How Jet Lag Works

What the Experts Recommend

If you're expecting a simple, just-pop-a-pill solution for jet lag, we hope you're not too disappointed to discover that it doesn't yet exist. But if you're determined to beat the travel blues, try a regimen advocated in a 2009 article by biological rhythms researchers Charmane I. Eastman and Helen J. Burgess of Chicago's Rush University Medical Center. They suggest gradually readjusting your rhythms prior to a trip, using a light box, a device that exposes you to simulated sunlight. To phase-advance on a west-to-east trip, go to bed an hour earlier for several nights before the flight. Awaken earlier, and use the light box to get a dose of brightness. Conversely, to handle an east-to-west journey, stay up a couple of hours later for several nights before the trip, using the light box at your normal bedtime to stimulate you. Upon awakening, avoid bright light for several hours. If you have to go outside, wear dark glasses [source: Eastman and Burgess].

Eastman and Burgess also suggest using melatonin, a supplement that's not FDA approved but which has been shown in studies to help alter circadian rhythms. To aid in west-to-east phase advance, take 0.5 mg. about four and a half hours before bedtime, and progressively move the doses earlier in the day as you start going to bed earlier. For an east-to-west trip, reverse the process [source: Eastman and Burgess].

If that sounds too complicated, you may prefer the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's tips for minimizing circadian woes. The CDC suggests that you keep up on your exercise regimen, eat a balanced diet and get enough rest in the weeks before a trip, apparently in the belief that a healthy lifestyle will help you to rebound quicker from the rigors of travel.

While you're in the air, the CDC recommends avoiding alcohol and caffeine, both of which can have disruptive effects upon sleep, and drinking plenty of water. The CDC also advises you to wear loose, comfortable clothing and to move around in the cabin when you have the opportunity. Finally, CDC suggests not stressing out about jet lag. Instead, if possible, simply adjust your schedule so that you don't to have any crucial meetings or big decisions to make until you've had a couple of days to regain your mental acuity [source: Yanni].

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More Great Links


  • "Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet." National Institute of Mental Health. July 2008. (Feb. 28, 2011)
  • Eastman, Charmane L. Ph.D and Burgess, Helen J. Ph.D. "How to Travel the World Without Jet Lag." Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. June 1, 2009. (Feb. 28, 2011)
  • Sanders. Laura. "Jet Lag May Cause Stupidity." Wired. Nov. 16, 2010. (Feb. 28, 2011)
  • Schneider, Kat. "Air Travelers warned of sleeping pills." July 27, 2010. (Feb. 28, 2011)
  • Stein, Rob. "Scientists Finding Out What Losing Sleep Does to A Body." Washington Post. Oct. 9, 2006. (Feb. 28, 2011)
  • Yanni, Emad. "Jet Lag." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 27, 2009. (Feb. 28, 2011)

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