If you've ever traveled across several time zones you're likely familiar with a cluster of symptoms associated with jet lag: fatigue, insomnia, nausea, headache and difficulty concentrating. It's caused when the body's circadian rhythm is misaligned with your destination's time. Your body is accustomed to waking and sleeping according to the rising and setting of the sun at home and gets confused when dusk, dawn, eating and sleeping suddenly happen at different times than usual. Fortunately, people have been dealing jet lag long enough to have figured out some ways to lessen it, even if it can't be completely avoided. Here's what expert travelers and researchers say.
1. Take the supplement Pycnogenol.
It's made from pine bark and has been found by Italian researchers to reduce jet lag symptoms. According to a study published in the April issue of Minerva Cardioangiologica, Pycnogenol helps alleviate fatigue, visual impairment and inability to sleep. Study participants taking the supplement experienced less leg swelling, compared with people who wore compression stockings. They also experienced less general pain after flights.
2. Sleep on spikes.
While scientific studies supporting the efficacy of acupuncture mats are lacking, some people claim to benefit from spending 20 minutes lying on a bed of foam covered in countless quarter-inch plastic spikes. "Because my job requires that I spend about 200 hotel nights per year worldwide, I often suffer insomnia from jet lag," says Patric Palm, founder of software company Hansoft and planning and collaboration app Favro. "This is why I always pack my spike mat. Although the thousands of plastic spikes hurt at first, it gives the right sensation of relaxation needed to sleep."
3. Don't eat during your flight.
According to Dr. Clifford B. Saper and associates at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, quoted in Harvard Business Review, you can use fasting to reduce jet lag because the lack of food can resynchronize body rhythms. Once you get to the airport, banish all food but drink ample amounts of water. Once you land, resume eating according to the local meal time.
4. Workout in the morning in the new time zone.
While it might be tempting to exercise at 2 a.m. when you're wide awake, doing so will only make it more difficult to sleep. According to Jodi Ettenberg, founder of the travel blog Legal Nomads, working out in the morning once you arrive at your destination gets your blood flowing and increases wakefulness. "It's also important to expose yourself to natural morning light if you can, especially in the initial days of jetlag," she writes. "This is often hard as I want nothing more than to crawl under the covers and stay there, but even if it means opening the window and sticking my head out as soon as I get up, it helps remind my body that it's actually day time."
5. Take a melatonin supplement.
Melatonin is a hormone which helps control your sleep-wake cycle. According to an article published in the journal of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, when taken as a supplement in the afternoon to evening hours melatonin can promote sleep when operating in a new time zone. By increasing your level of melatonin you're telling the body that "biological night" is beginning.