You know that feeling don’t you? You step off the plane, full of excitement and anticipation after a long flight. And you’re smacked in the face with fatigue. You’ve gotten very little sleep and your body feels like it’s hung over. How nice it would be, you think, to settle yourself down into bed right about now. But it’s lunchtime in your new home – hello jet lag!
When you travel and your time zone shifts more than two hours, especially going east, jet lag is often a constant companion. Moving around day and night really confuses your body’s biorhythm. The more time zones you cross, and the more stops you make, the worse it gets. The best thing to do when you know you’ll be traveling long distances is to have a half to full day period of time to adjust. This way you can start adapting your sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, blood pressure, digestion, and other bodily functions to the new time zone.
How to overcome jetlag: 10 tips that really work!
1. Prepare at home before departing
If you know you’re prone to experiencing jetlag you should first get yourself ready at home before you even get close to an airplane.
If you’re flying east especially you’ll feel jetlag systems worse than flying west. This is because flying west causes your body to think your day’s getting longer whereas going east makes it think the day is shorter.
So the best plan of attack is to adapt your body’s rhythm a few days before departure. When you fly east, try to go to sleep a couple hours earlier than usual.
If you’re going west stay awake one or two extra hours. You should also be getting up earlier, or getting up later, respectively. If you have really big problems with jetlag systems pay attention when you’re booking your flight: arriving in the morning tends to pose large problems with fatigue since the day drags on for a longer period of time.
Comparatively, arriving in the afternoon or evening is a much better option since you only have to stay awake for a few hours, you can move around your new city a bit, have something to eat, and then head to bed!
2. Set your watch to the new time zone
Your transition to the new time zone should begin on the plane so you at least get yourself mentally prepared for the new rhythm. Once you’re on the plane, set your watch to the new destination’s local time and keep yourself awake if it’s still daytime there.
Even if it’s light out at your destination, it may be difficult to stop yourself from falling asleep on the plane since the lights are usually dimmed. This can, however, work to your advantage if it’s nighttime in your destination, so you can sleep on the plane!
3. Customize your sleep-wake rhythm
It’s especially helpful to adapt your body’s rhythm in relation to the time you’re asleep and awake in the new location. So, for example, if you’re flying east you’ll want to go to sleep on the plane. So get on some cozy clothes, pick up any additional inflatable cushions you’d like and put in some earplugs to avoid being disturbed by the surrounding noise! If you accidentally don’t get very much sleep the night before departing then this can also help you out since you’ll be more tired and able to easily fall asleep on the plane.
Tip: Once the boarding is complete look around and ask the steward or stewardess if there are any free seats or rows left. This may often be the case when the plane isn’t full. If you can relocate to a free row you’ll be able to lie down completely horizontal and have an easier time getting a few hours of sleep.
When it comes to traveling west, you’ll want to make sure you stay awake. One thing to do is find an airline with a good entertainment program like Emirates. The latest movies and TV series are guaranteed to keep you awake!
You want more adventure and tips?
Sign up now for the newsletter and win one of our books - handsigned of course!
4. Try Melatonin
While we aren’t big fans of supplements we found Melatonin to help while adjusting to jet lag. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your brain that tells your body to go to sleep. This supplement helps you to get to the sleepy phase easier/faster. 0.5 mg should be enough!
5. Drink plenty of water, but skip the alcohol and caffeine!
Air inside airplanes is usually quite dry and you’ll notice your skin stretch and dry up a bit since you’re deprived of water. So every once in a while you should get a glass of water to keep your hydration at a healthy level. Alcohol, however, is pretty strong and toxic when you’re up so high. You might find, for example, that a glass of wine helps you fall asleep – which could be totally true – but the effect it has is only brief. It actually dehydrates you even more and makes it harder for you to adjust to the new time zone later. Also, coffee and black teas are not beverages you should be drinking on a flight for the same reason. Your best options are to aim for drinking water and juice!
Pro Tip: Take an insulated bottle with you, which keeps your water fresh for up to 24 hours (perfect for those long haul flights!). You can fill it up after security at most airports and you don’t have to worry about the terrible service on most flights in economy class. We recommend a 40oz (1100 ml) bottle and make sure you drink it all!
