Jet lag is the bane of every traveler. Here are some helpful tips for minimizing its effects.

In this series, Lonely Planet’s team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. This week, our colleague Dr Jenny Yu – head of medical affairs at our sister site Healthline and a travel-health expert – has some tips on flighting jet lag.

Question: Are there any tried-and-true methods to prevent (or quickly recover from) jet lag? I always seem to get a sick stomach for the first few days whenever I go on vacation. Is there anything I can do to avoid this on my vacation where  I am flying over 8 hours? 

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Dr Jenny Yu: Jet-lag symptoms tend to be worse when traveling eastward and across multiple time zones. When there is a rapid change in time zones from air travel, your body’s circadian rhythm needs time to adjust. As this readjustment happens, you may experience symptoms of fatigue, difficulty of falling asleep or waking up, issues with concentration, headache and general malaise. Each experience with symptoms and their severity differs on the individual. The good news is that if you experience these symptoms intensely, there are ways to reduce the symptoms and the severity of them.

What you should do to minimize jet leg two to three days prior to your trip

  • Try to adjust your sleep schedule: go to sleep one to two hours earlier if traveling east, and sleep one to two hours later if traveling west.
  • Make sure you aren’t already sleep-deprived, and getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Stick to your normal routine of movement and exercise.

How to fight jet leg during travel

  • Hydration is key. You may need to drink more water and take on other forms of hydration such as drinking coconut water or eating more-hydrating fruits such as watermelon and strawberries.
  • Avoid alcohol, sugary drinks and energy drinks, all of which can create more disruptions as you adjust to a new time zone.
  • Sleep on the plane according to your new time zone by taking naps to adjust your body.
People sleeping on a flight, Nanjing, China
During a long flight, stay hydrated and take naps © nayuki minase / Shutterstock

How to minimize jet lag 24 to 48 after you reach your destination

  • Adjust to the new time zone by following the day-night cycle. That might mean having to stay awake by taking a walk or going for a run. Movement helps.
  • Expose yourself to natural light as much as you can.
  • Continue to stay hydrated, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. If you have trouble sleeping or staying asleep, a melatonin supplement can be helpful (though the science is mixed). 

In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, some may experience nausea and indigestion more prominently than other symptoms. This can relate to your sense of fullness: appetite is connected to your circadian rhythm; when that is off, stomach issues can occur.

Tips for dealing with nausea related to jet lag 

  • Take meals at hours appropriate to the new time zone.
  • Eat smaller portions more frequently until the symptoms subside.
  • Avoid greasy and processed foods.
  • Intermittent fasting prior to the trip or fasting on the plane may help with these symptoms as well. Heavy foods are more difficult to digest and can make them worse.

As with all things, always listen to your body. If you have to take a 20-minute power nap to get through the day, do it, by all means.

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