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How to Get Over Jet Lag with Acupuncture and Natural Remedies

Published | 7 min read

Crossing time zones brings the excitement of travel and the dread of jet lag. Here are some ways to beat your travel blues.

Woman yawning and tired due to jet lag, sitting on an airline seat

With Malaysia seeing a jump in international travel by about 48% since border reopening, you may be thinking about how to beat jet lag while planning your next overseas getaway. Fatigue and insomnia due to a disrupted circadian rhythm are the most common jet lag symptoms that can certainly ruin your travel plans. Find out why jet lag happens and how you can address it with these tips and remedies.

What is Jet Lag and What are the Symptoms? 

Jet lag can cause a change in your circadian rhythm, in which your body’s “internal clock” that regulates your sleep, hormones, and other bodily functions is disrupted. It’s called “jet lag” because it is caused by the sudden change in time zones that confuses your body due to the speed at which you move across different time zones when flying on commercial jet aeroplanes. 

Your internal clock is guided by complex workings within your body. It also takes cues from the external environment, such as how much and when light enters your eyes. It will then send a message to your brain to decrease melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep. Health experts and researchers agree that flying eastward generally causes more severe jet lag symptoms as it is harder for your body to go to sleep earlier than to stay up later.

A man sleeping while sitting in an airport waiting room
Jet lag is the effect of having your circadian rhythm thrown off due to long-haul flights that cross several time zones.

Jet lag symptoms include one or more of the following: 

  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue 
  • Severe drowsiness and falling asleep during the day 
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration 
  • Headaches 
  • Digestive problems such as poor appetite, constipation, or diarrhoea 
  • Irritability or unable to enjoy what you’re doing 
  • Generally feeling out of sorts 

How to Beat Jet Lag 

The good news is that while there is technically no cure, jet lag eventually resolves itself without medical treatment. However, you can do things to shorten the time it takes for your body to synchronise so that you fall back into your natural circadian rhythm. 

Start phase-shifting before travel 

Before travelling, train your body to shift to the time zone you’re travelling to. For example, if your destination is 3 hours ahead of your home time zone, start winding down to sleep three hours earlier than usual, leading up to your travel time. 

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation shows that light flashes administered during sleep can influence the circadian rhythm and reduce jet lag, more so than continuous light (meaning dependence on natural daylight can be manipulated for phase-shifting). 

Prioritise quality sleep  

Make sure to prioritise quality sleep before, during, and after your travel time. Sleep is when your body rests and renews, so don’t skimp just because you’re travelling. And yes, this means not watching too many in-demand movies on the flight’s entertainment system and making sure you get some good shuteye. 

Keep hydrated  

Staying hydrated ensures your body adapts to different time zones better when you put it through the stress of travel. Mild dehydration can happen when travelling and it worsens the symptoms of jet lag. Drinking enough water can be harder when you’re rushing for your flight, so pay special attention. Avoid drinks that are dehydrating, like coffee and alcohol. 

Avoid heavy meals or new foods  

Your digestive system doesn’t need the extra burden when having to adjust to a new time zone. You’ll reduce some jet lag symptoms such as an upset stomach, poor sleep and bloating if you avoid heavy meals or trying new foods. Eat smaller, simpler meals with enough calories and nutrition. 

Keep moving

As much as possible, try to have adequate movement and exercise while travelling because it will help you sleep better. Walk up and down the cabin aisle to keep your circulation going optimally. You can even do simple exercises in your seat, such as head rolls, neck turns, knee tucks and arm bends. 

Get some sun when it’s daytime, and sleep when it’s night at your destination 

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, try to be outside when it’s daytime, even when you’re tired. If there is a nearby park, have a gentle walk or sit on the grass there. Even sitting out on your hotel balcony would help your body acclimate to the new location. As much as you can, try to sleep at your usual bedtime. You may consider a melatonin supplement to help you fall asleep but speak with your doctor first about potential side effects

Treating Jet Lag Symptoms with TCM

Dried jujube seeds on white background
Jujube seeds is a herb known to help with insomnia due to its calming and relaxing properties.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Anita Pee, “jet lag in TCM is understood as the body’s activities not being in sync with the rising and falling of the sun, in other words, the natural yin and yang rhythm of the day”. As TCM is primarily concerned with restoring qi and balance, it offers many ways to help beat jet lag, such as acupuncture and herbs. TCM foods like the traditional essence of chicken are good to help your body heal. 

Acupressure massage for jet lag 

Physician Pee shares some acupoints that can help to relieve jet lag symptoms: 

  • Fatigue and poor concentration – Bai hui (GV20, 百会) and yin tang (EX-HN3, 印堂) 
  • Insomnia – Nei guan (P6, 内关) and shen men (HT7, 神门) 
  • Headaches, neck pain, and insomnia – Feng chi (GB20, 风池) and an mian (EX-HN16, 安眠) 
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort – Zu san li (ST36, 足三里)  

Herbal remedies for jet lag 

Herbs are another TCM modality to consider. A meta-analysis published in the journal titled Frontiers in Pharmacology demonstrated that jujube seeds (suan zao ren, 酸枣仁) works better than the placebo and is comparable to diazepam. The drug is usually prescribed as a relaxant and to enable sleep.

Below is a list of TCM herbs for your jet lag symptoms. As usual, do consult a TCM physician on whether you and your children can take these herbal formulas. Certain dosages and herbs have varying effects on different body constitutions: 

  • Insomnia – Jujube seeds, arborvitae seed (bo zi ren, 柏子仁) or herbal formula Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan (天王补心丹) 
  • Fatigue – Astragalus (huang qi, 黄芪) and atracylodes (bai zhu, 白术) 
  • Dehydration or dryness of skin, nose, throat – Ghlenia root (sha shen, 沙参), ophiogon tuber, (mai dong, 麦冬), and Solomon’s Seal Rhizome (yu zhu, 玉竹) 
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort such as poor appetite and diarrhoea – Bao He Wan (保和丸) and Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan (藿香正气丸) 

Jet lag is usually unavoidable when travelling long distances, but these tips and remedies can help you recover more quickly so that you can spend more time enjoying your trip. Bookmark this article so you can refer to it the next time you’re getting ready to cross time zones.

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