6. Plan to stay overnight
If you have enough time and your wallet allows, throw a stopover along your route. For long distance flights eastward to Asia, Australia, or New Zealand especially, a relaxing stopover can do wonders for your battle against jetlag. You could potentially end up spending a few days in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore! You don’t need much more than two or three days in these cities anyways.
Take the time to explore a cozy place, eat some good food, and see a bit of the area before you carry along to your next flight with new energy! You’ll notice you’ll adjust much more easily to the time change and you’ll have gotten to see another destination along the way!
7. Adjust yourself to the daily rhythm of your destination
The absolute best way to combat jetlag is to get in the rhythm of your destination the second you get off the plane. Although it’s sometimes really hard – I know, beds are super attractive after a long flight – but you have to resist the temptation to have a snooze! A daytime nap is counterproductive and will only make your jet lag worse.
If you arrive early in the morning and are really tired, then it’s okay to give your body a couple hours of sleep – make sure you get up in the late morning or afternoon again though. The first night is especially crucial. You might wake up a couple times in the middle of the night, or, depending on your body, you might sleep through the night because you’re exhausted. If you find your bed to be a little too tempting and comfy, get up, leave your accommodation, and get a coffee. Get out and about, have something to eat, and get comfortable in your new home for a while. If you don’t feel incredibly hungry, just have something small to eat, and have anything extra only if it matches with what the locals are doing at that time of day.
Being outside in the daylight can also help your body adapt to the new environment. Since jetlag is mostly a mind game, don’t think about it too much. Don’t think about what time it is at home, or what you’d be doing if you were still there. Just enjoy being where you currently are in the new time zone! For example, if it’s the morning in your destination go have breakfast. Do it even if it’s actually dinnertime at home. Don’t keep thinking about what’s going on at home!
8. Go out into the daylight or make things really dark
Sunlight inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone in your body that makes you feel tired so you can sleep. Take advantage of this fact when you’re on the flight by leaving the light on for as long as possible. Fresh air after a long flight also helps your body out since the airplane air is so dry. Doing these two things really helps you overcome your fatigue and stay awake much more easily!
If you have the opposite problem, where you’re having a tough time falling asleep, don’t take sleeping pills! They only act on a short-term basis and cause your body even more confusion. Try an alternative: darken your seating area, put on an eye mask (we really recommend this one!), and use earplugs (you only need these ones!). Doing all this can help your body calm down and unwind on the flight. Listening to an audio book or soothing music may also help you fall asleep – only you know your body best!
9. Take it easy for the first few days
The first few days you stay at your destination it’s best to slowly get used to the environment and time zone. So wait on your next adventure until the third day or so, and until then keep everything nice, stress-free, and relaxed. A long flight takes a pretty big effort from your body and it definitely deserves some time to recover. The toll on your body is especially bad if you fly from a cold area to a hot area, and vice versa. Your body needs a few days to acclimatise.
Don’t underestimate your body if you’re feeling tired and listless. You may want to plunge directly into an adventure and go on a hike, but your best bet is to take a short walk first and go easy on yourself. If you have problems with falling asleep, then do a more vigorous activity when you arrive and go for a light jog. You might fall into bed the night feeling exhausted and broken, but a healthy mix of activity and relaxation is exactly what your body needs for the first few days in a new place.
10. Adjust before heading home again
You know your body best. If you suspect you’ll be faced with jetlag symptoms on your way home then prepare yourself before departing to your home time zone. If you’re flying from west to east, for example from South America, go to bed earlier and get up earlier again. If you’re coming home from Australia, New Zealand, or Asia then keep yourself awake longer, and stay in bed a little later in the morning. You’ll notice your jet lag after arriving home isn’t nearly as bad.
You don’t need to make jetlag any worse than it already is!
There is no one, single, universal trick you can use against jetlag unfortunately. The tips featured here will definitely help you reduce the effects, but your symptoms won’t completely disappear. The most important thing in most cases is for you to stay awake and not be tempted to cozy up into bed. In two or three days you’ll be over your jet lag anyway, and you can plunge into your new adventures! And, if you want to avoid jetlag altogether, then discover all the beautiful corners of Europe or head straight south. You could fly to South Africa on a ten-hour flight and only have one hour of time difference!
Do you often get plagued by jetlag? Share your jetlag experiences and tips with us and our readers in the comments!