Travel

Most Jet Lag Cures Are Garbage-Here’s What Actually Works

Three words: Skip the booze.

Colombo Photography/Shutterstock
Colombo Photography/Shutterstock
Colombo Photography/Shutterstock

It’s time to stow your tray tables and secure your luggage in the overhead bins-travel is back in full swing. Introducing Return Ticket, a collection of first-person stories, thoughtful guides, and clever hacks designed to help aspiring globetrotters navigate our new normal as safely and smoothly as possible. Buckle up and prepare for liftoff.

There are tons of so-called jet lag cures out there, but let’s clear one thing up first: Jet lag isn’t something you can avoid. There’s no actual “cure,” despite how many claims you may hear. Even the World Health Organization has made up its mind on this.

But that doesn’t mean you have to struggle after every long-haul flight. We’re here to share some of the tried-and-true solutions that ease the recovery process. From melatonin to exercise and schedule shifting, here’s what works and what are just myths.

So, what is jet lag?

If we’re going to break down why certain hacks are better or worse than others, then we need to start with a few underlying principles. Jet lag occurs when you fly across multiple time zones (you won’t notice it much if you’re crossing just one or two) and messes with your body’s internal clock by forcing it into a new circadian rhythm-your natural sleep/wake cycle-faster than it’s naturally able to adjust to. When you crossed the Atlantic Ocean the old-fashioned way (on a steamship for two weeks), your body would adjust to the new position to the sun as you went. It’s not the case with air travel. Symptoms mostly involve being fatigued, both physically and mentally, though you might also experience some nausea or indigestion (or be a little, er, backed up).

How long does jet lag last?

Because circadian rhythms are light-sensitive, westward travel is easier on the body than eastward travel-the former lengthens your day, and thus your exposure to daylight; the latter collapses it. Generally, you’ll recover from jet lag on the order of about a 1:1 ratio of days spent adjusting per time zones crossed-at least if you’re flying westward. Flying east, each time zone crossed might set you back closer to a day and a half.

How can I avoid jet lag?

You can arrange your entire travel plans-destination included-around getting on one of those fancy new flights that lasts almost a full day, which will indeed allow you to skip over the whole jet lag process. There’s been some promising experimental stuff in the way of cures over the years, but nothing that’s really practical or scalable. Viagra helped mitigate the effects of jet lag in hamsters, but it would only work for eastbound flights, and there haven’t been any actual human trials. Researchers at Stanford noted the potential of flashing strobe lights into your eyes while you sleep the night before your flight, but c’mon.

The only actual solution to jet lag is to ride it out. But if you’re taking an especially short trip, or frequently fly long distances for work, you want to be sure you’re not making your sleep hangover any worse. So, we’ve researched some of the highly ranked tips out there to see what’s a myth and what may actually help you feel like more of a human post-flight.

Go for a walk

This is not a bad idea, especially right after landing. Some folks hold that the late afternoon/dusk hours are most important if you were travelling west, but basically your goal is to soak up as much of the natural light cycle in your new timezone as possible. Going for a walk is a bit of a catch-all-anything that involves fresh air, exercise, and natural light will do the trick. Another activity is what some folks call “earthing” or “grounding,” a theory that walking barefoot or otherwise being in physical contact with the ground allows nature to reset your internal rhythms and hormone production. There is actually good peer-reviewed research on the beneficial effects of direct physical contact with the electrons in the surface of the Earth. Note, though, that the research didn’t specifically research jet lag. But hey, sitting barefoot in a park for a little while is as no-cost, low-risk as you can get-and nature is always good for you.

Try to avoid napping

When you finally stumble off your long-haul flight, whether or not you got any sleep, conventional wisdom does hold that it’s best to not nap right afterward. Hold out for when it’s actually bedtime in your new time zone. Likewise, try not to marathon-sleep ’til 6 pm the next day. Before your trip, though? Get in all the Zs you can-the better rested your body already is, the faster it’ll recover.

Take melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that your body already produces on its own. When it gets dark out, a spike in the melatonin in our brains tells us it’s time to go to sleep; this is why staring at your phone or computer screen while you’re in bed can mess you up. Contrary to popular belief, a sufficient supply of melatonin does not actually make you fall asleep. It can help even out your circadian rhythms, thus helping your body enter a state where it’s better-equipped to fall asleep.

Even if you’ve found it doesn’t help you get to sleep in your regular life, it’s worth giving melatonin a try for jet lag. Try somewhere between .5 and 5 milligrams somewhere between half an hour to two hours before your new bedtime (everybody is different) in your new destination. Most research advises taking it after your flight, not during or before, though John Hopkins School of Medicine says you can start taking it around your expected bedtime a few days before you even embark on your trip. The Mayo Clinic suggests that if you’re flying west, give melatonin a try in the mornings, and also says that either way. the dosage doesn’t make much difference. (But don’t take melatonin long-term without checking in with a doctor.)

Halfpoint/Shutterstock
Halfpoint/Shutterstock
Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Drink water

This one’s pretty straightforward. Your state of hydration doesn’t really affect your circadian rhythms, but altitude dehydrates you, and the worse shape your body is in, the less efficiently it’s able to bounce back from a 10-hour flight to Berlin.

Avoid alcohol and coffee

Alcohol is a sedative, so if you’re sensitive about derailing your sleep schedule, it’s probably not a good idea to sacrifice your “real” post-flight rest with unsatisfying, cramped unconsciousness in flight. It also dehydrates you, especially at altitude, so if you opt for some of those fun mini bottles, at least get some water to go along with them.

