Jet lag is as much a part of business travel as flight delays, but it can cloud your brain and drain you of energy. "Jet lag happens when there is a misalignment between the actual time zone and your circadian clock," says Vancouver-based naturopathic doctor Melanie DesChâtelets. She says that travelers typically experience jet lag when flying over five or more time zones.
The body's internal clock releases certain hormones at set times in the day. These hormones regulate body temperature, sleep and other processes. The misalignment of hormones with time zone changes means you may experience difficulty sleeping, headaches, fatigue and trouble concentrating. While DesChâtelets says these symptoms typically subside within two days, that can be of little comfort when you're trying to hold your head up in an important client meeting.
Rest assured, there are things you can do to control jet lag. Here are six tips for controling it naturally.
1. Re-set your body clock before taking off.
"Try to advance or delay your sleep a few days before going away so that when you leave your circadian clock has already started to adjust to the change," says DesChâtelets. Advancing your bedtime by an hour or two if heading east, and delaying if heading west can help you adjust to the new time zone easier and have you falling asleep faster.
2. Change your watch when you depart.
Changing the time before you take off can help you suffer less time dislocation.
3. Pack Melatonin if you are flying east.
While sleeping pills may have your head hitting the pillow in no time, they can also cause dehydration and have you feeling worse than normal jet lag symptoms. "Melatonin is released by the pineal gland before sleep," says DesChâtelets. "It's one of the circadian hormones that makes you sleepy at night."
When traveling, consider taking three milligrams of a melatonin supplement two hours before bedtime to help reset your circadian rhythm that gets disrupted by the change in time zones. And unlike sleeping pills, taken in small quantities, melatonin is nontoxic, non-addictive and safe.
4. Get Outdoors.
To help your body adjust to its new time zone, DesChâtelets recommends getting out in the sun first thing in the morning. "Sunlight also affects your circadian [rhythm], so you want to expose yourself to as much light as possible," she says.
5. Use light therapy when flying west.
Even though you'll be tired early in the evening when flying west, DesChâtelets recommends staying up until a reasonable evening hour before allowing yourself to doze off. Too much caffeine can interrupt your sleep patterns, so opt instead to remain your brain of the new time with light. Bright lights can help you to awake, so keep the curtains open and the lights on in your room to let in as much light as possible.
6. Minimize sleep distractions.
Disrupted sleep plus jet lag equals disaster. So make sure that you can stay asleep once you call it a night by using an eye mask or earplugs to eliminate light or sound that may wake you up, just make sure you can hear your alarm.
Related: Richard Branson's Travel Tips