5 Tips to help you quickly Recover When Switching Time Zones

Learn about how jet lag relates to your circadian rhythm and gain tips for preventing jet lag and dealing with daytime sleepiness. 


Whether traveling for business or pleasure, traversing time zones opens up the risk of jet lag, a form of fatigue caused by disruptions to your circadian rhythm. Not only can the fatigue be unpleasant, but it can leave you feeling out-of-whack for days after your trip. 

In general, the body needs one day to acclimate for every hour difference there is between the time zones of your home and travel location—but what if your vacation is only for a week? If you’re traveling from New York to London, you could feel “off” for almost your entire trip. 

Thankfully, there are strategies that you can implement before and during your trip to ease this transition and help you recover quickly when switching time zones. 

What is Jet Lag?

Jet lag is the term used for symptoms that arise when traveling abruptly between time zones. These symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Digestive upsets
  • Sleepiness
  • Memory lapses
  • Impaired decision making
  • Apathy
  • Irritability

Jet lag stems from the body’s reliance on sunlight to synchronize its circadian rhythm. For example, when the sun goes down, our body produces melatonin, which aids sleepiness. Conversely, getting sunlight in the morning increases alertness and resets our circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm is important for many body processes, including hormones, temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and brain states. It is a 24-hour rhythm that resets each day, but traveling to a different time zone disrupts this 24-hour loop and all the areas of your body that your circadian rhythm controls. 

This disruption occurs because traveling to a new time zone brings a dramatic shift to when your body receives its light exposure, which messes with your body’s sense of day and night. Until your circadian rhythm is reset, these symptoms of jet lag will persist, and the further you travel (and the more time zones you cross), the harder the adjustment. 

Tips for Switching Time Zones

If you’re traveling across time zones, the best thing you can do to ease your recovery is to plan accordingly, and we have the tips you need. 

Plan for the Shift

Before your trip, determine how much you’ll need to shift your bedtime and wake times by so that you can be in sync when you arrive. 

One of the harshest contributors to jetlag is that your circadian rhythm sees a sudden shift of a few hours. Instead, try to make the shift gradually as you prepare for your trip by going to bed later and waking later (or vice versa, depending on where you’re going) so that your body can start to get used to the new time zone. 

Even if you can’t make the full shift before your trip, any adjustments you make will create a less jarring shift when you arrive. 

The same goes for when you’re returning from your trip. Gradually ease yourself into the change by adjusting your bedtime by 30-60 minutes each day toward the new timing. 

Jump Into the New Time Zone

When you’re traveling, the best thing you can do is immediately jump into your new time zone, instead of sticking to your old one. Preparing for the time shift in the days leading up to your trip should make it easier to do this. 

By using the timing of your new location, your body can sooner correct its circadian rhythm based on when you eat and sleep—the sooner your circadian rhythm is back to normal, the sooner your jet lag symptoms go away.

Get Some Light

Jet lag results when the time that your body gets light is not aligned with when it is used to getting light. So, one way to fight jet lag is through the strategic use of sunlight. 

Try to get 15-30 minutes of direct sunlight as soon as you wake up, meaning you’ll need to get outdoors. Whether you go for a walk, sit in the sun as you read a book, or eat breakfast outside of a cafe, these activities will all get you some sunlight, which can help decrease your sleepiness as your circadian rhythm regains its normal timing. 

Consider Taking Melatonin

If jet lag makes it hard for you to fall asleep at a reasonable time in the new time zone, consider taking melatonin, the sleepiness hormone. Research has shown that taking a low dose of melatonin (1-3 mg) can help realign your internal clock by supplementing the hormone at the time you need it. 

Focus On Good Sleep Hygiene

When traveling across time zones, you can help regulate your sleep schedule by focusing on good sleep hygiene. 

Sleep hygiene refers to the good habits you complete during the day (specifically before bed) that help you fall asleep. These habits include:

  • Sleeping in a quiet and dark room at a cool temperature
  • Removing electronic devices from the bedroom
  • Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before going to sleep
  • Getting some exercise during the day

One sleep hygiene habit, in particular, that can be helpful when fighting jet lag is to keep a nightly routine. Especially when away from home, this habit can help your body recognize when it’s time to wind down, even if the settings are different. Some elements you can add to your nightly routine include putting on pajamas, brushing your teeth, dimming the light, reading a book, etc. Continuing this routine even when away from home helps to prepare your mind and body for sleep. 

How To Handle Daytime Sleepiness

Feeling tired during the day is common with jet lag, but there are steps you can take to power through until bedtime. 

Try drinking a cup of coffee or tea. The caffeine will stimulate your brain, helping to wake you up. Don’t overdo it, though, because that may make it harder to fall asleep at night, furthering your sleep problems. 

You can also try power napping for 20 minutes, which offers just enough time to give yourself a mental boost and decrease sleepiness. Don’t sleep for any longer than 30 minutes, though, or you’ll likely feel even more tired when you wake up. 

Successfully Traverse Time Zones

Jet lag is the fear of anyone traveling across time zones since it promises some level of disorientation and fatigue. However, you can take steps to prevent jet lag and minimize sleepiness, including easing into the adjustment, getting morning sunlight, and prioritizing a nighttime routine. 

Traveling across time zones may throw off your body’s circadian rhythm, but you don’t have to let it ruin your time away from home. For more resources on good sleep habits that you can use even when you’re traveling, check out Pillow


Written by

Jessica G

Medical writer freelancer who has written hundreds of articles on varying topics. Masters of Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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