Up until this past year, I would tell you – I don’t get jet lag. But 2018 was a killer for me. I am sure it is a combination of age and distance but crossing the Pacific Ocean several times took a toll on my body and my sleep! These are my top tips for working through jet lag as quickly as possible.
Hydrate – Hydrate – Hydrate!
- Hydrate before your trip. When you drink water you are not so much affecting the present as the future (this is true in hiking & sports, travel, and life in general). So think ahead and make sure you are drinking at least two liters of WATER a day 1-2 days PRIOR to traveling. While it is true you can hydrate from food and other beverages that is why I said two liters of water and not more.
- Hydrate while traveling. Planes (but even cars and trains) are dry with recycled air. Make sure to drink plenty of water while traveling. My rule of thumb is 4 ounces per hour. I always travel with a refillable bottle that I fill up after security at the airport. If the flight is long enough that I drink the entire bottle, flight attendants have always been gracious enough to fill it up for me. (Similarly I rarely eat the meals (or drink alcohol) on the plane. They are filled with sodium which is counterproductive. I bring snacks of fruit and nuts to munch on during the flight. But eat the fruit first if traveling internationally as you usually can’t bring it into the country).
- Continue to Hydrate. Water keeps your body functioning at its best. And alcohol messes with your sleep rhythms under the best of circumstances. Drinking (especially while dealing with jet lag) only contributes to crashing too early and then waking at 1 am!
- Nap on the plane. I can rarely sleep sitting up but when traveling across multiple time zones I try very hard to at least take a nap. I have found a 2-3 hour nap towards the end of the flight to be the most productive. If it has been a long flight, I might be tired enough by this point to sleep. But more importantly, it means I land a little refreshed and ready to tackle immigration / customs / getting from the airport to town etc… It also means I am prepared for step #5.
- Stay awake as long as possible! When you arrive at your destination, try to stay awake as long as possible. This is true whether you land at 7 in the morning or 7 at night. Oddly enough, I find an all-night flight with an early morning arrival the easiest to recover from. Don’t get me wrong, that first day is torture. But if you can make it to a reasonable bedtime (8 or 9 pm) then you will crash and be done with jet lag. If you arrive in the afternoon or evening, the advice is the same but you probably need to push past an early bed time. I routinely go to bed early, and I am often fooled to think if I make it to my normal bedtime that I’ll be fine. This tends not to be the case, my body is confused and while I’ll fall asleep for a few hours I am then up before the roster and sun. So even if you typically go to sleep pretty early, with an afternoon or evening arrival strive to stay up as long as possible until you just can’t keep your eyes open another minute.
Other popular tips that are great but either less practical or effective:
- Set your watch to your new time zone when you board the plane. This will help your mind set, especially for a big change.
- When deciding if and when to sleep on the plane, as another strategy, you can also keep in mind the time at your destination … as an example, if you board the plane at noon in Washington DC it is 1 am in Tokyo. So sleep for a few hours early in the flight and then stay up so when you land late afternoon in Japan you are tired and can hopefully sleep through the night.
- Begin to slowly adapt before your trip. If you don’t travel often or you are preparing for a once and lifetime trip it can be helpful to slowly (and reasonably) begin to adjust to your new time zone before you leave. Have dinner 30-60 minutes earlier/later, or better yet, begin to adjust your bedtime by an hour or two before departure. This isn’t always practical but even with a drastic difference of 10-12 hours, this can help make the adjustment not as dramatic.
- Sit next to a window in order to follow the sun. This requires some planning (knowing what side of the plane the sun will be when booking your seats) but also most passengers don’t like the shades up so you will probably be asked to keep them closed for most of the flight. And if you are staying hydrated, this makes it a pain to get up through the flight (but can help you sleep).
- Don’t schedule the most important part of the trip on day #1. This isn’t always possible but give yourself at least one day to muscle through before that bucket list site or big presentation.
- Make plans to be active (and preferably outside) the first day. If dealing with a drastic time change, the first day (or two) is not the time to be stationary. Being active and outside will help you adjust quicker.