5 Tips for Avoiding Jet Lag

A typical travel scenario: You hop on the plane for the 6-hour flight to your destination. Perhaps you nap a bit, or maybe you stay awake and chat with your travel partner or read. When you arrive at your destination, your body tells you it’s time for dinner, but the light in the sky tells you breakfast is on the menu. Or maybe you’re ready to hit the streets and start exploring … but it’s already 10:00 p.m. in your new destination.

Jumping across time zones when you travel by plane can do all sorts of things to screw up our circadian rhythm—the natural clock by which our bodies run. This condition is called jet lag, and it doesn’t only affect first-time travelers or those who travel infrequently. Even seasoned flyers like flight attendants and pilots fall prey to the effects of jet lag.

You’ll know if you’ve got jet lag if you display any of these common signs: Disorientation, irritability, fatigue, headaches and cold-like symptoms. And studies have shown that if you’re traveling west, you are more likely to suffer from jet lag than if you’re heading east.

My secret? I travel regularly (though I wouldn’t say frequently), and I rarely suffer from jet lag. This is because I force my body to act like the time of day it’s supposed to be. If the flight attendants turn the lights down, I try to sleep even if I’m not tired. If it’s time to eat breakfast, I eat breakfast. Regardless of where I am, I force my body to act like the time of day it is, and so far that method has worked for me. I know it’s not so easy for many people, so I’ve culled these 5 tips from other resources to help you start your vacation in a new time zone jet-lag free:

1. Prepare your body for the trip. Exercise, stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to your departure. If your body is in good shape for the flight and your trip, it will cope better to the new time adjustment.

2. Adjust for the time difference pre-trip. In the three or four days leading up to your trip, start treating your body as if you were already at your destination if possible. If you are traveling east, get up and go to bed earlier than you normally would. If you are traveling west, get up and go to bed later.

3. Avoid alcohol before and during the flight. I know that alcohol helps some people sleep, but being hungover on a flight or dehydrated when you arrive are not ways you want to start your trip.

4. Take care of your body on the flight. Drink plenty of water and take the time to get up, stretch and walk around. Dress in comfortable clothing. Brush your teeth or wash your face mid-flight. Pack a blanket, sleeping mask and ear plugs for a sound sleep on red-eye flights.

5. Avoid excessive caffeine. Drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages can cause dehydration. Caffeine also throws off sleep schedules by making it difficult to sleep when you should.

If you do get hit with jet lag, here are a few things you can do to recover:

1. Some people say that you should consider a 1:1 rule. That is, for every hour in time difference you experience, you should give yourself one full day to recover. I think this might be a bit excessive, but I do think it’s important not to jump a bunch of time zones just to move on a day or two later.

2. Check your accommodations for comfort. If you feel uncomfortable (too hot, too cold, etc.) or unsafe in your accommodations, you won’t sleep well when you need to. If your lodging isn’t satisfactory, find somewhere else to stay early in your trip.

3. I reiterate: Adapt to the local schedule. Though it may be tempting to stay up all night or eat dinner instead of breakfast because your body tells you to, it is best to adjust to the local schedule as quickly as possible. Eat the correct meals when they should be eaten. Go to bed at night, wake up in the morning and stay awake throughout the day.

Now it’s your turn to sound off: How do you fight jet lag when you travel?

20 Responses to “5 Tips for Avoiding Jet Lag”

  1. Abbie

    I usually follow the routine of wherever I am (whether that means staying up or going to sleep at a different time) and after getting a good nights’ sleep, I’m go to go 🙂

    Reply
  2. Pola

    JoAnna – you pretty much covered all the important points in your post. It’s important to “fool” your body and eat breakfast even if it’s dinnertime and sleep when it’s time to sleep in the destination you’ve arrived. I usually just force myself to stay up late when I travel east, and after the first, most difficult day, then it’s fine.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      You bring up a good point, Pola. It’s a lot easier for me to travel west than east. Which way is easiest for you?

      Reply
  3. Leigh

    In the last month I’ve had two long sets of flights -which involved 36 hours each of flying + layover time. The time difference was 11 hours. I tried all the above listed tricks but at a certain point I just give in to sleep because I feel sick.
    I worked hard to get on the time zone and in fact was forced to with meetings but by 4 in the afternoon I would be begging for a nap, several days after landing. Add nightclub music until 1:30am to the equation….and you can’t move your accommodation.
    This past trip took me the better part of a week in each direction to be fully on the time zone.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I don’t envy you, Leigh. Two excessively long flights like that sound really tough to deal with. I have no doubt the club music definitely didn’t help! Were you able to sleep on the plane at all?

      Reply
  4. Joe

    JoAnna,

    Tip #4 can be streamlined a bit by just taking along a Dreamhelmet sleep mask sound blocking pillow. You have an eye mask, a sound muffling pillow and free expanding foam earplugs tossed in for free in the secret pockets. Many travel professionals use this invention. Sorry, it does not include a blanket.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for the tip, Joe! The Dreamhelmet sounds awesome! Will definitely have to look into that.

      Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for adding your link, Andrew. The more help we can get about jet lag, the better, I think!

      Reply
  5. Trisha

    Good tips! I try to follow all of them when I do travel over multiple time zones, but I do find that a short nap (or two) during the day at my destination does wonders for helping me adjust faster. And while I simply can’t sleep on a plane, I do put on my eyeshades and ear plugs and try to get some rest, which is the next best thing to sleep.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I think that naps are worthwhile time investments regardless of where or when I travel. 🙂 I admit to sneaking in a few during my daily routine as well.

      Reply
  6. Zablon Mukuba

    great tips, apart from exercising before travelling, i try to change my time according to the place i am going to so that to avoid jetlag

    Reply
  7. Shelley

    Your secret of forcing your body to act like the time it’s supposed to be has always worked well for me too. And I second Trisha’s comment about the helpfulness of a nap.

    On my latest trip, I felt a greater jet lag impact heading east than west. But that’s probably because the jet lag effect was actually convenient for me when we went west. As someone who’s not a morning person, it was pleasant to easily be up by 5am and get a head start on the day. Too bad the effect didn’t last a little longer!

    Reply
  8. Patrick

    I don’t suffer much from jet lag, usually. The no #1 rule for me is adapt, adapt, adapt as soon as possible. I I travel east it can mean staying up a whole day, missing a night’s sleep (I seldom sleep on planes), but it’s the better way of handling it.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I agree with you, Patrick. I don’t tend to sleep as much when I travel anyway, but I always power through wherever I am to get on local time as quickly as possible.

      Reply
  9. jen

    I try to set my watch to my destination’s local time as soon as I’m on the plane (or the local time of layover stop, then adjust again). And usually a good night’s sleep does the trick once I land; I just make sure to go to bed at a normal hour — local time.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Setting a watch by the local time can be incredibly helpful. Thanks for suggesting it.

      Reply
  10. dtravelsround

    I’ve never really had a problem with jet lag until I returned home from Thailand. When I got back from there, I was awake at odd hours and absolutely exhausted for about a week. Normally, especially when I arrive to another country, I am able to acclimate pretty quickly because I have either taken a red eye and slept on the plane, or I force myself to stay away until nighttime to get on a normal sleep schedule. But, this past trip, WOW.

    Reply
  11. Zablon Mukuba

    i hate jet lag, i look for ways to avoid jet lag, keeping hydrated is a great idea

    Reply

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