The term "jet lag" describes what happens to your body when you cross one or more time zones more quickly than your body's circadian rhythm can adjust. This normally happens when you travel by air. Medical experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic, agree that it typically takes your body one day to adjust to each time zone crossed. For example, if you live in Los Angeles and fly to New York City, you will need approximately three days to adjust to life in Eastern Standard Time. When you return home, you will go through the adjustment process again.
Symptoms of jet lag include fatigue, poor sleep, gastrointestinal distress, irritability and inability to concentrate.
While you can't avoid jet lag entirely unless you stay off airplanes, there are some things you can do to minimize its effects and adjust to local time at your destination.
Before Your Trip
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traveling eastward tends to intensify the symptoms of jet lag. Regardless of which direction you travel, try to plan your itinerary so that you arrive in the late afternoon or early evening; this will make it easier for you to stay up until your local bedtime.
As you plan your itinerary, remember that you will be feeling tired and out of sorts on the first day after your arrival. Go sightseeing, of course, but plan a relaxing day. Allow time for a short nap in the afternoon in case you become tired.
Do your best to get a good night's sleep before you travel.
If possible, start adjusting to local time at your destination a few days before your trip begins. Go to bed and wake up an hour earlier each day if you are traveling east; if you are traveling west, stay up an hour later and wake up an hour later every day. Eat healthy meals before you leave on your trip.
If you plan to take sleep aids or alternative remedies for jet lag during your trip, consult with your doctor to be sure they will not cause unexpected side effects or interfere with any other medications you take.
During Your Flight
Stay hydrated; drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that you walk around the airplane periodically to reduce the risk of blood clots.
On long flights, the CDC suggests that you try to get some sleep, if possible. Bring a blanket, neck pillow, sleep mask and ear plugs if you have trouble sleeping on airplanes.
After Your Arrival
If at all possible, remain awake until your bedtime, local time. Take a short nap if you can't stay awake that long.
Use British Airways' Jet Lag Calculator to determine when you should seek sunshine and when you should avoid the sun's rays. Timing sun exposure properly, especially on the first two days of your trip, can help you reduce the effects of jet lag.
Try to eat meals and sleep according to local time, unless you will only be in the area for a day or two. It is not worth the effort to adjust completely to local time if you are returning home right away, according to the National Institutes of Health's MedlinePlus.
Stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least six hours before you plan to go to sleep each night. Drinking coffee, tea and soda is fine during the day, but you should switch to water and other non-caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon.
Mayo Clinic. Jet Lag. Accessed: October 29, 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/jet-lag/DS01085/DSECTION=lifestyle%2Dand%2Dhome%2Dremedies
MedlinePlus. Jet Lag Prevention. Accessed: October 29, 2012. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002110.htm
National Sleep Foundation. Jet Lag and Sleep. Accessed: October 29, 2012. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/jet-lag-and-sleep
Yanni, Emad A. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Travelers' Health: Jet Lag. Accessed: October 29, 2012. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/jet-lag.htm