How to Beat Jet Lag With These Remedies and Tips

If you’ve ever been on a long flight, you may be all too familiar with the symptoms of jet lag. Sleepiness, irritability, indigestion, nausea, and even disorientation can hit when you arrive at your destination.


Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia

Jet lag is caused by your body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) being temporarily out of sync with the local destination time after a change in time zones. The more time zones you cross, the longer it can take for you to fully recover from jet lag. Traveling east (such as from North America to Europe) generally causes more severe symptoms than traveling west.

Although jet lag is temporary, you may be looking for ways to beat the fatigue and normalize your sleeping patterns. Here are some remedies and tips that may help you stay rested.

Woman walking by several clocks that show different international times
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A hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin regulates the body's circadian rhythm (the internal clock that plays an important role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up).

Melatonin levels rise in the evening with the onset of darkness and then fall in the morning when you are exposed to light. When we cross time zones and are exposed to light during our normal bedtime, our melatonin cycles are disrupted, resulting in jet lag until our circadian rhythm gets in sync with the new time zone.

In some studies, melatonin release has been found to be disrupted by air travel, and researchers suggest that taking melatonin may help the body adjust to new time zones.

Small daily doses between 0.5 mg and 5mg have been found effective. You should take the supplements after dark when you reach your travel destination and for the minimum time needed (from one to three days). It shouldn't be taken before or during air travel as there's some concern that it may actually hinder your recovery from jet lag.

Melatonin supplements may interact with medication (and the safety of regular use isn't known), so it's important to consult your healthcare provider before trying it. Higher doses are more likely to result in side effects such as vivid dreams and nightmares. Some melatonin supplements have been found to be contaminated with other substances, such as serotonin.

Adjusting to the Time Zone Before You Leave

Anticipating the change and adjusting your bedtime and wake time to your destination time before your travel is another strategy to beat jet lag. It generally involves waking up and going to bed one hour progressively earlier or later (depending on your direction of travel) each day for several days leading up to your flight.

If you are traveling east, it means going to sleep one hour earlier than normal on day one and waking up one hour earlier. On day two, your bedtime would be two hours earlier and your wake time would be two hours earlier. On the third day, your bedtime would be three hours earlier and your wake time would be three hours earlier.

If traveling west, your bedtime would be one hour later than normal and your wake time would be one hour later than normal and it would increase progressively each day.

If it's not possible to follow this gradual schedule, some readers suggest pre-adjusting to the new time zone a day in advance by setting your watch to your destination time the day before you travel. If it is six hours later at your travel destination, this means waking up six hours earlier the day you travel and then going to sleep when it is nighttime at your destination. If you must nap, seasoned travelers suggest limiting naps to no more than an hour.

Light Exposure

Since our circadian rhythm is strongly influenced by light, exposing yourself to bright light at certain times of the day is a powerful way to shift your internal clock. People flying east often experience jet lag the day after they arrive at their destination. Bright light exposure early in the day may help to get your internal clock in sync with your new time zone. Try going for a walk in the sunshine, opening curtains and blinds, or turning on a lamp.

You'll want to avoid bright light exposure three hours before your desired bedtime, particularly from melatonin-suppressing blue light (found in LED light bulbs, bright screens, and electronic devices). Consider installing an app that filters the blue wavelength at night (or try blue-light-blocking glasses).

If you're traveling west, try getting light exposure in the late afternoon, after you arrive at your destination.

Lavender Essential Oil

The scent of lavender essential oil is known for its calming properties, which may help to ease insomnia. While studies haven't explored the use of lavender oil for jet lag, some preliminary research suggests that the oil's aroma may help to improve sleep quality.

In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, for instance, inhaling lavender (together with sleep hygiene recommendations such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding coffee and alcohol, not eating late in the day, and avoiding screens and texting in bed) improved sleep quality in people who had difficulty sleeping, more so than sleep hygiene alone.

To use lavender oil, try adding a couple of drops to a bath, or sprinkle a drop onto a tissue and gently inhale for several minutes, allowing the aroma to soothe and relax you. 

The Takeaway

The rule of thumb is that it takes a day to fully adjust to each time zone you cross. So flying from Los Angeles to New York can take you a day to adjust.

If you have an upcoming flight, you may want to minimize your downtime by using remedies to get ahead of jet lag. While most people can try methods like adjusting to your time zone before you travel or getting sunlight, it's a good idea to speak to your doctor before trying melatonin (or any other supplement) to be sure that it's right for you.

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