Treating and Preventing Jet Lag

One is best off adjusting to the new time as soon as possible. If one‘s schedule permits, it may be useful to begin the time shift even before departure. For two or three days before departure, travellers should go to bed a little earlier or later each night, depending whether they are travelling east, in which case they should to go to bed a little earlier, or west, in which case they will go to bed later.

Some people take melatonin supplements for jet lag, which traditionally have been sold in health food stores and are not approved for sale in Canada. This is logical enough, since melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. However, it must be taken at the same time every day or it will do more harm than good. For eastbound travel, 3 mg to 5 mg are taken between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. arrival time for three days before departure, and for four days at bedtime after arrival. For westbound travel, melatonin is taken only at bedtime for four nights after arrival. Doctors won‘t prescribe melatonin because it‘s not approved by drug-regulating agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and it is not manufactured to the standards of purity required of prescription medications. Different brands may contain very different amounts of melatonin, plus other unknown ingredients.

There are studies, however, showing that melatonin can help minimize jet lag, but none to prove it is safe to take for long periods. Some experts worry that routinely taking this hormone in pill form may reduce the ability of the pineal gland to manufacture your own internal supply of melatonin. People who travel a great deal and use melatonin frequently are running unknown risks. In most instances, jet lag isn‘t serious enough to justify this type of risk.

Recent studies show that changing one‘s exposure to outdoor light may improve jet lag considerably. This is because sunlight affects the stimuli (zeitgabers) to the eye which then affects pineal gland.

For eastbound travel more than six time zones, exposure to afternoon light (whether or not the sun is shining) is helpful. For travel less than six time zones, morning sunlight is useful. The opposite is recommended for westbound travel.

Some business travellers use a very short-acting sedative medication to sleep on aircraft, thus reducing the risk of jet lag. Ask your doctor whether this is a good option for you.

Other suggestions to reduce the impact of jet lag while travelling include:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat small meals frequently, choosing lighter foods like fruit and vegetables.
  • Ensure you get enough sleep before you leave. A sleep deficit or "debt" will make jet lag worse.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  • Try to nap whenever you feel sleepy.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Whenever possible, walk around the airplane cabin.