Don't let jet lag affect your sleep

jet-lag-jet-lagged-airport-travelImage: iStock

Many people find that crossing several time zones makes their internal clocks go haywire. In addition to experiencing headaches, stomach upset, and difficulty concentrating, they may also suffer from fitful sleep.

But there's no need to waste time riding out the effects of jet lag. Try these tips the next time you travel.

When you're traveling shorter distances
If your destination is just one or two time zones away, it may be possible to wake up, eat, and sleep on your regular home schedule. At your destination, schedule appointments and activities for times when you would be alert at home.

When you're traveling longer distances

  • Gradually switch before the trip. For several days before you leave, move mealtimes and bedtime incrementally closer to the schedule of your destination. Even a partial switch may help.
  • During the flight, drink plenty of fluids, but not caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol promote dehydration, which worsens the symptoms of jet lag. They can also disturb sleep.
  • Switch your bedtime as rapidly as possible upon arrival. Don't turn in until it's bedtime in the new time zone.
  • Use the sun to help you readjust. If you need to wake up earlier in the new setting (you've flown west to east), get out in the early morning sun. If you need to wake up later (you've flown east to west), expose yourself to late afternoon sunlight.

If you're traveling on short notice or you're facing an especially stubborn case of jet lag, ask your doctor about a specially timed dose of melatonin or ramelteon, which can help shift your circadian rhythms. If all else fails, a short course of an over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid may do the trick.

To learn more about getting a good night's sleep, buy Improving Sleep, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.