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How to Cope With Jet Lag

What is jet lag and why do you get it?

2. Adapt to your new schedule while in flight.

Change your watch when you get on the plane.“This is mostly psychological,” says Siebern, “but it helps you get into the mind-set of what you’ll be doing in the place where you’re going.”

Try to sleep on the plane if it’s nighttime where you’re going or stay awake if it’s daytime -- but don’t force it. “It can be difficult to force yourself to sleep and that can cause frustration, which can then prevent sleep,” says Siebern. “If that happens, just try to rest as much as possible.”

3. Arrive early.

If you need to be on top of your game for an event at your destination, try to arrive a few days early, so your mind and body can adjust.

4. Stay hydrated.

Drink water before, during, and after your flight to counteract dehydration. Avoid alcohol or caffeine a few hours before you plan to sleep. Alcohol and caffeine can disrupt sleep and may cause  dehydration.

5. Move around.

Get up and walk around periodically, do some static exercises, and stretch on the flight. But after you land, avoid heavy exercise near bedtime, as it can delay sleep.

6. Consider melatonin.

Melatonin naturally secreted in our bodies helps regulate our circadian rhythms so that we sleep at night. But the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the supplement melatonin to combat jet lag and aid sleep. Some research shows that it can reduce jet lag on flights both east and west, but other research has not shown a benefit.

Verceles suggests taking 3 milligrams of melatonin an hour or two before bedtime at your destination, and plan to sleep for 10 hours. “This takes into account the one or two hours needed to absorb the melatonin and allow it to enter the bloodstream, as well as 10 hours for sleep,” Verceles says. “Ten hours may be a generous overestimate, but it’s better to allow more sleep time than less.”

Melatonin appears to be safe if taken short term, but its long-term effects are not known. If you want to try melatonin, check with your doctor first.

7. Try natural light therapy.

Exposure to sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythms. ”On westward flights, get bright morning light at your new destination, and avoid afternoon and evening light exposure,” Verceles suggests. “On eastward flights, avoid early light exposure in morning and get as much light as possible in the afternoon and early evening. The light helps shift your body’s circadian clock, so that you feel rested and wake at appropriate times at your destination.”

Commercially available light boxes may also be helpful in coping with jet lag if used at appropriate times, but Siebern advises consulting with a sleep specialist first. “You want to make sure the light isn’t too intense or shifting your circadian clock in the wrong direction because this can increase the duration of jet lag,” she says. “And light boxes are not advised for some people, such as those with cataracts or bipolar disorder.”

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