Natural Treatments for Jet Lag

By Dr. Mao Shing Ni


THE HUMAN BODY LONG AGO DEVELOPED an internal clock that harmonizes biological functions, such as sleeping and waking up, with regular environmental changes, such as the sun rising and setting. The daily, cyclical changes that occur in us follow the energy rotation of the universe. The cycles known as the circadian rhythm - which regulate your body’s natural cycles, such as appetite, sleep, and mood- are controlled mainly by light.[1] If you travel over large distances to the east or west, you’ll cross through different time zones, but your internal clock will want to continue on its usual schedule.


This conflict creates the condition we call jet lag. Symptoms can include fatigue, light-headedness, sleep disruption, cognitive problems (such as loss of short-term memory), inability to concentrate, and digestive irregularities, including diarrhea and constipation. Although not referred to as jet lag, these symptoms are also common in people who work night shifts.[5]


Since ancient times, Chinese medicine has recognized the existence of a bioenergetic clock. Within this clock, energy is the fullest in certain organ networks at certain times of the day. For example, the spleen-pancreas-stomach network is at its peak energy from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. Eating breakfast is critical because the body digests and absorbs nutrients best in the morning. Chinese medicine practitioners have long believed that respect for nature’s cycles brings health, and violation of its rhythms leads to disease. Biochemical changes occur when humans transgress the natural behavior patterns associated with the division of night and day. When the body’s rhythm is off kilter, energy flow becomes disorderly, and body functions fall out of balance. The key to reducing the symptoms of jet lag is to restore energy flow and to quickly return balance to the body’s circadian rhythm.


I’ve helped many patients prevent and recover from jet lag through acupuncture, herbal therapy, exercise, meditation techniques, and light exposure. Often acupuncture will immediately induce the brain to release endorphins, resetting the autonomic nervous system, which regulates many of the rhythmic functions of the body. Herbs, timing and selection of food, and exercise are critical in supporting internal consistency. I also ask my patients who travel across time zones to get as much natural light as possible by not wearing sunglasses and by working or sitting near windows. Many of them are now happy travelers because they suffer from little or no jet lag.





  1. I encourage eating foods rich in B vitamins, which help the functioning of the neurological system. These include parsley, broccoli, beets, turnips, mustard greens, brewer’s yeast, bananas, endive, spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, bell peppers, lentils, fish, strawberries, peppermint, eggs, asparagus, royal jelly, and mung beans. [7]
  2. Foods rich in tryptophan, including nuts, beans, and fish, are also useful.
  3. Drink plenty of water, as dehydration is one of the most common results of prolonged travel.
  4. Avoid dairy products; cold, raw foods; greasy, fatty foods; and spicy foods.
  5. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can dehydrate you and worsen the condition, and deplete the body’s yin.





  1. Take an Epsom salt bath for 15 to 20 minutes before bedtime.
  2. Add 2 drops of rosemary oil to 1 cup of warm water and drink in the evening 2 hours before bedtime.
  3. Get outdoors or be near windows to expose your eyes to light, not necessarily the sun, during the daytime and wear an eye mask to sleep.





  1. Melatonin helps regulate the human biological clock and reduces jet lag. Take 3 to 5 milligrams in the evening. Start the night before your trip and continue for 2 or 3 consecutive nights.
  2. The amino acid tyrosine (150 milligrams) improves alertness and cognitive function; take it in the morning.
  3. Vitamin B complex is helpful for supporting healthy nervous system function.





Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation.

  1. Drink a tea made from licorice and goji berries to help support kidney and adrenal functions, which are critical for supporting healthy neurochemical balance. Make tea by boiling 1 teaspoon licorice and 1 tablespoon goji in 3 1/2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain, and drink 3 cups daily.
  2. The herbal formulation Mood Elevation addresses symptoms of insomnia, depression, restlessness, absent-mindedness and moodiness. It contains Licorice root & rhizome, Wheat, Poria sclerotium, Lily bulb and Silk Tree bark.
  3. Valerian and chamomile teas are good for relaxing and regulating sleep. They are best taken at night.
  4. Essential oils of lavender, geranium, and rosemary are useful for treating jet lag. Massage them into the Inner Gate acupressure points (shown at the bottom of this page) or your temples.
  5. The traditional Chinese herbal formulation
    Super Clarity addresses symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, excessive worry, stress, poor memory and lack of focus. It contains Ginkgo Leaf, Sharp-Leaf Galangal Fruit, Schisandra Fruit, Oriental Arborvitae Seed, Asian Ginseng Root, Dong Quai, Jujube Seed, Lycium Fruit, Rehmannia Tuber, Chinese Asparagus Root Tuber and Asian Water Plantain Rhizome.
  6. Other Chinese herbal therapy for symptoms of jet lag includes ginseng, jujube, longan, biota, reishi mushroom, wheatberries, poria, and lily. These herbs are used to nourish heart yin and calm irritability.





