Sleep, Travel, and Jet Lag

When you fly across several time zones in a matter of hours, you’re moving faster than your body’s internal clock can adjust. When it gets out of sync with the new time at your destination, you can have trouble falling asleep when you need to and feeling rested. In short, you’re jet lagged.

Sleep problems tend to be more common when people travel eastward because it’s harder to advance your sleep time than to delay it. But no matter where you fly, you can take a few steps to avoid jet lag.

How to Fight Jet Lag

Your best bet is to adapt yourself to the routine of your destination's time zone as soon as possible. Try these tips to avoid sleep problems when you travel:

  • Several days before your trip, gradually adjust your sleeping habits to the time zone of your destination.
  • As soon as you board your flight, reset your watch for the new time zone.
  • While on board, try not to sleep too much.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration makes it harder for your body to adjust to the new rhythm.
  • If you feel the need to nap right after you arrive, limit it to 2 hours.
  • Try taking melatonin. This hormone can help you reset your body’s internal clock so you can fall asleep at the right time. Take a dose before bedtime at your destination every night until you adjust.
  • Daylight can help reset your internal clock. Try getting some exercise outdoors, like a brisk walk, as soon as you get up in the morning.
  • Don’t drink too much caffeine or alcohol, and avoid tobacco.
  • Try to keep yourself busy and engaged with other people.
  • Practice good sleep habits while you’re away.

Get Good Sleep on the Road

Many people have trouble sleeping in a hotel room or in a different environment than their own bed at home. To help you sleep better when you’re away from home:

  • Bring your own pillow or blanket. They may help you get more comfortable.
  • Pack a few personal objects from home (like photographs or a coffee mug) to ease the feeling of being in a new place.
  • Check your room for anything that could keep you awake, including light shining through the drapes. Bring along a sleep mask to block out any light.
  • Request a room in the quietest section of the property, and make sure it’s away from any entrance areas or elevators. Use a fan or other "white noise" to cut down sounds of hotel neighbors or street traffic.
  • Check your room's thermostat. You may not sleep well if the room is warmer than 75 F or colder than 54 F.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on November 18, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Sleep Foundation.

UptoDate: “Jet lag.”

Mayo Clinic: “Jet lag disorder.”

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