Tired of Insomnia? 10 Natural Ways to Overcome Jet Lag

Jet lag causes insomnia, disrupts the sleep you do get, and even makes you feel sick. How do you sleep when you’re jet lagged from traveling across different time zones? These natural remedies from four sleep experts will help you fall asleep – and stay sleeping! These sleep tips are especially helpful for travelers who don’t want to take over-the-counter sleeping pills.

My husband – a geologist – often travels to Mexico for work. He’s one of the lucky ones, though; he doesn’t have a problem with jet lag because Mexico is only one time zone away. It was a whole different story when we traveled to Croatia, though. And Israel! We both had a hard time sleeping because the jet lag was terrible. Some travelers (like my husband) can take over-the-counter sleeping pills and wake up feeling fine the next day, but I can’t.

On my last trip to Nepal, I realized that it’s not just crossing time zones that causes jet lag. Jet lag can also be caused by spending a couple nights on the road in a bus that wasn’t built for sleep (or speed!). When I wrote 12 Tips for Taking Tourist Buses in Nepal I wasn’t thinking of trying to get good sleep, but these natural remedies for jet lag will help in situations like that, too.

How do you sleep when you’re jet lagged? If you’re like me, you’re reluctant to use over-the-counter sleeping pills or even natural sleep aids. They don’t sit well with me; even if I only take half a tablet the grogginess lasts until at least noon the next day. When we went to Austria I took Sleep Tabs and Night-time Sleep-Aid – which work really well for lots of travelers! But I find them too effective. Those sleeping pills are so effective that I slept for almost two whole days. Now that I’m a lot older and a little wiser, I realize I should’ve only taken half a tablet to start. I weigh less than 100 pounds; a full natural sleep aid is too strong for me.

Despite the effectiveness and popularity of over-the-counter sleep remedies, we can’t rely on sleeping pills to help us overcome jet lag. These natural remedies for jet lagged travelers are from four sleep experts: a psychologist, a yogi, a sleep doctor, and a hotel manager (who knows a surprising amount about insomnia!).

Two things to remember about jet lag and these natural sleep remedies:

  1. What helps me fall asleep fast may not work for you. Try one sleep remedy at a time before deciding whether or not it works for you.
  2. Check with your doctor before taking any natural supplements for for sleepless nights. Even taking melatonin for sleep can have a negative effect on your health, especially if you’re taking prescription medications or other natural supplements.

If you’re taking over-the-counter sleeping pills or natural sleep aids to help you sleep when you’re jet lagged, start with little doses at a time.

10 Natural Ways to Overcome Jet Lag and Sleep Well Tonight

How to Sleep When You’re Jet Lagged Without Taking Sleeping Pills
How to Sleep When You’re Jet Lagged

One of the most important natural remedies for sleep is melatonin. It’s your “sleep hormone.” If your melatonin levels are low, you won’t sleep well. Below are a few ways to increase melatonin for sleep – as well as tips for falling asleep without tinkering with your hormone levels.

I avoid prescription sleeping pills or over-the-counter sleep tablets because they make me feel sluggish and tired for too long – even a day or two after I take half a tablet. I tried taking a quarter of a melatonin (a natural sleep aid that helps travelers and night shift workers sleep when jet lagged), but it didn’t work any better than the over-counter sleep aids.

These natural sleep remedies are worth considering even if you’ve already tried them. Our bodies change as we age; different sleep tips are helpful at different times in our lives.

1. “What, me worry?”

“Many folks have trouble getting to sleep because their thoughts race or they begin worrying,” says Dr Katherine Muller, Psy.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“For this problem, I use a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called ‘worry time.’ About a hour before you want to sleep, sit down with paper and a pen and ‘download’ all of your current worries onto paper.  Try your best to worry for 20 minutes and jot down everything that comes to mind. When the 20 minutes are up, leave the list of worries where it is and proceed with your nightly routine for bed. This technique seems to help people temporarily let go of the concerns they chew on when trying to sleep.”

My spiritual spin on this natural sleep remedy: Use your travel journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and even your prayers. If you can’t sleep because of jet lag, you may feel overwhelmed with other worries or fears. When you’re tired everything seems worse than it really is! Writing can be a healthy, calming way to sort through your feelings and make smart decisions.

If you don’t have a journal, read 10 Best Travel Journals for Solo and Group Trips.

