As I travel a lot, and jump time zones back and forth somtimes within little more than a weekend, I inevitably get a lot of questions how I deal with the jet lag, if it doesn’t make me super tired, and if I would not suffer for days and days.
Truth is, of course I feel it. But I found ways to minimize the impact of jet lag, and have developped a couple of strategies that help me cope with it, over the years.
So here are my five tips to prevent jet lag – or at least get through it quick(er).
Book the right flights
I already look at a potential jet lag at the time of booking my flight, and I try to find the best connection.
If heading to the US for example, I know I’ll have to stay up for a while longer, and go to bed with the locals.
If I fly to the East coast and leave on the usual morning flight, I know I’ll arrive some time around noon or early afternoon and have a full day ahead.
If you know you have a hard time staying up long – book a later flight or a connection that gets you there later.
So that once you have cleared customs and immigration, and have arrived at your hotel, you just go for dinner and head to bed. Already a few hours of difference at arrival can make a huge differrence.
Prepare for your time zone of arrival
Preparing for my destination is vital. Depending on the time zone of arrival, and the time of day I will arrive there, I prepare differently. It’s key to avoid jet lag.
Again, say I’m flying to North America from Europe, I know I’ll have a long long day ahead of me.
In the two days prior to departure, I already start going to bed real late. As I am a night owl and would easily be up until 2or 3 a.m. every night, that’s not too hard for me. Usually I have to force myself to bed.
But in this case, the late shifts are welcome, I feel I’m already preparing my body.
On the plane
Ok, the entertainment choice on modern airplanes is immense. I would watch five or six movies on a flight, if I could.
The thing is: I usually don’t. Depending on where I fly.
Again, if I fly West and know I will have to be up long, I ignore the entertainment system completely, rather look at the boringly slow advancement of the plane on the map till I fall asleep.
Well, I mostly can’t really sleep. But I can doze off. And hence give my body a break.
On an 8-hour flight to Montreal, I will give my body some five hours of napping. And as I went to bed real late the night before, I’ll probably need it. So once I’m off the place, I feel kind of rested. On an even longer flight, say to the US West coast, same procedure. I’ll try to get as much napping time as I possibly can.
I have a weird tendancy of flying west most of the time, but the same applies flying East. Except when I know that once I land, I’ll have to go to bed right away, and need my body to be sleepy. In that case, I’ll be up all the fligh and watch as much stuff that I can.
My main recommendation to avoid jet lag though is immediate integration into your destination time zone.
You’re tired, and want to go to sleep? Stay up! Not even napping! You will fall asleep and then totally f*ck up your sleeping times for days.
Here’s what I do instead:
- landing in Montreal after 7 hours of flight at 12.15: I went to a park in the afternoon, took my shirt off and laid in the sun for two hours. Telling my body it is wrong, it’s not the evening now, it’s full-on day time. The light and the energy give me a boost.
- landing in San Fracisco after 11 hours, in the afternoon? I meet friends and go out. Have them keep me active and awake. Get loud, get dancing. Maybe I have lots of coffee or an energy drink. But I stay up until midnight!
- landing in Melbourne in the evening after 22 hours, from Brussels? I take a shower and go out. Dinner. Dancing. And go to sleep at 3 a.m. You’ll bet I’ll be sleepting through.
- flying home to Brussels and landing in the morning? I don’t go home and unpack and sleep… I go straight to work! Ok, I offer myself a shower before, or in my lunch break. But I go to work right away and stay up all day until it’s my normal bed time. Again, I will be exhausted on that day, maybe half delirious – but I’ll sleep 10 hours straight till the next morning.
In all these cases, I force my body to stay up.
Ok, I have to admit, travelling gives me a kick, I thrive on the energy, for me it’s like a drug. I can push my body.
The thing is: once I go to sleep then, I am so exhausetd, I will sleep. I probably won’t wake up once. And I set the alarm for the normal local waking-up time!
Some little helpers
Jet lag is a strain on your body. So even as I push myself on the day of arrival, I usually go easy on the first full day there. My body deserves time to adapt. I might just lie in the park on the first full day – again, the sunlight readjusting my internal clock.
Besides strong coffee, Cola or a little energy drink (I hate the taste but they do the trick to push you those 2-3 hours longer..), there are of course other little helpers.
I sometimes take some melatonin, a body hormone produced when it’s time to sleep, to support sleeping in a weird time zone.
Or, when the difference to your original time zone is really big, I might pop a light sleeping pill in the evening, nothing strong, just one of these sleeping aids they sell at the airport. I’m not sure they have much of an effect, probably a placebo would do the trick, too. But they keep me from waking up at 3 a.m. thinking it’s time to get up.
The one thing I can’t trick, unfortunately, is my stomach. I’ll be hungry at the weirdest times, and feel uneasy at others. My tip is to eat light, and drink lots of water. Hydrate. I am always extremely thirsty in the days after a flight.
So, this is how I do it. It works for me. Maybe not for you, if you’re a person that is extremely rigid on its sleeping times etc. I guess there are a lot of personal factors involved, and how much you can take and push yourself.
But a few of those tips might help you getting over your next jet lag a little faster.
Any tips from you? What are your best ways to get through jetlag?
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