Physical activity is important for mitigating jet lag. Be sure to remain active in the days before travel. Do some stretching exercises while you’re in the air. Upon arrival, take a walk outdoors. Expose yourself to sunlight until the evening to inhibit release of the hormone melatonin, which plays an important role in the biological clock. This way, melatonin will naturally release after sundown.


The following is a simple Dao In Qi Gong exercise to help with jet lag, called Immortal Imitating the Lazy Tiger Stretching. Do this exercise when you get to your destination and for a a few days after arrival to help regulate your body’s natural rhythms.[6]

  1. Lie on your stomach in a push-up position with your arms bent, hands under your shoulders, and your chin tilted up.
  2. Inhale and straighten both arms, raising your torso and lifting your chin up while your legs rest on the floor.
  3. Exhale, and with your arms straight, move your body back, bending your knees until your buttocks are over your feet.
  4. Inhale and move forward with your arms straight, returning to the same position as when you first raised your torso off the ground.
  5. Repeat for a total of 3 times.
  6. Next, on an exhale, move your body halfway back and place your forearms on the floor. You should now be resting on your knees and forearms, as if you were crawling.
  7. Move off your knees and onto the balls of your feet. Inhale, and with your legs straight, raise your buttocks up, bending your body to form an inverted V. Your head should be between your elbows.
  8. Exhale and lower your body, keeping your legs straight and allowing your head to move forward until your body is parallel to the floor. Lift your chin up and don’t let your legs touch the floor.
  9. Repeat the steps in the two previous paragraphs for a total of 3 times.
  10. Inhale, and with your legs straight, raise your buttocks up, bending your body to form an inverted V again.
  11. Exhale, placing your head on the floor between your elbows. Slowly shift your weight onto your head.
  12. Place your hands over your tailbone and clasp your hands with your palms up. Remain in this position for about 10 seconds, breathing naturally.
  13. Move your hands down by your shoulders, with your palms on the floor.
  14. Inhale and straighten your arms, raising your body and keeping your legs straight.
  15. Bending your knees, lower your body into a crawling position. You should be on your knees, with your hands and feet remaining in the previous position.
  16. Exhale, and with your arms straight, move your body back, bending your knees until your buttocks are over your feet.
  17. Move your hands slightly forward. Inhale and shift onto the balls of your feet, and, straightening your arms and legs, raise your body to form an inverted V.
  18. Exhale, and while keeping your legs straight, bend your elbows to lower your body so that it’s parallel with the floor in a low push-up position. Then straighten your elbows, arch your back, and raise your upper body. Lift your chin and look up.
  19. Inhale and bend your elbows, lowering your head and upper body, and returning to a low push-up position. Then, straightening your arms, raise your buttocks up to form an inverted V. Rise as high as you can.
  20. Repeat the steps in the previous two paragraphs for a total of 3 times.

If you find yourself losing your breath, take frequent breaks.





  1. Find the acupoint Inner Gate (P-6), three finger-widths above the right wrist crease, between the two tendons on the inside of the forearm. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb or index finger until you feel soreness. Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on the left arm.
  2. Find the acupoint Foot Three Miles (ST-36), four fingerwidths below the kneecap on the right leg. Apply moderate pressure with your thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 5 minutes. Repeat on the left leg.

Engaging both of these points helps calm the mind, regulate sleep, and increase qi.






  1. Alcohol and caffeine, as they severely deplete the yin of the body and can cause dehydration.
  2. Sleeping pills, as they slow down your body’s ability to adjust to the new time zone. Consult your physician for alternatives.




  1. Baker, S. M., and K. Baar. The Circadian Prescription: Get in Step with Your Body's Natural Rhythms to Maximize Energy, Vitality and Longevity. New York: Berkley, 2000.
  2. Balch, P.A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 4th ed. New York: Avery, 2006.
  3. Beers, M.H., and R. Berkow, eds. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 17th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research, 1999.
  4. Benskey, D., and R. Barolet. Chinese Herbal Medicine Formulas and Strategies. Seattle: Eastland, 2000.
  5. Ehret, C. F. Overcoming Jetlag. New York: Berkley, 1987.
  6. Ni, H. Attune Your Body with Dao In. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 1989.
  7. Ni, M., and C. McNease. The Tao of Nutrition. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 1987.
  8. Smolensky, M., and L. Landberg. The Body Clock Guide to Better Health. New York: Holt, 2000.






©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni

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