Tired of laying in bed wide awake, staring in the dark because of jet lag?
We’ve all been there.
Symptoms of jet lag may include fatigue, headaches, stomach problems (constipation or diarrhea), nausea, insomnia, and mood swings.
Trippy member Abigail Franke from Alaska asked:
I’ve heard all sorts of things about the best way to handle jet-lag. From changing your meal schedule to match that of the place you are about to visit/adjust to… to taking short naps so that you never get exhausted no matter what time zone you’re in.
Jet lag, as defined by Mayo Clinic, is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone traveling across multiple time zones. It happens because our bodies’ internal clocks (circadian rhythms) are still synced with our original time zones. If you travel from Chicago and arrive in Berlin the next morning (Berlin time), instead of being fully awake like most other Berliners, your body clock will tell you to go to bed as you normally would in Chicago time. So what should you do?
If you don’t listen to your body, you may end up like me a few years ago in London.
You see, I was stressed out and didn’t have enough sleep prior to taking an 18-day Europe trip. Upon arrival in London from Tampa (a 5 hour time difference), I went out and explored the incredible sights the city had to offer until 11 p.m. local time. The next day, I did even more. I kept myself awake with plenty of caffeine and junk food. By the third day, I suffered the consequences. I didn’t listen to my body clock and woke up with a throbbing headache. In pain, I felt nauseous and spent my waking hours that day split between laying in bed and vomiting in the bathroom. It was a day lost.
- I was dehydrated
- I didn’t have enough sleep
- I didn’t take it easy
- I ate junk food
- I drank way too much coffee
I could have avoided the problem. After many years of taking long haul flights and crossing time zones, here are my 15 tips to fight jet lag with input from the Trippy community:
1. Start your journey well rested
A well-rested person is more calm and composed. Sean Kelly, a Trippy member from New York was spot on:
Be ready to step on the plane a full 24 hours before your flight. You want to avoid running around like a maniac the day before your flight taking care of last minute details. Even if that means running around like a maniac two days before your flight, it’s well worth it. You want to make the day before your flight a peaceful as possible.
This extends to your job also. If you’re working on a special project, or have a lot of tasks that need to be completed before your trip, see that they’re done 24 hours prior to your flight. Even if it means putting in some OT earlier in the week, it’s worth it.
Get as good a night’s sleep as you’re able the night before your flight.
A good friend of mine ignored all of this. He worked until late in the evening the day before the flight, began to prepare the day of the flight, and was on the phone and dialed in to work until we stepped on the plane. When we got to London it was my turn to ignore him, for three days, while he suffered from a jet lag unlike any I’ve ever seen. Eventually, we left him on a double-decker tour bus, asleep, and met up with him later at the hotel.
It is easier said than done especially for some of us who had to travel with young children or had a project to complete before the vacation.
You can read more of Sean’s travel wisdom here.
2. Take in the sunlight as much as you can
Daniel Roy suggested a few practical tips, and I highly recommend this one in particular:
Daylight is essential to reset your body clock.
Case in point: After flying from New York City to Seoul, a 14-hour leap forward, I was able to keep my jet lag problem to a minimum. On arrival in the hotel in Myeong Dong, I took my time window shopping and enjoying the city in the daylight. Research reported on by National Geographic shows how light wakes up the brain. By spending time in the sun, you’re essentially telling your brain that it’s time to be awake.
The temperature in Seoul was similar that of New York City. However, if you are flying into a hot and humid city, it’ll be smart to limit your sun exposure time. Heat and humidity can cause heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Flying to Kuala Lumpur, I got a bit of sun, but couldn’t stay outdoors for long due to the oppressive heat and humidity.
3. Stay awake as long as possible
Trippy member Sarah Goth from Milwaukee wrote:
I thankfully don’t suffer from jet lag too much, but wherever/whenever you land, I recommend staying awake as long as possible and not going to bed until at least 8 PM local time. If you can get in just a few hours of sleep at a time, that’s okay.
I agree with Sarah. I usually fight sleep as much as possible and try to stay awake until night fall. On a recent trip to Stuttgart, a city six hours ahead of New York City, I forced myself to stay awake upon arrival when it was 2 a.m. New York time. I took long walks and stayed hydrated. Doing so did help when it came time to sleep at 12 midnight local time, 6 p.m. New York City time).
Ashley and Ryan R from Calgary concurred:
We always try to stay awake until local “bed time” so that we can get on a proper schedule, napping when we land usually makes everything worse!
4. Take very short naps (if you need to nap)
Sarah Goth continued:
If you have to take a nap during the day before 8 PM rolls around, make sure that nap is less than an hour.
It will be impossible to fall asleep at night if you don’t heed this advice. It happened to me several times, and it affects my schedule the next day as well, making jet lag recovery a little slower.
