Let’s face it… Jet lag is not fun. When traveling to a different time zone, the general rule is that for every hour of time zone change, it takes your body one day to adjust. While there is no great method to avoid jet lag completely, there are some ways to help make the transition easier. This post will give you ideas on how to best handle and minimize jet lag to make the most of your time.
Start Managing Your Jet Lag In Flight
Do not wait until you land to think about jet lag! It will be too late! In order to minimize and handle your jet lag, you need to think about it when you board the plane. When traveling extremely long distances on flights over 7 or more time zones, your body time schedule will be almost opposite what it is used to upon arrival. So it could be noon where you came from and 22:00 where you are going. Therefore managing jet lag becomes more complicated.
On long haul flights you can try setting your watch to the time at your destination. When you notice it is late in the evening there, try to sleep and set an alarm to be awake during the destination’s waking hours.
In theory, this can help you become adjusted, but the reality is that it’s difficult to sleep on a plane and once you have fallen asleep, it’s sometimes easier to stay asleep as long as possible. For example, dinnertime at your destination may be 4AM body time and you may just be too tired to wake up. I like to have a basic watch in addition to my mobile phone for several reasons.
The basic watch does not rely on external information for the date and time. Therefore, once you set your watch for the time at the destination, you know that it is correct, and that it is indeed reflecting the destination’s time. Also, the battery of a watch generally lasts for a year so you rarely need to worry about running out of juice. In a crisis situation, a watch is more reliable and attached to you. One I really like, (pictured below) lights up, so in a power outage, it provides a small light source. It is also water resistant to 50 m and has the date.
Adapt Your Schedule Upon Arrival
Upon arrival, to best handle and minimize your jet lag, it is important to adapt your schedule. You likely may feel exhausted your first few days after arrival, so it is best to plan accordingly. I try to adapt to what is happening. For example, if I arrive in the morning, I go to breakfast, walk around, get acquainted with my accommodations and the city.
If I’m extremely tired, I will nap, but not allow myself to sleep all day because then I won’t sleep at night. It will take time to adjust, so it’s generally a bad idea to plan things that require too much exertion the first few days. Instead, look for activities that are manageable and will hold your interest such as parks, gardens, cafes, and small museums. A very strong feeling of being tired can come on quickly from jetlag, so it may be best for the first day or two to stay within a comfortable vicinity to your accommodations.
Traveling East To West
To handle and minimize your your jet lag when traveling East to West, notice that many flights tend to be scheduled earlier in the day. On morning or daytime flights, I try to stay awake. Many flights going this direction arrive in the evening at your destination, and if you haven’t slept the whole flight, you are likely to be tired upon arrival. With a little luck and perhaps a cup of tea, you will be sleeping when the city sleeps and more apt to be awake during daytime hours.
Alternatively, sleeping the first part of the flight and then getting yourself up so that you can still sleep when you land, is generally helpful. For example, on a recent flight from Paris to New York, I departed at 4PM Paris time, which put me in New York at 8PM (New York Time). This was 1AM in Paris. I decided to stay awake for the flight and go to bed shortly after landing. This helped to shift me to Eastern Standard Time. Also note that in some areas (like in my recent travel) daylight savings time can affect the time difference.
Traveling West To East
To handle and minimize your jet lag, I find that when traveling by plane West to East, choosing an evening flight, (the later, the better), is key. This way, if you can manage to sleep on the plane, you tend to wake up during daylight hours at your destination. This especially helps if you land in the morning or midday. For example, if you depart New York City at 20:00 and land in Amsterdam at 4:00, while it is 4AM body time, it is “morning” in Amsterdam, which coincides better with getting on schedule.
Again, sleeping on your flight is best done as soon as possible. There is nothing worse than falling asleep right before landing. I always feel disoriented trying to deplane and have trouble both staying awake, and falling back to sleep after this.
