The head-spinning, mouth-drying, bone-crushing fatigue of jet lag is enough to make anyone think twice about changing time zones. But sometimes, traveling is worth the suffering — or, it's just unavoidable. So we quizzed Stanford sleep expert Jamie Zeitzer about how to minimize the misery of jet lag.
The body operates on a biological schedule known as the circadian clock. Seeing daylight at specific times of day helps set this clock — but it's slow to adjust when we rapidly jet across time zones. That lag accounts for some of the nighttime sleeplessness and daytime sluggishness we experience while traveling, Zeitzer says. Packing into an airplane and eating unusual food at unusual times probably doesn't help much, either. "There are so many things that are going wrong at once," he says.
Some people withstand jet lag better than others — possibly because they may be more sensitive to light, they're simply better at falling asleep, or they're just more tolerant of discomfort. It's also somewhat less painful adjusting to time zone shifts when traveling from east to west, than from west to east. That's because the body's drive to stay awake is strongest in the hours before you typically go to sleep. So trying to fall asleep at 11 PM in New York when your body is telling you that it's 8 PM in California is much harder than staying up later on trips in the opposite direction.
So, what does that mean for your next trip? Here's what we learned:
The following interview has been edited and condensed.