Nap away jet lag

Jet lag - feeling groggy during the day and awake at bedtime - is undoubtedly a nuisance and travellers who get hit with it are not rare.

"Jet lag affects most people who travel to different time zones, even if that difference is only an hour or two," said Dr Charles Czeisler, director of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. There are strategies to make the transition to that new time zone less painful and Dr Czeisler shares his tips:

• For small time changes, prepare your body before travelling. If you are heading some place that has only a few hours' time difference compared with where you live, he suggested shifting your body clock closer to the new time zone a few days before your trip. Even easing into your destination one-third of the way beforehand will make it easier for you to adjust when you are there, he said.

• For bigger time differences, consider melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that facilitates people's ability to sleep, especially if they need to go to bed earlier than they usually do. Dr Czeisler said that a melatonin supplement can help quiet the brain and silence the signal that you need to be awake. He recommended taking it in your new time zone half an hour or so before you want to go to sleep.

• Rely on light and naps. Exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible in your new time zone helps reset your biological clock to that destination, said Dr Czeisler. If you cannot get outside, artificial light, such as a brightly lit room, also helps as long as it is daytime, not night. He also suggested trying Entrain, a free app that makes lighting recommendations to help you adjust to your new destination. And, despite what travellers may have heard about avoiding naps if they are trying to beat jet lag, he said a 30-minute to hour-long snooze is actually beneficial because it gives you enough energy to stay awake through the day, but still get a good night's rest.

• Watch your diet. What you eat and drink matters when it comes to jet lag. Beware if you ply yourself with caffeinated drinks throughout the day in an attempt to stay awake. Dr Czeisler said that half the amount of caffeine you consume stays in your system for six to nine hours and can interfere with a good night's rest. Other dietary sleep disrupters include alcohol and rich meals too close to bedtime.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Nap away jet lag'. Print Edition | Subscribe