Discovering a new destination—along with its food, people, and landmarks—can be an exciting experience that gets your adrenaline pumping. But getting there and back can be exhausting. Flying across a number of time zones at once can make any seasoned traveler feel the debilitating effects of jet lag, a sleep disorder that can also bring headaches and indigestion.
To see if there’s actually a cure for jet lag, four AFAR editors tested several treatments on their recent travels. From homeopathic pills to a Gwyneth Paltrow–backed technique, here’s what we found:
Aislyn Greene, AFAR senior editor
The idea behind fasting as a treatment for jet lag is that you refrain from eating or drinking anything other than water or herbal tea for roughly 16 hours before your plane lands. Then, once you’re in your new time zone, aim to eat your first big meal as close as possible to 7:30 a.m. (It’s easier on flights that land in the morning and more complicated if not. See this story for how to time your fast for flights to specific destinations.) The theory is that fasting can help reset the biological clock, staving off the usual jet lag slump.
I tested it on a work trip to Ireland last year, one in which I’d need to walk off the plane after a 10-hour flight from San Francisco and function right away in a pretty high-stress situation. Before I left, I ate a light breakfast and then fasted for about 17 hours. I was lucky to be on a flight that landed in the morning, so I was able to eat a decent breakfast at about 8 a.m., Ireland time.
The results: I felt good! Fasting means you avoid alcohol, caffeine, and the high-sugar, high-sodium foods that can make you feel crummy, so I wasn’t surprised that cutting those out made a difference. But I was surprised by how energized I felt after landing, despite the fact that I hadn’t slept much. I was tired by the end of my first day in Ireland but didn’t have that usual jet lag fog, headache, and exhaustion. I survived my work event—and then indulged mightily.
Would I use it again: Yes, in a situation in which I need to perform at a high level immediately after stepping off the plane. Which is not that often, so bring on the snack cart!
Maggie Fuller, AFAR associate editor
I’m a curious skeptic when it comes to aromatherapy. I don’t think it’s a miracle cure (no one claims it is), but on hard-to-handle days, my Saje stress release essential oil roll-on (from $27) smells nice and takes me out of things for a moment. Which is probably exactly the point.
Since I don’t like taking extra supplements when I travel, I decided to try an aromatherapy Jet Lag Recovery Kit ($47) from the Australia-based skincare company Sodashi on a recent trip to Borneo. The kit includes two travel-size bottles, one a gel and the other a mist. Both contain lemongrass and rosemary, which stimulate the mind and body and improve circulation; grapefruit, which tones and tightens the skin; and ginger, which aids the digestive system and helps relieve pain from muscular fatigue. Together, these ingredients were meant to reduce tiredness, brighten my complexion, keep the blood flowing (good for blood clot risk on airplanes), and help everything in my gut continue working well once I landed.
The instructions were simple—apply the gel to pulse points and the nape of the neck every three hours during travel and use the mist as often as required. (Apparently, topically applied aromatherapy works well because body heat activates the essential oils and helps them release their scent.)
Because both the flight there and back from California took about 23 hours, I didn’t relish the idea of waking up every three hours. But the routine of applying the cool gel to my wrists and temples made the flight almost spa-like. And packed like a sardine into a Boeing 777 alongside a bunch of other sweaty, snoring, farting folks, I started to look forward to the gel’s warm, grassy smell. I didn’t use the mist much, though; without a directive for regular application, I forgot about it.
The results: I arrived at my destination feeling fresh, if a little fazed by the lengthy flight. I can’t say that I didn’t drag in the afternoons over the next few days, but it was easier to settle into the time zone than I’d expected. And I can give the kit full marks for the digestive side of things.
I had less success on the way back. Again, none of the usual travel-related digestive issues, but it did take me a few exhausted days to get back on a good sleep schedule.
Would I use it again: Probably! It certainly made my in-flight experience more pleasant, which is half the battle when flying across a number of time zones. Something like this is likely more effective for shorter flights—say three to five hours—since it keeps one feeling and smelling fresh. But a trip to Borneo would have been a tall order for any jet lag remedy. In the end, I don’t think there’s a miracle cure for the way you feel after a 23-hour flight to the other side of the world.
Sara Button, AFAR assistant editor
Celebrities like British actress Naomie Harris and Gwyneth Paltrow swear by a treatment for jet lag known as “grounding,” also called “earthing.” The wellness therapy is purported to improve physical and mental health (including sleep) by walking or standing barefoot on the earth, whether it’s on grass, or sand, or even wading into the ocean. It doesn’t have to take long—20 minutes will do—and there are even grounding mats (from $70) if the outdoors aren’t accessible. According to proponents, connecting to the electrons on the earth’s surface supposedly allows the human body to do a bit of a re-set, possibly reducing inflammation and stress, among other benefits that scientists are only more recently starting to investigate.
I wanted to try it on a recent trip to Europe, because it seemed like a cost-effective and pleasant way to mitigate the effects of jet lag. In short, if it was good enough for Gwyneth, it’d be good enough for me. Upon landing in the Venice airport, though, I realized I probably should have invested in one of those mats. By the time I arrived at my hotel, it was almost 10 p.m. and the city’s few green spaces weren’t particularly close by or even open to the public. The concierge also strongly discouraged me from dangling my feet in the “filthy” Grand Canal. So I touched a plant in the hotel courtyard for five seconds in the hopes it might help and made it my mission to get to a park the next morning.