2. Sesame oil – a natural way to fall asleep

You don’t have to travel to India to explore this natural, healthy way to sleep when you’re jet lagged! Ayurvedic medicine has been used as a natural sleep remedy for literally ages. Sesame oils isn’t just a surprising sleep aid but a great balm for aching, tired, dry feet! Gently rub sesame oil into the bottoms of your feet just as you get into bed. The sesame oil will help calm your system and overcome jet lag naturally. Sesame oil can help you fall asleep faster and stay sleeping all night long, which will help your body adjust to the changing time zones.

how to sleep when you are jet lagged
Sesame oil – a natural way to fall asleep

The aroma of sesame oil produces a calming sensation that relaxes both your mind and body, which helps you fall asleep naturally. Develop a routine of rubbing sesame oil into your feet every night – even if you’re not fighting jet lag right now. Getting into this habit – or any sleep routine you do every night – will teach your mind and body that it’s time to wind down and sleep as soon as you do it. This will help you sleep even if you don’t have jet lag.

Banyan Botanicals Sesame Oil, Certified Organic is a popular, safe, inexpensive way to start a new bedtime ritual (and it may even help you sleep without taking sleeping pills). I’ve read that sesame oil is the most traditional of all the oils used in Ayurvedic medicine and healing.

Sesame oil as a natural sleep remedy also has a practical tip: the foot of the bed tends to be the coldest area of the space. Warming your feet will help you relax and fall asleep faster. Warm feet and the scent of sesame oil will cause your eyes to droop and your heart rate to slow. This is a good, healthy, natural way to fall asleep – especially if you give your body and mind time to adapt to this new bedtime routine.

3. Aromatherapy (a surprisingly effective sleep remedy for some jet lagged travelers)

Try a combination of lavender, chamomile, and jasmine oils, which have all been used since ancient times to as natural remedies. They can reduce anxiety, stress, tension, sleeplessness, and headaches. These oils may be lightly dabbed on the pillowcase or over pressure points like the wrist and neck, and they might help you stay sleeping all night.

My spiritual spin on this sleep tip: Combine aromatherapy, prayer and a very light, mild incense. If you want to learn how to sleep with jet lag without taking sleeping pills, read The Powerful Benefits of the Best Types of Incense to learn more about this ancient spiritual practice.

4. Melatonin – a natural aid to help you sleep with jet lag

Melatonin is your body’s own natural sleep hormone, and is involved in sleep, depression, and anxiety. It also affects brain activity. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain when there is no light. Melatonin regulates sleep and circadian rhythms – and if you don’t have enough melatonin, you won’t sleep well. People over 60 years old often have low melatonin levels. This explains why elderly people don’t sleep as much as they did when they were younger. And an elderly traveler with jet lag? Sleepless nights all round!

Taking melatonin supplements can help you sleep through jet lag. Melatonin supplements aren’t over-the-counter sleeping pills, but they can be purchased at pharmacies and grocery stores. The dose is typically 3-10 mg per night until your body has adjusted to the time zone and you’re getting a good night’s sleep. If you aren’t falling asleep or getting better sleep, then melatonin may not be the natural sleep remedy for your for sleepless nights. Melatonin is good for travelers overcoming jet lag or shift workers who need to recover from sleep deprivation. It helps people regain a normal day night sleep cycle, and a melatonin supplement may help people over 60 who may have reduced melatonin levels.

Melatonin doesn’t affect every jet lagged traveler the same way. My husband can take a couple of tablets and not fall asleep. I, on the other hand, can take half a tablet and sleep for days. I didn’t like the grogginess, though, and don’t take melatonin to sleep even when I’m jet lagged. Melatonin isn’t just a natural sleep remedy for travelers; it helps shift workers who are trying to overcome “jet lag” every day. Night shift work has the same physical and cognitive effects as crossing time zones.

5. A children’s sleep aid and stress relief for sensitive travelers

If you’re a parent traveling with kids, you’re not the only one who needs to sleep even with jet lag! You don’t want to take sleeping pills (or give them to your kids), but you do want to get good sleep. Child-friendly natural sleep aids may help you fall asleep and wake up feeling great even if they don’t totally cure your jet lag.

How to Sleep Without Taking Sleeping Pills When You're Jet Lagged
How to Sleep With Jet Lag Without Sleeping Pills

For example, Bach Rescue Sleep Liquid Melts are dissolvable capsules help kids and adults fall asleep faster. They don’t have negative or unhealthy interactions with other medicine or herbs. Back Rescue Sleep tablets (or dissolvable capsules or spray) contain a blend of six bach flower essences including white chestnut which helps to calm the racing mind.

“I often recommend Rescue Sleep to my patients as a safe, natural, non-narcotic solution to combat their stress levels and help with sleeplessness,” says Dr Ronald Stram, M.D., founder of The Stram Center for Integrative Medicine.

6. Cherries? To help you sleep with jet lag?

“Dried cherries are chock-full of melatonin – even more so than fresh cherries,” says Ericka Nelson, general manager of 70 Park Avenue Hotel in New York City. “Scientific studies have proven that eating dried cherries an hour before bedtime promotes a restful sleep.”