5. Don’t eat or eat light meals
I like Jane Jobim’s answer. She said:
So simple!! Don’t eat during the flight! I was modeling for 15 years and traveling across the world. Believe me, it works pretty well. If you can, of course.
On long haul flights, meals are usually served at odd hours. Eating a full meal and drinking coffee, alcohol, or drinks with high sugar contents do not help either.
6. Stay away from caffeine
If at all possible, drink coffee in moderation or stay away from caffeine completely if caffeine disrupts your sleep patterns. Especially before and during the flight. Caffeine may cause you to urinate more – meaning frequent visits to the toilet. It can be inconvenient if you have a window seat and can’t pass your seatmate.
7. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water. For me, dehydration causes headaches and leg cramps. Glen Towler from Wellington said:
I do find drinking plenty of water helps a lot and staying awake as long you can helps too. I don’t sleep much on planes as a rule. When you arrive at your destination try to get back into your normal sleep routine as soon as you can. It worked for me on my last long haul flight.
8. Use homeopathic products
Tina Yentzer from Washington writes:
I swear by a homeopathic product called “No Jet-Lag.” A friend who is a travel agent recommended it. The last time I traveled from Seattle to Dublin, I forgot to bring it and I was sorry! It definitely makes the first day in a new time zone bearable instead of feeling like I missed it entirely. Purchase it in travel stores or at airports. Happy travels!
Phil L from Vancouver uses “No Jet-Lag” too:
Traveling from the West Coast to Europe I use a product called No Jet Lag. It comes from New Zealand and contains only natural ingredients. I do not sleep on the aircraft, a slight doze but nothing more. Set my watch to European time, do not drink and eat lightly. I do stay awake once I arrive and try and go to bed at my normal time. I find that No Jet Lag is of great help to me, however flying from the East to the West it does not seem to work as efficiently for me.
9. Get a massage at the destination
Pawan Choudhary from India suggested, “get a foot massage as soon as you reach the destination.”
Massages reduce muscle tension, help with blood circulation and ultimately help you unwind and destress.
10. Adjust to local eating times
Jörgen Abrahamsson from Vaggeryd said:
I have a tip that works for me. I usually never sleep on the airplane, because I just can’t. And on arriving I just adapt whatever local time in my destination. Eating according to the time of day and go to bed according to the time of day. Works great for me but might not work for everyone.
11. Stretch exercises and yoga
Basic stretching exercises and yoga done pre-, during and after a long haul flight may reduce symptoms of jet lag.
Quoting from a Runners World article Exercise to Fight Jet Lag:
As you might expect, early exercise shifted circadian cycles like heart rate and body temperature to peak earlier in the day, while late exercise shifted those same peaks to later in the day. This suggests that morning workouts might help those who are flying east, while afternoon workouts would help those flying west.
12. Sleep aids
Trippy member Seoulsfgirl from San Francisco recommended:
Sleep aids are great for before you get on the plane. Take a sleep aid for a flight and you will arrive asking yourself, what flight? Unless of course you have a screaming or kicking child on your flight. In that case, you might want to skip the sleep aid and plan for the worst.
Daniel Roy from Seoul echoed:
I recommend using melatonin to help reset your body clock. I’ve had fantastic results with it. Just take some before going to bed when it’s time and it’ll help you sleep through the night. For me, melatonin makes the difference between fidgety sleep and proper, restorative sleep.
I’ve never tried sleep aids, but I do use essential oils. I use lavender and Peace and Calming essential oils from Young Living. The familiarity (I use lavender daily) and the calming properties of these oils help with relaxation.
13. Avoid alcohol in the airplane
Trippy member Jason Carlin from Los Angeles quoted this:
I like Anthony Bourdain’s suggestion of avoiding food and drink on a plane. He says that’s a great help for jet lag, and we all know that airplane food (and alcohol in general) are not going to make you feel better in the end. Depending on time, land hungry and eat immediately.
On another note, alcohol can work as a sedative, thus inducing sleep and calmness. But one side effect is dehydration. From experience, alcohol never makes me sleep on planes. But it does make my meals more enjoyable.
14. Change your meal time a few days before departure
Alexander Jansson from Stockholm suggested:
[S]et your clock to your destination timezone as soon as you leave your home. Start eating breakfast, lunch and dinner after the new timezone. This way your body will change your “biological clock” faster.
That applies to sleeping time too.
15. Relax, you’re on vacation
Sean Kelly concluded:
Don’t worry about it, Abigail! Focus on the excitement and adventure of you trip. With just a little preparation, temperance and relaxation I’ll bet it won’t an issue for you either.
See you there.
Photos and article by Claudia Looi