How to Beat Jet Lag

This is information is loosely based on How to Beat Jet Lag, A Practical Guide for Air Travelers Link is to outside of this site. It is out of print, but it was widely circulated so you should be able to find a copy. It will be more difficult to find the Book cover originally included eye mask. The schedules recommended below have been modified from the book to streamline computer processing of your inputs. In addition, our version factors in your normal sleep schedule, as well as other scheduling tweaks. In our opinion, the book's schedules didn't always make sense and were not consistent in strategy. However, the supporting theory is sound, and deviating from the proposed schedule by an hour or two will make little difference.

We became interested in this topic after a West bound flight traversing 10 timezones left us horribly debilitated at our destination for days after our arrival. We have since followed these recommendations ourselves on several international trips covering a variety of time zones. We can attest that following these recommendations greatly lessened the jet lag we suffered.

If your travel involves a change of one or two hours, you shouldn't have to make any adjustments, just assume the local schedule upon arrival. It could still be to your advantage though, to be sure you get proper light exposure during the day and avoid bright lights at night.

For those that can't wait, you can go to the scheduling section now.

General Principals

The key is to modulate your exposure and avoidance of light in a Light bulb pre-determined period of time in order to minimize the disruption of adapting your body's internal clock to the time zone of your destination. Do not expect to be totally free of jet lag effects, but following these recommendations will greatly minimize the jet lag you suffer. If you work night shifts and sleep during the day, I'm not sure how this will aid you. You might get away with flying somewhere, sleeping at night, sightseeing during the day, with no adjustment period at all!

In general, if you are traveling West, we elongate your schedule by scheduling very long days followed by somewhat normal night periods. The adaptation is easier in this direction than traveling east. Taking morning flights West helps with this by elongating the natural daylight period as the aircraft is traveling in the same direction as the sun. (Well, technically speaking, traveling opposite of Earth's rotation, but the inaccurate version is easier to visualize) You must resist the temptation to sleep on daytime flights however, for more than a brief nap will seriously throw off your time adaptation efforts. It seems that the book didn't want you to nap at all while traveling West, but given how long the Compass days are, a brief nap seems much more humane. If you must take a red eye, it is of the utmost importance to get adequate light exposure during your elongated 'night.'

In general, if you are traveling East, we compress your schedule by scheduling short days followed initially by somewhat short night periods. For longer East bound flights, the night periods after your arrival are actually extended in order to get you matched up to the natural local night time. This also allows you to pursue normal activities at your destination while you continue to adapt. Just don't plan stimulating activities first thing in the morning for a few days after your arrival. Adaptation is much more difficult in this direction than traveling West. We think taking red eyes East is a slight advantage to daytime flights, because the natural darkness will allow you to sleep more easily, even if it is too short. With day time flights, you arrive at your destination excited with anticipation and all the locals are going to bed!

Melted clock Beware of Daylight Savings or Summer Times. They come in and out at different times for different parts of the world, if they are used at all. This must be factored in to your total time difference. It is too variable to try to cover here. Do a GoogleLink is to outside of this site search to determine the time distortions employed at your destination. We ignore the effects of crossing the International Dateline. Crossing one time zone changes the local time (usually) one hour, our time adaptation is not affected by it being today, tomorrow or yesterday.

On really long travel to the other side of the globe, be sure to figure the time difference over the zones of your travel, it may be greater than the number of time zones on the other side of the globe to the same destination. We have calculated schedules for up to 13 hours difference in either direction for those long haul travelers.

General Recommendations

Before departure, try to follow good sleep habits, getting a full night's Person sleeping sleep each night and being well rested for your journey. Avoid stressful situations that will disrupt your restfulness. Eat a healthy well balanced diet. Avoid big heavy meals. Drink plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol. While many believe alcohol would help you sleep, it in fact has the opposite effect. Even though it is a depressant to your central nervous system, your metabolism increases as your body tries to rid it's self of the poison you just ingested. Avoid heavy caffeine consumption. If you must have that morning fix, a cup or two is OK. If you don't consume caffeine, don't start now. However, during your travel, if modest consumption will help you stick to the daylight schedule, then go ahead, as long as it's not too close to your dark period.

