A sleepy man yawning with a neck pillow

Recovering from jetlag

Trips that cross time zones can be tough on some travellers, while others seem to almost laugh it off. Personally, I always need a few days to get into the swing of things—coming or going—after I arrive somewhere.

Worst of all for me is when I’m going to Asia, where differences of 10 hours and more can throw my cycle totally out of whack. The nine-and-a-half-hour difference between New Delhi and Quebec City for me means days of waking up in the middle of the night with the munchies or fighting off sudden yearnings for a nap that can strike anytime and anywhere. Fortunately there are some things you can do to speed up the adjustment.

What exactly is jetlag?

Jetlag is what happens when your body clock gets out of sync and can cause an array of physical and psychological symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue and sleepiness
  • Early waking
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of appetite

Your age, physical condition, and daily routine can affect the intensity of your symptoms too.

The biggest factor however is how many time zones you cross, either eastwards or westwards. The more time zones you fly over, the more likely you are to be jetlagged. Trips to destinations due north or south of your point of departure are generally a lot easier on your body clock, since you don’t change time zones.

It’s also easier to get in sync with local clocks when you travel westward. That’s because it’s easier for your system to adjust to a later bedtime than to an earlier one. Conversely, more adjustment time is needed on eastward voyages.


Tips for defanging jetlag

Before departure

  • Your body clock responds better to a series of gradual changes than to wrenching transformations. So before your departure, start eating and going to bed an hour or two earlier or later than usual. That way your transition will already be underway by the time you touch down.
  • Make sure you’re well rested on departure day. Piling a backlog of fatigue onto your jetlag certainly won’t help you acclimate.
  • For shorter trips, it makes sense to pick a destination that’s not too many time zones away. No point in wasting half the time you’ve got recovering from jetlag. Save the places with big time differences for your more epic adventures.

On your trip

  • In the plane and after arrival, stay hydrated.
  • Avoid coffee and alcohol, which can throw your sleep cycle off even more.
  • Exercise promotes restorative sleep. So up and at ‘em!
  • Maintain your normal amount of sleep per 24-hour period.
  • Let your body take its cue from the sun, and follow the sequence of daylight and darkness your destination provides. Personally, that’s what makes the most difference for me.

Allow two to three days of recovery time each way per time difference of about six hours. That means it’s normal to take a week to adjust to the biggest time differences.

Gabrielle Asselin