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7 ways to combat jet lag

We all know the drill: avoid caffeine and alcohol, keep hydrated and don't give in to naps, but how do you really beat the loathsome lag?

By Sarah Barrell
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:03 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 15:39 BST
Person lying on mattress

What's the best way to cheat the body clock?

Photograph by Getty Images

1 // Supplement yourself
Try the tree bark derivative pycnogenol, which is reported to ease the fatigue and brain fog associated with jet lag. It's taken for a couple of days before travel and for four to five days after arrival. Or try one of the many supplements specially designed to help travellers by boosting hydration and the vitamins and nutrients depleted by air travel, like B vitamins, fruit juices, melatonin, rose hip and valerian root.

2 // Let there be light
Your body's internal clock is influenced by sunlight. To speed up the brain's adjustment to different time zones, try light therapy. Taken in small doses before travelling, this treatment has travellers sit in front of a lamp simulating sunlight, during the daylight hours of their planned destination's time zone. Recent research from the Stanford School of Medicine in the USA suggests, however, that exposing yourself to short bursts of bright light while you sleep may be more effective than longer wakeful stints in front of a lamp. A simpler alternative: seek out light when flying west and, when flying east, avoid morning light and seek out afternoon light for the first few days after arrival.

3 // Go hormonal
Melatonin is a hormone released by the body's pineal gland when the sun sets each day, as the time for sleep approaches, and is in charge of maintaining our circadian rhythm. A dose of synthetic melatonin taken a few hours before bed may help shift the body clock to sleep mode earlier, and promote a fuller night's rest. Not available in the UK, it can be found in pharmacies worldwide.

4 // Amino acid alternative
Supplements that use the amino acid L-Tryptophan, or its derivative, 5-HTP, are considered an alternative to melatonin, and are available over the counter in the UK. L-Tryptophan is involved in the production of the brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood and sleep.

5 // Get moving
Anxiety, fatigue, poor circulation: all symptoms of jet lag that are alleviated by exercise. A short burst of cardiovascular activity, ideally done outdoors, during daylight hours, within a few hours of boarding your plane, then again shortly after arrival, can improve mood and energy levels and promote better sleep patterns. No time for a pre-flight yoga flow class? Then try to fit in a brisk 20-minute walk.

6 // Fast, for faster recovery
The Argonne diet protocol, trialled in 2002 on US National Guard personnel, advocates alternate feasting and fasting up to four days before travel to help ease jet lag symptoms. A simplified version suggests fasting immediately before and during the flight (for around 14 hours), drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, then eating soon after landing, as close to a local mealtime as possible.

7 // Talk to your doctor
If you have a debilitating sensitivity to time zone changes, you could speak to your doctor about sleeping pills, which may help ease your body into sleeping regular hours. You should consult your GP before taking any medication, supplements or fasting.

Follow @TravelBarrell

Published in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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