How to get over jet lag faster and enjoy your holiday

woman sleeping ON PLANE


Posted July 03, 2024

Tips and suggestions to minimise jet lag symptoms and maximise your enjoyment of your next international trip. 

Travelling to distant and exotic places is an exhilarating experience, but one downside is jet lag.  

Jet lag, also known as desynchronosis or ‘time zone change syndrome’, is a temporary sleep disorder that disrupts your body clock or circadian rhythm. Although there isn’t a cure, there are steps you can take before, during, and after your flight to minimise jet lag symptoms.  

How long does it take to get over jet lag?

Jet lag is more than feeling tired. According to Better Health Channel, crossing time zones actually disrupts your circadian rhythm, meaning your body becomes out of sync with its usual 24-hour physiological clock.

This can leave you feeling fatigued, disoriented, and generally unwell. It may also lead to symptoms such as insomnia, digestive issues, daytime sleepiness, difficulty focusing and sleeping at night. It tends to be worse when travelling east, and when multiple time zones are crossed on a single journey. 

On average, it takes about one day to adjust to each hour of time-zone change. Individual recovery times may vary based on factors such as age, overall health, sleep patterns and travel habits. Some people may adapt quickly to new time zones, while others may take longer to recover.

As well as reviewing your overseas checklist before you travel, there are steps you can take to reduce jet lag symptoms.  


woman on beach

Taking a walk in daylight hours can help reduce the symptoms of jet lag on arrival. Image: Getty

How to get over jet lag by being prepared

There are a number of measures you can take before your international flight that will help your body adjust to the new time zone at your destination.

  • Gradually adjust your sleep schedule: Start adjusting your sleep schedule to match your destination's time zone a few days before your trip to ease the transition, making sure you still get enough sleep to avoid tiredness before you leave. If possible, go to bed and wake up one hour earlier or later each day for two to three days before you leave, depending on the direction of travel.
  • Stay hydrated: Before your flight and at the airport, make sure you are well-hydrated before your flight and continue to drink plenty of water throughout your journey to counteract the dehydrating effects of air travel. According to Health Direct, dehydration can lead to drowsiness, confusion, irritability, and headaches, among other factors. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol in the days leading up to your flight, as they can contribute to dehydration
  • Optimise your flight schedule: If possible, try to choose flights that arrive at your destination in the evening so it’s easier to adjust to the local time zone. You may have more choice if booking early or travelling during the off-peak season. Your travel consultant may be able to provide more information and assistance.  
  • Dress for the flight: Prepare clothing for the plane that is loose and comfortable for dozing and sleeping. Pack earplugs, a mask, pillow, and headphones in your carry-on luggage, if these will assist with sleep.
  • Don’t over-schedule the start of your trip: If you can, try to avoid scheduling important meetings or activities immediately after arrival. Give yourself time to rest and recover, and adjust to your new time zone. If possible, plan a breakfast away from your accommodation, which will force you to get up in the morning and expose yourself to daylight because this can help reduce the symptoms of jet lag.
  • See your GP: If you have any medications or jet lag concerns, speak with your health care professional for the best medical advice before take-off. 
kid watching tv on plane

Help children adjust to the new time zone by altering their sleep schedule along with your own. Image: Getty

How to get over jet lag with these flight tips

During a long flight or one that crosses many time zones, there are measures you can take to minimise the effects of jet lag and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to explore.

  • Stay active: Once it is safe to do so, combat stiffness and sleepiness on the plane by moving around the cabin, stretching, and performing light exercises. Consider booking an aisle seat to make it easier to get up and move around frequently – or even upgrade to a more comfortable seat. 

More: Tips for flying with kids at any age

  • Adjust your watch: Set your watch or smartphone to the local time at your destination as soon as you board the plane so that you can mentally prepare for the time change. 
  • Get on schedule: While it may be difficult, try to eat and sleep according to the local time zone, even if it means adjusting your routine during the flight. 
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine on the plane: Opt for water or herbal tea instead of alcohol or caffeine, as the latter can disrupt your sleep patterns, cause dehydration and exacerbate jet lag symptoms. Instead, stay hydrated by drinking water regularly throughout the flight, and eat lighter meals with fruits and vegetables to limit any gastrointestinal issues or motion sickness.
sleeping with eye mask

Try to minimise brightness when it is time to sleep to get into the rhythm of your new time zone. Image: Getty

How to get over jet lag once you've landed

After landing, continue implementing strategies to help your body adjust to the new time zone, so that you can minimise the effects of jet lag and enjoy your trip. 

  • Expose yourself to natural light: Getting aligned with the sunrise and sunset of your destination to reduce jet lag symptoms. 
  • Go outside: During daylight hours, spend time outdoors (or in bright light settings) to help regulate your circadian rhythm and signal to your body that it's time to be awake.
  • Avoid light when it's time to sleep: Conversely, if you arrive during the evening, try to avoid bright lights that may further disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Nap strategically: While the urge to fall asleep may be strong,  take short naps of no more than 20-30 minutes. This should assist with combating some of your fatigue without interfering with your ability to sleep at night. Avoid long naps, as they can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime.
  • Calm your body before bedtime: Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours before you plan to go to sleep. Avoid bright screens, like your smartphone or the TV in your accommodation room to help your body re-establish its circadian rhythm.
  • Establish a routine: Create a schedule that is consistent with your new time zone, including meal times and  your bedtime to re-establish your body's internal clock and aid in recovery from jet lag.

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