I always find that it is much harder to get over jet lag when you get home than when you arrive at your original destination. Part of this, I think, is that when you fly off somewhere, on vacation for example, you are excited and eager to enjoy yourself. Also you are probably less likely to have a fixed timetable so you can go to bed earlier or stay in bed later if you are tired.
When you get home, unless you have had a bad time while you were away, you probably feel less than happy about returning. Often you also have to hit the ground running, perhaps returning to work the following day. This means you have to immediately fit what you do into the rigid timetable of getting up early, commuting, working all day and then coming home. You don’t have the luxury of easing yourself into the different timezone that your body clock believes it is in.
You may wish to read my article – What does jet lag mean?
How long does it take to get over jet lag?
To some extent this depends on the person as some people seem to adjust very quickly while others seem to suffer for ages. If you are someone who never has any problems sleeping then you are more likely to get over jet lag quicker than someone who struggles to sleep normally.
That said, there are some general rules of thumb regarding the time it takes to get over jet lag. It takes most people between 1 day for each 1-2 time zones you have crossed. So for example, if you flew from New York to London you would cross 5 time zones (5 hours time difference between the two) so it would take you 3-5 days to feel completely in sync with UK time.
Is jet lag worse going east or west?
Generally it takes less time to adjust when traveling east to west than it does when going east to west. This is because the body clock often finds it easier to extend it’s normal 24 hour cycle than to shorten it. You are also more likely to end up flying overnight when going east so you miss out on a night’s sleep, which obviously doesn’t help.
If I fly from a warm part of the US, or the Caribbean, back to the UK, particularly in winter, it always involves an overnight flight. This means arriving early local time, perhaps 7am, when it is just getting light and is probably pretty cold too.
That is normally when I feel at my worst – I’m tired, I feel dirty, and, after a week or two of lovely warm weather, I am now standing outside the terminal waiting for a taxi or car park bus in the freezing cold, or worse still, in the rain. It’s not a pleasant feeling I can tell you. Particularly knowing I have a couple of hours drive to get home as well.
Top tips to get over jet lag that actually work
These are things I have tried over the years with some success at helping to both get over jet lag and to prevent it where possible. Read my article on what to do before and during a flight to reduce the effects of jet lag before you fly to make the problems when you get home less.
If you really feel tired when you arrive at your destination, perhaps in the morning, try not to go to bed and sleep for a long time as this will just extend the time it takes your body clock to adjust to the new time zone.
If you absolutely must get some sleep then take a 20 minute nap or two and last until the evening before going to bed properly. You will recover from jet lag quicker if you can stay awake fully though.
2. Get out in the sunshine
If there is daylight when you arrive at home, then instead of sitting indoors until bedtime try to get out into the sunshine. Your brain’s body clock will then adjust easier as it knows it is daytime, even though it may feel it should be nighttime. One of the reasons is that your brain doesn’t produce melatonin during daylight and that is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy. See 6 below.
3. Eat locally
By this I don’t mean eat at a restaurant around the corner but eat the meal that is appropriate locally. For example, if you arrive at lunchtime, eat lunch. Don’t eat breakfast just because your body thinks it is breakfast time.
4. Try to take it easy
On a long flight, across multiple time zones, your body goes through a great deal of stress – little sleep, sitting for long periods, dry air etc. So, if possible, try to schedule a day or two off of work when you arrive back home. That isn’t always practical I know.
If you can’t take any more time off then at least try not to punish your body too much for a day or two. Give the gym a miss for a few days if that is your usual routine.
If you must go to work then try to leave for home in time and have a restful evening.
5. Re-timer light therapy glasses
There has been much research into how the brain reacts to light and how that effects sleep and your body clock. The result, from a university in Australia are the Re-timer light therapy glasses. These are producing incredible results at combating the effects of jet lag and allowing fast recovery from it. They allow you to realign your body clock using daylight blue/green light.
Melatonin is a hormone released by your brain to make you sleepy. When your body clock is disrupted then this may not happen when you want it. You can take Melatonin supplement tablets to help you sleep after you arrive at your destination at the appropriate time. Generally you will only need these for the west to east leg of your journey.
Melatonin has been extensively researched and is now used widely as a jet lag remedy and sleep aid. The latest research seems to show that melatonin aids sleep during times when your body clock says you wouldn’t normally be resting which makes it perfect for countering jet lag. You can read this article about a study on Cochrane Library site – “Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag“
You can buy suitable tablets containing Melatonin on Amazon. Also Melatonin sleep patches can be bought that you put on just before you go to bed that help you drop off even when your body clock says it isn’t time to go to sleep yet.
If you have any medical conditions you should speak to your doctor before taking these.