I’m not convinced that eating cherries is an effective tip on how to sleep when you’re jet lagged. Cherries don’t involve taking sleeping pills, which is good…but I’m not convinced. I found this sleep tip in an old interview I did for a health magazine. I thought I’d include it because it is natural and years ago there was a research study or two that said cherries are a natural remedy for sleep. However, I don’t think there is enough melatonin or anything sleep-promoting in cherries to actually help a traveler with jet lag fall asleep. I included it as a possibility, though, because you just never know.

7. Warm socks to lull you to sleep

“Soak your feet in a very warm to hot Epsom salt foot bath for about 10-15 minutes (one cup of Epsom salt per 2 gallons of water),” says Dr Stram. “Prepare your bed with a towel by your feet, take ankle socks and soak in very cold water, wring them out so they are damp dry and place them on your feet, then place thermal socks over the ankle socks and go to bed. Your feet will dry after a few hours, and the blood flow will warm your feet.”

Which reminds me of the one of the first natural sleep remedies to help you overcome jet lag: massage sesame oil into your feet. I believe the habit, rhythm or practice of a nightly ritual will help you fall asleep faster. If you have an evening rhythm, your body will start winding down when it’s time. This rhythm may not overcome jet lag, but it will help you relax when you’re traveling into a new time zone…or when you just want to fall asleep fast and stay sleeping all night long.

8. A memory foam pillow – one of the best natural tips for sleeping with jet lag

falling asleep with jet lag
Bamboo Sleep Pillow to Help Overcome Jet Lag

My Bamboo Shredded Memory Foam Bed Pillow helps me fall asleep fast and stay sleeping all night, but it didn’t help me sleep when I was jet lagged in Kathmandu, Nepal! I took my little airplane pillow, but not my big, heavier pillow. It’s too heavy and bulky to travel with, but it does help me sleep even when I have jet lag.

If you’re a woman over 50 and in perimenopause or menopause (like I am), you may not like a memory foam pillow. In fact, memory foam pillows can disrupt sleep for women who are coping with hot flashes and night sweats. Memory foam tends to hold in heat – which is great for women who are cold at night. I like my memory foam pillow because I no longer get hot flashes.

9. The turkey tip for good sleep? A big fat myth!

Rumor has it that turkey can help travelers sleep even when they’re jet lagged. And not a sleeping pill in sight! Some research studies claim that the tryptophan in turkey was one of the most effective food-based natural remedies for sleep. Turkey contains a natural sleep-inducing chemical called tryptophan – and so do bananas, dates, warm milk, chicken, eggs, tofu, and dairy products. Increasing tryptophan may help to normalize sleep patterns. Tryptophan is an amino acid and a natural sleep sedative that might help you sleep with jet lag.

I’ve also learned that most travelers can’t eat enough turkey to actually absorb enough tryptophan to help them fall asleep – much less overcome jet lag. But, you would do well to avoid foods that contain the amino acids tyramine and tyrosine, because they stimulate the release of adrenaline (epinephrine) in the body. Foods containing tyramine include bacon, ham and sausage, aged cheeses, cocoa products, eggplant, and potatoes.

10. Talk or write to God

When I’m not jet lagged, I sleep great! I have to sleep well because I have ulcerative colitis, and it flares if I’m sleep deprived. One night of no or poor sleep can start a downward spiral into a nasty flare-up, and getting back into remission is really hard.

My “secret” remedy for natural sleep is prayer. I love God, and I feel peaceful and secure when I pray. I sink into His presence at night, especially when I can’t sleep. I’m a little ashamed of how fast I fall asleep when I pray, though – I feel like I’m ripping God off from spending quality time with me! :-) I don’t know where you’re at with God, but if you haven’t tried prayer…maybe it’s something to think about the next time you have a sleepless night.

When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?

Getting good sleep doesn’t just make you feel happy and healthy, it also protects your heart. Research from the European Society of Cardiology shows that a good night’s sleep can increase the benefit of exercise, healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption and non-smoking in their protection against cardiovascular disease.

What do you think? If you have any tips on how to sleep without taking sleeping pills when you’re jet lagged, please share below! We love travel tips and tools :-)

If you gained weight in addition to a bad case of jet lag, read Did Your Vacation Make You Chubby? 13 Weight Loss Tips.

Travel in faith, and be transformed.

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18 thoughts on “Tired of Insomnia? 10 Natural Ways to Overcome Jet Lag”

  1. “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” ~ Lin Yutang.

  2. I appreciate hearing about these natural sleep remedies Laurie. I, for sure, need to do more epsom salt baths for my feet as my ankles have been swelling recently. I’m not jet lagged right now but I travel a lot. And I didn’t know the feet were the coldest part of the body, though I almost always wear socks in bed. I’m going to attempt some of these as I can certainly use a good night’s sleep after all my sleepless nights! :)

  3. I like your advice on praying and thus getting a good night’s sleep.
    It’s just that I am oh so weak from not sleeping that I cannot even do that sometimes.
    I just desperately call on the Lord during sleepless nights.
    Please remember all of us in your prayers.

