How to Adjust Your Body Clock

Try shifting your bed time to that of your destination a few days before you travel.
Try shifting your bed time to that of your destination a few days before you travel. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

A severe case of jet lag is an awful way to start a trip. Jet lag is the result of interrupting your body's normal sleep-wake cycle when your arrive in a new time zone. Adjust your body clock to lessen the effects of jet lag, which include fatigue, irritability and stomach upset. Preparation before your trip can help ease these symptoms and start your trip off on the right foot. Jet lag tips can also work if you need to adjust your body clock for a new, non-traditional work shift.

Before your trip, make sure you get plenty of sleep to avoid a sleep debt. Too little sleep will make the jet lag and adjustment period even worse. Try to shift your bedtime to that of your destination. If you're flying west, go to bed later; if you're going east, go to bed earlier.

On the day you leave, drink plenty of non-alcoholic, caffeine-free liquids to stay hydrated. Water is best. Eat light, non-fatty meals to reduce possible stomach upset.

If you're traveling by plane, keep drinking water, because plane air can be especially dry. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. Walk around occasionally to keep blood circulating. Bring earplugs and an eye mask and try to sleep at the normal bedtime of your destination.

When you arrive in your destination, take a nap of 30 minutes or less to get over the immediate fatigue. Then try to stay up until the local bedtime. If you arrive at your normal meal time, but it's not a normal meal time in your destination, try eating a small snack and waiting until the usual meal time in your destination for more food.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some hardy travelers refuse to adjust their schedule. So someone who goes from East Coast to West Coast time might get up at 3am, work on the laptop, eat a bagel purchased the night before, go running in the hotel gym and by the time breakfast rolls around at 8PST that traveler is going to treat it as lunch. Now, this approach (sticking to your original time zone) typically doesn't work for radical changes in jet lag and it works best for those who are both extremely physically active and also able to get to bed very early (thus, no work or social commitments after 8 or 9pm).
  • Melatonin: to take it or not? When your body senses darkness, it sends a message to your brain to produce Melatonin (which encourages you to sleep). With daylight, your body produces less Melatonin. You can buy Melatonin in tablet form. The idea is to use it before and during the trip to adjust to your new schedule (so you feel sleepy at home in the early afternoon and want to take a nap then or you feel sleepy on the plan despite it being the middle of the day). Melatonin therapy takes several days. Timing is critical--get it wrong and it can actually accentuate jet lag symptoms. If you intend to try Melatonin, read up on more details regarding when to start taking it and how to time it effectively.
  • Sleeping Pills: yes or no? The evidence on sleeping pills is mostly negative for travelers. There is some evidence that because of the lack of movement produced from a non-natural sleep (induced by sleeping pills), there is a higher risk of blood clots and heart attacks. Once you've arrived, if you still aren't sleeping well after 2-3 days, sleeping pills might be in order.

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