Travel Tips

Follow This Strategy and You’ll Never Say “I am Jet lagged” Again

Photo: Shutterstock -"I am Jet lagged" - Never say this Again (This Tip Works!) - - Photo: Shutterstock -
Photo: Shutterstock

“I am jet-lagged.” If you’ve ever had the poor unfortunate circumstance to say this, you know how awful it can be. On a trip to Thailand, I had jet lag. Wait, let me rephrase that. I had debilitating, shoot-me-now jet lag. 

I arrived in Bangkok dragging like a character from The Walking Dead, vowing never to feel that way again. I figured out a strategy to avoid this nasty consequence of a long-haul flight, but first, for those of you who’ve never experienced it. What is jet lag?

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. Absolutely no fun.


Some other tips you might find useful

These 5 Great Tips: How to Survive a Long Flight in Economy

Important Travel Resources at Your Fingertips

Travel Tip: Why You Should Apply for Global Entry

Essential Gifts for Travel and Travel Photography Lovers


What’s the best cure for Jet lag? Answer: Avoid it in the first place by adjusting your internal clock during the flight so you’re in sync with the local time of your destination. Let’s take a flight to Kenya, for example. We left JFK in New York at 1 pm eastern and arrived 13 hours later at 8:30 am Nairobi.

My Strategy for Avoiding Jet Lag 

The trick to beating jet lag is using your flights to adjust your body to the local time of your final destination.

In this case, I counted back seven hours (six hours to sleep and 1 hr to freshen up before landing), which put me around 8 pm eastern. The plan: Stay awake for the first seven hours of the flight, sleep for six hours then wake up with one hour to go.

Falling Asleep

Direct Flight

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 feel fuzzy when I wake up. 

If melatonin doesn’t work for you, try something stronger. (Note: Use a sleep aid under your doctor’s supervision.)

The way the timing worked out I had to take something, I wouldn’t naturally fall asleep at 8 pm. Or if I did, there’s a good chance I’d wake up an hour or two later which would defeat the whole purpose.

Flights with Stops

Here’s how you would approach a trip with a layover, using a real example of a trip I took from JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa.

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 arrive in Johannesburg at 9:00 pm local time after a grueling 20+ hours of travel. What’s good is that Amsterdam and South Africa are in the same time zone.

In this case, 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 awake enough to survive my layover without wanting to collapse.

From that point on I stayed awake (binging on in-flight entertainment, walking around (always good to stretch your legs) until I reached Johannesburg 11 hours later—which thankfully is in the same timezone as Amsterdam.

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. Yes, I was a little tired, but I’m a little tired when I’m in New York sometimes, but not jet lag tired.  The next day I was raring to go. I did fell asleep a little earlier than usual about 9:30 pm that evening but that was no big deal.

Ta da! That’s it. No more, I am jet lagged in your future.

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 out this trick, 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 that thirsty. I’m not a big water drinker in general so I usually have to think consciously about it.

Don’t drink alcohol. Because the whole dehydration thing.

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.


Pin to Share

Follow This Strategy and You'll Never say _I am Jet-lagged_ Again #Flying #jetlag #Traveltips

Categories: Travel Tips

82 replies »

  1. Xanax to stay fall asleep ( even in economy class). Take a study drug (adderal or dex) to stay awake 8 hours (5× better than a redbull to stay awake…trust, I’m a student in Uni lol). Will cure jetlag 80% within the first day. Never a problem when I fly to Thailand from Canada. The jetlags rougher on the way back.

  2. I always sleep my way throughout the flight, and start my adventures immediately after i arrive! (Usually mornings) And hopefully survive the first day hehe since i plan more relaxing activities on day 1 to fight jet lag

  3. I’m a road cyclist.

    Also to add not-too-fine a point on my earlier comment, dehydration is THE BIG factor in jet lag, not “starvation” as the pressurized cabin dehydrates the body at am alarming rate.

  4. Great post! I fly an awful lot usually from one country in Europe to another (unless I’d rather drive, take photos & enjoy the scenic route). Other times its trans-Atlantic flights and jumps from one state to another. As an athlete I stay liquid anyway, but more so when I know I’m going to be in a pressurized cabin for longer than 2 hours.