  4. Another great option that I’d include is losing weight. Often sleeplessness is caused from being overweight (although it could also be sleep apnea which needs to be checked out by a doctor). Those may not seem like factors associated with jet lag, but they do affect your health. And if your health is affected, so is your ability to overcome jet lag and get to sleep.

  5. Hi Laurie – I hope you had a fantastic time in Nepal despite the jet lag and lack of sleep. Sleep is an issue for me from time to time regardless of travel. I’m too sensitive to drugs/medication to use an over the counter or prescriptive sleep aid, but I have found melatonin helpful so you may want to try it. I only need half a tablet – I have more vivid dreams but don’t feel groggy the next day.

    Another thing I use is a Bach flower remedy similar to rescue remedy called, sleep remedy. And something else to try is essential oils of lavendar and/or chamomile. If I have a massage with lavender oil (from hubby or just myself) it not only relaxes me, but the lavender (or chamomile) helps to relax me even further so I can go to sleep – even just massaging into my feet (it absorbs easily into the body that way) is useful.

  6. When I can’t sleep, I focus on my breathing. I listen to myself inhaling and exhaling, and the next thing I know, it’s morning! Honestly, it’s the best natural sleep remedy I know. I just discovered it a few months ago, and would’ve put it as the first natural sleep tip if I knew then what I know now!

  7. My grandfather is fond of ayurvedic medicines because they work well for him. He traveled alot to India and was almost always jet lagged. But he slept anyway.

  8. Don’t watch tv or work on the computer before bedtime — and never in your bedroom! I’m a sound sleep and usually fall asleep quickly, but when I watch tv in bed or work on my blogs before bedtime I always have a hard time sleeping.

  9. With the hectic pace of life that is typical of the modern days, it can be really difficult to get the adequate amount of sleep. Sleeping has many benefits for our health, so I do think that we should do what we can to sleep more. These tips might be exactly what we need. A comfortable bed will help them work even better.

  10. Getting a good night’s sleep is the most important thing in life and for your health. These are good tips for travelers who are jet lagged. I’m going to Russia soon and will use them..

  11. Actually i am in depression.i can’t sleep during night . Actually i loved a guy then i proposed then he said no. i changed my mind. After few years we became a good friends but i had a fear that if i continue his friendship i again fall in love . i said to him he had mistaken me. actually i promised god that i will be a good friend to him. anyway he broken my friendship. i feel guilty for what i have done .because of the fear i do know what to do my sleep started to spoil plz send me some reply.plz help me out

  12. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your tip, Tyler. Yes, I can see how hiding LED lights could work to help you fall asleep faster. I’ve also heard that people put heavy black blankets over their windows to cut out all the light, and even some street noise.

    My husband is like you: out cold ten minutes after hitting the pillow! You’re lucky, lucky men :-)

  13. Great article. I just posted some tips of my own on my blog that have worked really well. I’m lucky enough to be one of those people that is out cold ten minutes after hitting the pillow.

    Biggest thing that has helped me: use black electrical tape to hide any LED lights on your electronics. Has worked like a charm for me!

    Tyler

  14. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Has your son ever tried naturopathic or natural ways to fall asleep? I think acupuncture is supposed to be good for relaxation and even insomnia.

  15. Some people just never get a good night’s sleep! My 16 year old son hasn’t slept well since he was a baby — since he was in the womb, really. He’s a light sleeper and he always will be.

  16. If you fall asleep fast but wake up after a few hours — don’t watch your clock! Put a cloth over it, so you can’t see what time it is. If you see that it’s 2 or 3 am, then you’ll get frustrated and worried about not being able to sleep…which won’t help you fall back to sleep.

    And here’s another sleep tip from a bestselling author:

    “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying,” says Dale Carnegie. “It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.”

    Even if it’s the middle of the night – don’t just lie there. Have a glass of warm milk, or read a book in your living room.

    I hope these tips help a little, Sue….I know how frustrating it is to wake up and not be able to get back to sleep.

    I also wrote an article for Suite101, called “If You Can’t Fall Asleep Fast: 78 Things to Do When You’re Struggling With Insomnia” — and I list all sorts of activities when you can’t sleep, from giving yourself a pedicure to listening to talk radio.

    And I’ve posted a bunch of great info on sleeping better and snoring less by Dr Steven Y Park. The link is just above, the article is called “Tips for Sleeping Better and Snoring Less.” There might something in there that’ll help you get back to sleep.

    Good luck, and happy sleeping!
    Laurie