The best way to beat jet lag is to avoid jet lag in the first place.
I figured out my strategy after a trip to Thailand. On my first day in Bangkok, I shuffled around like a character from The Walking Dead. It was horrible. I vowed never to feel that way again.
What Exactly is Jet Lag
According to WebMD, the medical definition of jet lag is the following:
“A condition that is characterized by various psychological and physiological effects (as fatigue and irritability), occurs following long flight through several time zones, and probably results from disruption of circadian rhythms in the human body”
Circadian rhythms are a fancy way of saying your internal clock is seriously confused and your body is on a ledge wondering what the hell happened. Symptoms of light cases are usually fatigue and perhaps a slight headache. Bad cases feel like a hangover. You’re tired, have a terrible headache, sometimes feel nauseous, and you’re so tired, having a simple conversation takes effort. (The latter is what I had in Bangkok. Definitely no fun.
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My Strategy for Avoiding Jet Lag
The trick to beating jet lag is using your flight to adjust your body to the local time of your final destination. That’s it. Simple. It just takes discipline in certain circumstances.
For a Direct Flight
Let’s take a non-stop flight from New York to Rome as an example. The flight, give or take, is approximately eight hours. When I’m booking a flight, ideally, I choose a flight that takes place at night and arrives at my destination in the early morning. That way, I’m able to approximate my normal sleep pattern.
Let’s use a real flight I found leaves NYC at 8:05 pm and arrives in Rome at 10:35 am local time, as a simple example.
On average, I’m good with five to six hours of sleep. Since I’d arrive in the morning, I’d want to be fresh upon landing. Therefore, I’d stay awake on the plane for an hour (~9:05 pm New York time), then use the next six hours of the flight to sleep. I wake up for the last hour, have breakfast, and freshen up. When the plane lands it will be 4:00 am New York time.
That’s early, I know, but I’ve had six hours of sleep so I’m ok. Maybe a tad hazy, but no more than I would be if I woke up in New York at 4:00 am at home, which I’ve done a zillion times over the years for trips.
Getting to Sleep
You’re probably thinking, Susan that’s all fine and good but I can’t fall asleep on command. Most people can’t. So…. wait for it…. I take something.
Usually, I’m good with melatonin — a naturally occurring sleep hormone that’s secreted by the pineal gland, the part of your body that regulates your circadian rhythm. You can buy it over the counter and it helps to induce sleep. I like it because I don’t have a sleep aid hangover when I wake up.
If melatonin doesn’t work for you, try something stronger. (Note: Use a sleep aid under your doctor’s supervision.)
Flights with Stops ( A More Complicated Example)
I left New York at 6 pm for Johannesburg which included a 3-hour layover in the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. When I arrived in the Netherlands it was 7:25 am local time. I departed for South Africa at 10:25 am and arrived in Johannesburg at 9:00 pm local time after a grueling 20+ hours of travel.
Arriving that late at night at my final destination, I needed to use the flight to make sure I would arrive ready to go to sleep in one or two hours after reaching the hotel.
I went to sleep about an hour or so after I boarded the plane in NYC using a sleep aid. Six hours later I arrived in Amsterdam at 7:25 am (local time; 1:25 am eastern) having slept most of the way. I was a little groggy but good.
From that point, I made myself stay awake (binging on in-flight entertainment, walking around (always good to stretch your legs) until I reached Johannesburg 11 hours later.
Having stayed up during the flight, I was ready to go back to sleep by the time I reached my hotel in South Africa around 10 pm. All went well and I was on local time by the next morning. The next day I was a little tired by raring to go. On my second night, I fell asleep a little earlier than usual about 9:30 pm but that was no big deal.
Ta da! That’s it. No more jet lag in your future.
Additional Things to Consider
Be Sure to Hydrate
Flying on planes leads to dehydration which in and of itself can make you feel crappy. Remember, a hangover is linked to dehydration. Before I figured this out, I often felt hungover from jet lag.
Bring your own water—in a reusable bottle please, say no to plastic waste—and drink from it regularly even if you’re not thirsty. I’m not a big water drinker in general so I usually have to consciously think about it.
That also means: Don’t drink alcohol––because of the whole dehydration thing, and for some, alcohol makes it harder to sleep.
Bring something to eat so you’re not beholden to the flight’s schedule. Chances are, you’re anti-jet lag schedule won’t sync with when food is served. You don’t want being hangry to keep you from sleeping or wake you up early.
Dress for Success
Dress for success, be thoughtful about what you wear on the plane. Don’t choose anything that’s binding. And that doesn’t mean baggy sweats. You can be comfortable and presentable on a coach flight at the same time.