The following day, I spent about 45 minutes at the Parco delle Rimembranze with my bare feet on the grass. I liked that the grounding mission required me to find a part of the city I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise, even if I got a few confused looks from locals for having my shoes off on a 60-degree day.
The results: Scientifically, it’s impossible for me to know whether grounding had a direct effect on my sleep patterns, but I did sleep well that night and was on the right time zone for the entire trip. Upon my return to California, I managed to get to a neighborhood park within an hour of landing and sat for awhile in the sunshine, again barefoot in the park. I was a lot more tired traveling west, but I did manage to go to bed at a normal hour that day.
Would I use it again: If anything, grounding provides a good excuse to spend time outdoors in a pretty place, and that’s not a bad jet lag cure in my book.
Homeopathic No Jet Lag Pills
Sarah Buder, AFAR assistant editor
For someone who travels frequently, my go-to technique for overcoming jet lag is somewhat . . . underdeveloped. When I venture to a vastly different time zone, I usually turn to caffeine to work its magic until I’ve somewhat adjusted to the time difference. (Normally, a few servings of coffee throughout the day can keep my energy levels sufficient—combined, of course, with the extra supply of adrenaline that comes from visiting an unfamiliar place.) However, when I planned a trip to New Zealand from New York City, I decided that the intimidating 16-hour time difference marked an appropriate occasion for me to test a slightly more certified jet leg approach.
The London and New York–based wellness and beauty product brand The Organic Pharmacy offers a line of homeopathic No Jet Lag Pills ($19) that claim to prevent the sleeplessness and sluggishness often felt when your circadian rhythm is out of sync. Each palm-sized bottle holds 30 plant-derived arnica/cocculus tablets, which look more like miniature sugar candies than homeopathic pills. Arnica is an anti-inflammatory that can help with circulation and muscle pain; cocculus is said to help normalize stress and hunger levels, combat nausea, and improve alertness. The homeopathic jet leg tablets include these two herbal ingredients, as well as sucrose, a common sugar sourced from plants, and rye alcohol, an “inactive” ingredient used in the manufacturing process. (U.S. shoppers can purchase the product individually at The Organic Pharmacy’s New York location or online as part of the In-Flight Kit, which includes it along with five other homeopathic remedies, facial spritzes, and balms for $90.)
The directions for using the herbal pills successfully are simple. Before your flight, place one tablet on your tongue and let the tablet dissolve. Repeat this once every four hours during the flight and every 12 hours for two days after the flight. The remedy should be placed on the tongue at least 15 minutes apart from eating or drinking.
My trip from New York to New Zealand required a six-hour flight from New York to Los Angeles, followed by a 13-hour flight to Auckland. During the first leg of the trip I was regimented about ingesting the tablets on schedule, but I probably missed a few doses when I slept during portions of the flight from Los Angeles to Auckland. Still, once I landed in New Zealand, I continued to follow the instructions over the next 48 hours.
The results: I arrived in New Zealand feeling energetic, but it’s hard to tell whether this was the result of the remedy beginning to work or my excitement about the trip kicking in. I definitely felt disoriented during my first night in Wellington, but I was able to stay alert enough to enjoy my dinner reservation at the delicious Boulcott Street Bistro. I woke up before sunrise on my first few mornings in the country, but I was able to operate on New Zealand’s time zone almost immediately—and without immense difficulty. I’d consider that a success.
Would I use it again: I still have some tablets left over, so I’ll probably use them the next time I travel to a drastically different time zone. This remedy didn’t eliminate my jet lag entirely, but it did play a role in managing my energy as I adjusted to New Zealand’s time zone. If nothing else, taking the tablets every four hours forced me to check in with myself about how I was feeling at multiple points throughout the day. This ritual, in itself, helped my body adjust in a healthy way.
Katherine LaGrave, digital features editor
A week before my recent trip to Japan, my brother, who travels frequently for work, called with some advice: “You should set your alarm for 4 a.m. every morning and start eating dinner then,” he said, unhelpfully reminding me that Japan was 14 hours ahead of New York. I ignored him, but a few days before my flight, I panicked. I would be in Japan for 10 days, and I didn’t want to float between time zones in a glazed haze—I wanted to actually get on Tokyo time.
With the help of some creative colleagues, I settled on something so laughably simple I wondered why I hadn’t done it on earlier trips: Once I boarded my flight for Tokyo, I would simply switch my clocks to Japan time and ignore any mental flickers of What time is in in New York? or In New York, I’d be eating breakfast right now! And it actually kind of worked. I followed the airline’s cues and ate when it offered food, and closed my eyes when the lights were dimmed, even if I’d just eaten a large meal before boarding, and even if we were taking off at 10:30 in the morning and I shouldn’t theoretically be tired for at least another 12 hours. Tokyo time, baby!
The results: My eyes were burning when I landed, and I headed straight for a vending machine coffee after clearing customs and immigration around 4 p.m. But I avoided naps and took several walks, and within a day, short of going to bed an hour earlier than I would normally—11 instead of 12—and waking up an hour earlier than I would normally—6 instead of 7—I found I was somewhat, maybe, kinda acclimated. Turns out, the brain is pretty powerful.
Would I use it again: Absolutely. Can’t beat the price.
This article originally appeared online on July 31, 2019; it was updated on February 10, 2020, to include current information.