How to prevent jet lag from ruining your vacation

| March 11, 2024

The dreamy Southeast Asia tour became a disaster when you tossed and turned on the bed at 3 am, unable to close your eyes. If you count the past three days with the same “dizziness in the morning, irritability at night” routine, it was much worse than caffeine overdoses.

Jet lag is a common sleep disorder 1 that occurs when a person travels across time zones fast enough to mismatch the body and environmental day-night cycle. The symptoms include daytime fatigue, sleeplessness, stomach issues, and body unease that affect concentration and performance. They may last for several days, and longer as you travel further. Although jet lag is temporary, who wants to suffer when one should be enjoying vacation?

Thankfully, there are tips to prevent jet lags:

  1. Shift before travel. The general recommendation for travel up to seven time zones east is to move your sleep routine 30 minutes earlier per day starting three days before the trip. Do the opposite if you are traveling west.
  2. Make good use of light. Bright lights, including sunlight and other light sources, integrate our sleep-wake patterns with the environment. Therefore, you can mitigate the brain’s observation of day-to-night conversion by wearing shades in the morning, especially for eastern travel, and keeping the light on at night.
  3. Consider taking melatonin. Studies have shown that melatonin effectively reduces jet lag symptoms and improves sleep quality. In a New York Timesinterview 2, Dr. Vishesh Kapur of the University of Wisconsin Sleep Medicine Center suggests taking low-dose melatonin up to three days before the trip to prevent jet lag. While melatonin is generally considered safe for general use, please consult with your doctor if you have any chronic health conditions or take medications regularly to ensure there are no contraindications or interactions. Most Hopkins students and trainees can receive a free consultation by making appointments with the Office of Primary Care. (Check the Eligibility section of the Primary Care website to make sure you are eligible.) In fact, Primary Care offers specific “travel health” consultations that cover topics like food and water safety, vaccines, and other relevant topics. They are available in person at all three campus clinic locations, or by telemedicine for all eligible students and trainees! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists melatonin as a dietary supplement. Therefore, you can find them in supermarkets like Safeway or chain pharmacies like CVS. Please carefully read through the labels as over-the-counter melatonin has different doses, and follow the label instructions.

In addition to these tips, watch out for situations that make us more sensitive to jet lags, including:

  • Those who fly frequently, such as business travelers, pilots, and flight attendants.
  • The more time zones crossed, the more possible you feel jet lag.
  • Flying east. The fast-forward time jump shortens the day, which pressures our brains to feel deprived of sleeping time.
  • Aging is associated with longer jet lag recovery time. If you are traveling with seniors in your family, be aware of them for any jet lag symptoms.

Here are some additional ways to reduce the impact of jet lag:

    1. Design your routine during flights. Try to link your resting routine with your arrival time. For example, if you arrive early in the morning, be awake first and get eight to nine hours of sleep before landing. It helps you adjust to the new external clock faster.
    2. Schedule your return flight three to four days before the start of class. Universities may have a fast-paced start, so saving some days to prepare for school would be a good idea.
    3. A small nap when you feel sleepy during the day helps refresh your body and mind. To not affect sleeping quality at night, a < 30-minute nap and, if possible, eight or more hours before the desired bedtime would be ideal.
    4. Plan according to the lag. For the first few days of the trip, you may plan more late night (or early morning) activities to utilize the time lag.

Long-haul flights are irritating enough even before dealing with jet lag. Try the hacks below to upgrade your travel experience:

    1. Prepare for sleep. Bringing ear plugs and eye masks on the plane can improve sleep quality. (You can even request a free JHU-branded sleep kit with both, via the Yawns Hopkins initiative.) Even though most airlines provide pillows, they are usually too thin and soft. Bring your own that suits your neck, because stiff necks are the worst.
    2. Stay hydrated. Fill your water bottle after Customs and ask for water whenever possible to prevent throat dryness. Use lip balms, eye drops, and even nasal sprays.
    3. Move around. Consider choosing aisle seats or seats with more legroom. Stretch or walk around while waiting for restrooms. This movement helps with blood circulation and reduces the risks of blot clots.
    4. Get upgraded. If you will be traveling frequently, consider using the same credit cards or airlines to add the miles! Once upgraded, you can enjoy a more leg room, a better place to layover, and more.

Jet lag happens easily, but there are always ways to prepare for it. Now, with these tips, you will show the best version of yourself in the international conferences, make the most of the foreign vacations, and cherish all your time with the family and friends in your hometown.


1. Ito E, Inoue Y. The International Classification of Sleep Disorders, third edition. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Includes bibliographies and index. Nihon rinshō. 2015;73:916-923.

2. Julie Weed. Jet lag: Get back in the rhythm. The New York Times. Aug. 4, 2023.

3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Melatonin: What You Need To Know. Available at: Accessed March 2, 2024.