How to keep jet lag from ruining your vacation

WASHINGTON — No one wants to let jet lag ruin a dream vacation to a faraway place.  But there are things you can do to make the time transition easier.

“One of the best things people can do would be to make sure that in the days and even weeks leading up to their trip … they are on a fairly regular sleep schedule and are getting enough sleep,”  says Dr. Neal Maru, a sleep specialist with Integrated Neurology Services in northern Virginia.

Maru says that if you’re sleep-deprived going into a trip that crosses numerous time zones, that can compound the fatigue associated with jet lag, and make it even tougher to adjust.

It’s also a good idea to try to gradually change your sleep times before leaving home, so your body clock is a bit more in sync with your final destination.

“For example, if you are going to be flying four time zones to the east, gradually, about four or five days in advance, start  moving up your sleep time so you are going to bed earlier and waking up earlier,” says Maru.

On the flight, it’s usually best to stay awake when it is daytime at your destination, and try to sleep when it is night there.

Maru says it is also important to stay hydrated, but to avoid certain beverages: Caffeine is an obvious no-no, but it is also best to skip the wine and beer, because alcohol can disturb sleep.

It was once thought that a traveler would need one day to recover for each time zone crossed. But in  truth, everyone handles jet lag  a bit differently, and some people are more sensitive than others.

Maru says, “Some people can adjust very quickly without much of a problem, while for other people it’s more of a challenge.”

He says melatonin can be helpful, but it is tricky to figure out exactly the right time to use it when traveling. He says those with little or no personal experience are best off getting some guidance from a health-care professional.

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