Woman waiting at airport holding sunglasses and coffee with luggage on seat to her left and muffin on table to her right, with carry on bag on the floor below table

Photo courtesy of @KayleighHarrington/Twenty20

Traversing time zones on long distance trips often means setting your circadian rhythm off-balance. Whether your upcoming plans involve simply springing forward in time or jumping backward to a faraway getaway, there are some natural ways to ease the jet lag and maximize your vacation time. Cup of joe not included.

Stay On Schedule

Shifting your internal clock requires you to push back against your body’s natural inclinations of when to sleep and eat. While a short, strategic power nap or light snack may help ease extreme transitions, clinicians often recommend that you set your sleeping, waking, and meal times to the timezone of your destination to mitigate jet lag. 

Embrace the Light

Experts agree that exposure to natural light plays a key role in calibrating your body to a new time zone. The body times its release of melatonin (a primary sleep-regulating hormone) according to the light taken in through the eyes. Your body secretes more melatonin as the sun sets and through the night to help keep you asleep. To help keep you awake, your body’s secretion of melatonin lowers as you rise with the sun and go about your day. 

So when traveling forward” in time (say, from LA to NYC), try to expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning to promote wakefulness earlier on. When headed the opposite direction, take full advantage of any late-day sun to help you stay awake until a normal bedtime in your new time zone. Engaging in mild physical activity with this kind of light-bathing,” like a morning or evening walk, will also help your body associate alertness with daylight hours, boosting the effectiveness of your efforts.

Woman looking out window at airport waiting for flight to board

Photo courtesy @justin_02/Twenty20

Shut Off Screens

Just as sunlight is a powerful force for realigning your body with natural daily rhythms, the blue light produced by our device screens is said to seriously hinder the brain’s understanding of when to revamp up or shut down. For forward time-hopping, encourage evening sleepiness by stowing your smartphone as early as possible in favor of a relaxing (paper) read. Early screen time may help accelerate wakefulness, but full-spectrum natural sunlight is generally more effective.

Fast Forward

Time changes can mess with the body’s digestive cycles, from hunger signals to voiding schedules. While it’s a good idea to try to conform your dining schedule to the dictates of your new clock, research suggests that skipping a meal or two might go a long way towards easing the gastrological and psychological discomfort time-shifting can cause. One Harvard Medical School study found that fasting for 16 hours or more before arriving in a new time zone can help reset established bodily patterns by activating a survival response that prioritizes finding food over sleep. Of course, such a long period of food abstinence might be overkill for a simple one-hour time change, so consider just eating a light meal the night before the shift to encourage earlier alertness.

Woman on ferry with head resting in arms on small table with crowd of people around

Photo courtesy of @Igor_Kostyuk/Twenty20

Skip the Bar (and maybe the barista, too)

Although it may be tempting to reach for a coffee or a cocktail to delay or bring on bedtime, there are plenty of reasons to avoid these go-to solutions when adjusting to a time change. Neither option promotes natural wake/​sleep cycles, further confusing your already disoriented brain and compromising the quality of the sleep you do get.

While water and vitamin-rich juices are key for supporting healthy circadian transitions, look to herbal teas for gentle, natural, and nutritional recalibration assistance without the drawbacks of caffeine or alcohol. Each individual may react differently to any given herb, so consult a doctor and test which teas work best for you ahead of time to determine if they will provide the desired benefits during time transitions.

Be Patient

Resetting your body takes time, so take it easy on yourself (and others) during the transition. Take care of challenging tasks ahead of time if possible and be prepared to devote some effort to dealing with some physical, mental, and emotional discomfort.

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.