Managing In Flight Meal Service to Minimize Your Jet Lag
Most long distance flights have meal service. Some flights offer “express dining “ where they deliver your entire eating experience at once (Nuts, drink, appetizer, entrée, etc.). This service is not quite as “glamorous,” but allows you to get to sleep faster.
Hydrating with water helps your body to relax in the dry flying atmosphere. I also try to use the restroom and take any prescribed medication, so when I do doze off, there is no reason for me to have to wake up. You can request not to be woken for breakfast; While you miss a meal, it is likely the middle of the night body time anyway, so it may be beneficial to opt for more sleep over eating.
Choosing a Cabin Class Right for You to Minimize Your Jet Lag
If possible, booking a first or business class cabin on the flight, that offers a lie flat seat is very helpful. The ability to lie flat with a proper blanket and pillow is conducive to better sleep and allows for faster body time adjustment. Alternately, a comfort class seat that reclines more or has more legroom can also aid in better rest. In coach class, the emergency exit row often offers more legroom, but does not recline due to safety regulations, so be certain to choose the seat where you will be most comfortable.
While it is tempting to stay up late on the plane watching the latest movies and contemplating your travel, it is best to choose activities conducive to sleep, such as listening to a meditation recording or practicing yoga breathing. Having the items you need will lend to a better and more comfortable flight. See my free checklist of flight essentials that will help you be more comfortable in flight.
Dealing With Your Jet Lag Upon Arrival
Sometimes, I prefer booking my travel as I go, but I always reserve 1 to 2 nights hotel in my city of arrival. When you are overtired, it is difficult to make decisions and acquaint yourself away from home, so I find it best to at least have a hotel that I have researched and is expecting me so I can rest and regroup.
On my first night, I always look for an accommodation that allows immediate check-in. While sometimes this involves reserving a more expensive hotel or paying a supplement, I find it to be extremely beneficial to combatting jetlag. Many hotels in major cities offer an early check-in as they understand the jetlag issue. Often business hotels are more apt to accommodate this because they are catering to people who have meetings, possibly even later that day. More expensive hotels tend to offer early check-in, or minimally showers and resting areas for guests, but ideally, getting into your own room is best.
Upon Arrival, Use Your Accommodation Wisely to Minimize Your Jet Lag
Once in my room, if I am very tired, I usually sleep for a bit so that I can function and enjoy whatever I do that afternoon. However, it is extremely important to set an alarm for a few hours later. For example, if you check-in at 10AM and set an alarm for 13:00, you get a few hours of much needed sleep, but have not slept away the entire day. If you sleep all day, you will be up all night, which will put you even further off schedule.
Another option if you are too excited to sleep is to take a hot shower or bath, get some breakfast, take a stroll and stretch your legs. It is generally a bad decision to attempt business or make any major decisions or purchases when you are overtired and possibly not thinking clearly.
Do Not Fall Asleep Too Late in the Day
It is important that if you are going to opt for sleep during the day, to do it upon arrival. Falling asleep late in the day leads to being up late, or even all night, which perpetuates the jetlag. If I cannot sleep, or am unable to get into my room, then after depositing my luggage safely with the hotel porter desk, I usually plan easy activities that do not require deep thought and are not too strenuous.
The goal if staying awake is to do so until an hour when you can actually sleep through the night. My rule is that I do not go to bed before 20:00. Generally, this hour is late enough that I’m exhausted and can sleep through the night. If I do wake up and it is before 6AM, I try to lie in bed with my eyes closed. By 6AM, you can potentially start your day, realizing you may need to go to bed earlier than normal that night. I try to shift my bedtime and waking time by an hour or more each day, so if I go to bed at 20:00 the first night, I aim for 21:00 the second night. This slowly shifts body time to match the zone I’m in.
Additional Tips for Handling Jet Lag
Additional items that help combat jetlag are drinking plenty of water, eating light meals for the first few days, and relaxing with a hot bath/shower, a massage, or a cup of decaffeinated tea. It is best to avoid alcohol and caffeine until your body adjusts.