It is not necessary to adjust your sleep schedule before your departure. It is more important to sleep well than earlier or later at this point. If you really want to, you could go to bed and wake up an hour earlier or later, depending on which direction you will be traveling, a day or two before you depart. Only do this if it will not disrupt your sleep.

Artificial Night

You will establish a period where you will act as though it were night time, moon even though it may be in the middle of the day. During this time period, it is most important to avoid exposure to bright light. Be pragmatic though: Do not wear dark glasses if doing so creates a safety hazard, or if you are being questioned by border authorities. Several minutes of light exposure will not be seriously detrimental to your plan. Avoid energetic activities. Being in the dark will not help if your metabolism is going 120 miles an hour. You should try to sleep, or at least rest. Don't bother with the in-flight movie, you want to avoid any stimulation. If you must read, read something boring. Do not read that adventure novel at this time. If you use a personal entertainment device, turn the backlight down as low as possible. Try to get a window seat to avoid disruptions. Some believe taking 1/2 to 1 mg of melatoninLink is to outside of this site supplement at the beginning of this period is beneficial. For short term use, we think it can't hurt, but if you are taking MAOI's, consult with your doctor.

Recently (2012), Unisom, a manufacturer of over the counter sleep aids, has been promoting their "Natural Nights" natural sleep aid. The principal ingredient is melatonin. It also contains vitamin B-6 and calcium, which are supposedly lost during excessive stress. 1 tablet contains 2.5 mg of melatonin. This is much higher than the usual recommended dose. The tablets are scored, so you should seriously consider beginning with a smaller dose and only take more if the lower dose has no effect. This product has received mixed reviews, the large majority being strongly negative. It does work well for a few people. You should experiment with low dosages to see how or if it affects you positively or negatively before you depend on this sleep aid for important travel across multiple time zones.

Sleep Medicine

The following discussion on sleep medications is NOT medical advice, we are Pills just relating our personal experience. We are not doctors. If you need medical advice, see your doctor. Sleep medications are sort of a debatable issue. If you don't like them, then don't take them. We believe getting as much sleep as possible during this period is important, so we use them. Over the counter sleep aids, diphenhydramine HCLLink is to outside of this site based medicine, (Unisom, Benadryl, etc.) will work. We don't like them because they give us a cold medicine type of hangover, (they are anti-histamines, which are used in cold medicines) but they are cheap and readily available without a prescription. The packaging insists that you shouldn't take it unless you have 8 hours available to sleep before being active again. Our experience is that you'll be lucky to get more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep. More likely, if you are crammed into an aircraft, you'll just lightly doze off and on. Even so, getting into a car and taking a long boring drive before that 8 hours has passed is a bad idea. You could try other anti-histamines (but not the non-drowsy types such as Claratin of course), your body may tolerate one better than the other. DramamineLink is to outside of this site is another type of anti-histamine, if you have problems with motion sickness, this may be your solution. If you take Dramamine, you shouldn't take another sleep medication without consulting a doctor or pharmacist.

AmbienLink is to outside of this site or LunestaLink is to outside of this site are a better options if you really have 8 hours available to sleep, but don't expect it to be a sound sleep. If you let them run the full 8 hours, there should be little or no drug hangover. But if you must be active before that 8 hours is up, you will still experience undesirable side effects. These are prescription medications and the name brands are fairly expensive, but if you only need half a dozen for a trip, it will not be much of an expense. Generic Ambien, zolpidem tartrate, is now available for less money. It is debatable whether the sustained release formulation, Ambien CR (no generic available) works that much better than the original formula. A lower dose sublingual (under the tongue) form of zolpidem tartrate is available by perscription as IntermezzoLink is to outside of this site. (no generic available) It takes effect quickly and is intended only for treatment of middle-of-the-night awakening and subsequent difficulty falling asleep. If you expect your typical sleep pattern while traveling to fit this pattern, this may be something to explore. If you think you'll need medication to fall asleep to begin with, stick to the more traditional medications.

