by the FDA and isn't right for everyone.

However, one study found that a dose of 5mg of melatonin in the early evening helped participants to adjust to new time zones faster.

Dr. Lewy, of Oregon Health & Science, recommends taking a small dose at the local bedtime each night until your body clock catches up. If you're traveling west, he suggests taking melatonin in the second half of the night instead.

Stay on Home Time

If your trip is short and you're not traveling over more than three time zones, you could be better off not adjusting at all. Jim Waterhouse, a professor of biological rhythms at Liverpool John Moores University often recommends staying on the same schedule you had at home rather than trying to adjust to local time if you're not there for long. Three days or less, for instance, is barely enough time to adjust, so it may not be worth the effort. Waterhouse suggests keeping your watch set to the time at home and acting accordingly during your trip.