How to Outsmart Jet Lag

By: edited by Marguerite Jordan Email
By: edited by Marguerite Jordan Email

June 13

Why is it that the first thing you want on your trip to Naples is a nap? Speeding across time zones disrupts your circadian rhythms, resulting in outright exhaustion and, paradoxically, trouble zonking out (or staying that way).

First go-to: Caffeine is a popular and effective perk-you-up, but drinking it after 4 pm local time could actually hinder Zzzs. Give these remedies a try to send fatigue packing.

1. Advice from a Psychiatrist:

Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, melatonin expert and professor of psychiatry, Georgetown University Medical School

Take melatonin: "You may feel sleepy when your body secretes this hormone; a melatonin supplement may help you override the urge to stay awake when you should be nodding off." (A recent study shows popping one for several nights may reduce daytime fatigue, too.)

Natural Rx

Take 3 mg of melatonin (available at drugstores) 30 minutes before bedtime every night while at your travel destination.

2. Advice from a Sleep Expert:

Chris Idzikowsi, PhD, director, Edinburgh Sleep Centre, Edinburgh, Scotland

See the light: "Learning how to manipulate your exposure to light is important because it governs your internal 24-hour clock, which sets your daily pattern of sleep and wakefulness. The critical period for adjusting the clock seems to be between 4 and 7 am (home time)."

Natural Rx

In earlier time zones, get as much light between these hours as you can by leaving your curtains open or touring outdoor sights. If in a later time zone, limit light during these hours by wearing a sleep mask or sunglasses.

3. Advice from a Researcher:

Ronald D. Novak, PhD, MPH, circadian rhythms expert, Case Western University School of Medicine

Eat strategically: "Protein-rich foods raise levels of amino acids, which encourage alertness, as opposed to carbohydrates, which stimulate the release of sleep-inducing melatonin. So eat protein in the morning, carbs at night."

Nutrition Rx

Eat lightly the day before you leave. The day of your flight, have a protein-packed breakfast and lunch and a carbohydrate-based dinner. Repeat this routine for your return trip, remembering to again eat lightly the day before your flight.

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