Coffee is also dehydrating, so if caffeine affects you, it’s best to avoid it during your flight or after landing. Basically, time your cup of joe far in advance, no less than six or eight hours before your new bedtime. You’ll be better for it the following day. Also, keep drinking water.

Exercise outdoors

It’s probably best to avoid strenuous exercise at least for the day or two before your long-haul trip, because your muscles won’t be able to recover properly in the air. Emphasis is on the “strenuous”-your regular run, yoga class, or pickup basketball game won’t set you back. After you land, outdoor exercise is ideal for all the reasons you’d expect; not always feasible, but helpful if you can do it.

Adjust your schedule in advance

You can get a head start adjusting your circadian rhythms the week or so before you fly by incrementally shifting your daily routines closer to match your destination’s. We’re not just talking bedtimes, we’re also talking mealtimes and overall exposure to light. A lot of people advocate this, and it does appear to work (at least potentially) if you expose yourself to the various right kinds of light and are also travelling east.

Sure, there are loads of services that promise to help you train your body to a new time zone via carefully adhering to a new, custom-designed schedule of light exposure and feeding times. Barring that, though, you might still see some benefits from just tweaking your bedtime in the days before your flight.

nelea33/Shutterstock
nelea33/Shutterstock
nelea33/Shutterstock

Eat carbs

Go in for a big, carb-heavy dinner after you land; this is one of the few occasions where a food coma can be in your best interest.

But also, don’t eat carbs

Lots of people advocate skipping carbs while you’re in the air so you don’t exacerbate the post-flight sluggishness (you can still make up for lost time at dinner later). Though this does lead to a lot of conflating the complex, generally this refers to the simple, naptime-inducing carbs. Most fruits are carb-heavy, but they also provide positive things like antioxidants that can help your body sort itself out from the stress of a long flight.

Don’t eat anything

The internal clock that tells us it’s time to sleep is strong, but the one that tells us it’s time to eat is actually stronger. There is some scientific support behind fasting for 16 hours prior to breakfast time in your new destination (though the research was conducted on mice and not humans).

Some people really lean into intermittent fasting for the four days prior to departure, and while I’m not discounting anecdotal success among anyone who’s tried it, the scientific support seems to boil down to a 2002 study published in Military Medicine, which found that members of the National Guard who volunteered to follow the diet in the days before their deployment and/or return were up to 16.2 times less likely to experience jet lag than a placebo group. It says that the diet was most effective on those who had been living active lifestyles and who, notably, had not had a problem with jet lag in the past.

LightField Studios/Shutterstock
LightField Studios/Shutterstock
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

Try stretching

This is more about the effects of long flights on your blood circulation than your sleep cycles, but, like drinking water, there are several upsides and zero downsides. Limbering up your muscles (which will shorten and get cramped during the flight) could conceivably help your body get in tune with those circadian rhythms. Stretch as much as you can before, during, and after your flight (here’s a list of moves you can try around the airport or on the plane). Elevating your legs for a few minutes after you land is also in the flight attendant arsenal for how to recover from long-haul flights, and compression socks can help with your circulation, too.

Probiotics

Look, probiotics aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The engine behind their recent surge in popularity is entirely commercial, not scientific, and most of you out there have organs that clean house just fine on their own. Ingesting probiotics before that big trip you’ve been planning all year is a waste of money.

But for someone who’s subjected to jet lag all the time, like a flight attendant, probiotics might get a pass. That kind of irregular schedule can do a number on your gut bacteria, in which case probiotics can pick up some of the slack. Same for shift workers, or anyone whose sleep schedule (and thus circadian rhythms) is disrupted chronically (and not just temporarily). But honestly, guys, the majority of you really don’t need to try this “remedy.”

Flush your nose with saline solution

I hadn’t heard this one before, but apparently clearing out the dust and germs from your sinuses can help support your immune system, which can help all your various internal bodily functions run smoothly, which can help you potentially stay hydrated and recover from jet lag quicker People are really doing the most connecting these dots to jet lag at this point, though.

Take activated charcoal

Basically the same premise as the saline thing.

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Jet lag recovery spa services

Massage therapy. LED light therapy. Floating in isolation tanks. Hydration Rooms that will set you up with a post-flight IV drip. Super-expensive at-home jet lag IV bags, for those of you not in convenient proximity to a hydration room. More activated charcoal, but in an expensive way.

If you’d like to enjoy a nice spa treatment, by all means do so, but none of this stuff has any miraculous sway over your circadian rhythms. Everything is just tenuously linked to jet lag on the premise that it could help your body recover from whatever it might need to recover from, which is to say it’s all the more expensive version of drinking water and stretching. These treatments might feel nice when you’re fatigued and sore after a long flight, and that’s great! But ultimately, it’s misleading to imply they reset your internal clock or anything like that. Still, most of them are harmless. Except maybe the IV bags.

Take sleeping pills

There’s been some research on the efficacy of Lunesta and Ambien for jet lag, taken around bedtime once you’ve arrived at your destination. But generally speaking, a good rule of thumb with medication is to not go in for any of the heavier stuff unless you truly need it, and you should get a doc’s opinion here.

Take amphetamines (but seriously, don’t)

Don’t do this! Big Pharma loves to fund studies with the foregone conclusion of “finding” new uses for already existing drugs. For example, the makers of Nuvigil (a stimulant usually prescribed for sleep disorders like narcolepsy) conducted clinical trials to see whether the drug was an effective treatment for jet lag. No prizes for guessing the results: It “improved wakefulness,” but that’s not quite the same thing as shaking off jet lag. Such attempts have been repeatedly bounced by the FDA over the years. So that’s a pretty big hint right there.

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Kastalia Medrano is a New York-based journalist and avid traveler. Follow her on Twitter.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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