Our favorite prescription sleep medication is SonataLink is to outside of this site. It only lasts about 4 hours, and takes effect very quickly. We find it is rare to have a full 8 hours available for the other meds. We'd rather sleep for just 4 hours and quietly rest the remaining time, than deal with the drug hangovers of the other meds. Cost is a factor for many of us, but the cost of a few tablets of Sonata is relatively little compared to the cost of a Doctor's Office visit. If you see a doctor regularly anyway, ask for a prescription during your next regular visit. If you don't normally see a doctor, you'll have to decide if paying for an office visit is really worth it, or just deal with the anti-histamines.

Artificial Day

You will establish a period where you will act as though it were day time, Sun even though it may be in the middle of the night. During this time period, it is most important to have exposure to light. Daylight is best, but any light is better than sitting in the dark. If you find yourself on a darkened plane, turn on the reading light and read or at least look at something light colored. If the in-flight movie sounds stimulating, go ahead and watch it if you like. If it's a dark moody film, you may be better off reading. If you use a personal entertainment device, turn the backlight up. Try to view content with bright backgrounds. If you're indoors, try to be seated in the brightest part of the room. Try to be active. If you're stuck on a plane, drink plenty of fluids so you have to get up often! Walk up and down the aisle a few times every time you get up. Get up any time one of your seat mates gets up. Try to get an aisle seat so you aren't reluctant to get up often. If all else fails, do some of the exercises designed to prevent blood clots on long flights.

Recently (2010), glasses containing green or blue LED lamps have been promoted as a cure for jet lag. These are essentially daylight substitutes, supposedly providing the same effect as bright white light without anything near the same brightness. This is supposed to work because our eyes are more sensitive to the blue/green end of the spectrum as far as melatonin suppression is concerned. We think that daylight is still the best light source, but these glasses may be useful when daylight is not otherwise available.

If one is to believe the blue/green light research, it follows that if you must wear sunglasses during the your scheduled day, ones tinted blue or green would be less detrimental to adaptation. Conversely, if you wear sunglasses to enhance your scheduled night, ones tinted orange/brown would be more effective, as more blue/green light would be filtered out. We are not convinced that carrying an extra 2 or 3 pairs of glasses around would really be worth it.

Exposure to light is especially important the first 3 hours after artificial 'morning' and from 4 hours to 1 hour before artificial 'bedtime'. Start avoiding bright light during that last hour, but you do not yet need to take extraordinary measures like eye masks. This exposure is important the first day you assume a local schedule as well. During the 'day', naps are OK within 3 hours either side of time specified in our schedule, if they are allowed at all. On East bound flights, naps are frequently allowed in the schedule, but in fact, you should forego the nap if at all possible. It is so common to not get a good night's sleep in the 'night' period allotted, we put scheduled naps into most East bound schedules. But if you do manage to sleep well during the 'night', adding in a nap as well would be counter productive. Skip it if you can on East bound travel. In any case, naps should be no more than half an hour. Use an alarm to be sure you get up in time. It's very easy to accidentally sleep for hours if you don't use an alarm. Don't ask how I know this.

We haven't tried this, but we've heard that you can quickly drink a cup of strong coffee just before you nap. It will take half an hour for the caffeine to take effect, and make it easier to be alert when you're finished napping. This would be a bad idea if it's within 4 or 5 hours of the start of your night period.

Once you complete the suggested schedule, you should be reasonably well adapted and you can resume your normal schedule in the local time zone. If you have one of those weird 30 minute time zones, you will need to pick the next lowest whole hour, then in your head add the 30 minutes for yourself.

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Schedule for Beating Jet Lag

All times are based on a 24 hour clock.

Travel Direction:
Hours difference: (between origin and destination)
Primarily traveling: (east travel and 3 or 4 hours time difference only)
Normal waking hour:
Calculated Normal Bedtime: ---

Select below, (optional) your time zone differences from GMT, then click
Activity Origin Int Time 1 Int Time 2 Destination Notes
GMT ---
Time Zone
Departure Day
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Day 2
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Day 3
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Day 4
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Day 5
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Day 6
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Concept derived from "How to Beat Jet Lag"; Walter Reich, Norman E. Rosenthal, Thomas A. Wehr, and Dan A. Oren; 1993. Images may be copyrighted by their respective owners. Creative Commons License Text is Copyright © 2006-2012 by Glenn Messersmith. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.