  5. I fly to and from the east to west coast several times a year, every year. Where it’s only a 3-hour time difference, trying to get a 4 year old to adjust can be tricky. Having her sleep on the plane definitely does the trick. For me, I’m so used to the time difference, I don’t even notice it anymore.

  6. if it is a flight involving two legs we start the first leg the day before and get a nights sleep then continue with second leg of trip. For instance, going to Hawaii from east coast, we take evening flight to CA and use the time change to our advantage and spend the night (we arrive around 9:30 pm CA time) then catch the morning flight to Hawaii. This way there is only a 2 or 3 hour time change (depending on Daylight Savings) and we have had a decent sleep! It costs more to do this but SO worth it. Instead of roughly a 24 hr trip door to door it is two manageable chunks and we are already shifting to the new zone and I don’t wake up at 2 am every day in Hawaii!! We can also chose the airline we prefer for each leg of the trip since the airlines that go to your final destination may not be your preferred travel choice… We find this is even better than flying first class all the way and instead we do coach upgraded seats.

  7. On Far East / Aus flights I start early – for about a week before I gradually get up earlier each day, by the time I leave I’m typically getting up at 4am (and having a few early nights!). I normally get up at 6am anyway and SE Asia is between 7 and 9hrs ahead of UK, once those plane doors close I’m in the destination’s timezone and I will typically wake up on the first full day around 8am – sorted.
    Going the other way – West – is far worse for me, I’m an early bird not a night owl. East coast US is ok but west coast kills me and when I went to Hawaii – 11hrs behind UK – I thought I was dying!! Melatonin can’t be bought in the UK 🙁

  8. On Far East / Aus flights I start early – for about a week before I gradually get up earlier each day, by the time I leave I’m typically getting up at 4am (and having a few early nights!). I normally get up at 6am anyway and SE Asia is between 7 and 9hrs ahead of UK, once those plane doors close I’m in the destination’s timezone and I will typically wake up on the first full day around 8am – sorted.
    Going the other way – West – is far worse for me, I’m an early bird not a night owl. East coast US is ok but west coast kills me and when I went to Hawaii – 11hrs behind UK – I thought I was dying!!

  9. Great idea. I used to feel a tad annoyed if I had to make up for jet lag on my flight. I liked making the most out of the inflight meals and entertainment to make sure I got my money worth, but these days, getting enough sleep is a lot more important. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Even a 2 hour time zone change is enough to mess me up. (I’m a very unenthusiastic flyer) However, I have discovered that if you scrub your bare feet in the grass shortly after you land, it helps re-align your body to that time zone. Something about the earth’s magnetic fields. This actually worked for me I am thankful to say.

  11. Tips for heading west with no layover? Flying to Beijing from Chicago in couple of weeks on a 13 hr flight. I don’t get into Beijing until 9:45p their time so what would be best timeframe for sleeping vs being awake?

    • Try to sleep (take a pill if you need to) and sleep the first 6-7 hours.. then stay awake for the rest of the flight. Hopefully when you arrive in Beijing you’ll be tired enough to sleep. If not, I would recommend taking something to help you. Your body should be pretty close to local time the next day. 🙂

  12. This is probably minor, but I don’t drink alcohol and instead keep hydrated with water and use a nose spray. As you said, dry air. Keeping your feet propped up is essential and I also use my travel bag as a footrest.

  13. I use the flight tracker to change my watch as each time zone is crossed. It gets me out of the what-time-is-it-at-home approach.

  14. One other suggestion I would have, other than the timing during the flight (which I do also) is to bring food on the plane that represents the time zone you will be landing in. For example, if I leave Houston at 4 pm in the afternoon, but it is 4 am in Japan where I am traveling to, I bring food on the plane that I would consider a breakfast item (breakfast sandwich, Pop-Tarts [which are great for traveling], etc.). Take a short nap (2 – 3 hours), wake up, and then eat the breakfast. This also helps condition your mind to think it is breakfast (again) and will help fight the jet lag.

    Hope you have a wonderful trip! Been to Africa a few times, but most of my recent travels have taken me to Asia.

  15. I don’t really like using that type of stuff, so I just switch my watch to the travel time and try to follow it. Work is my doom when I’m trying to be nocturnal.

  16. I find the jet lag is much worse coming home to the West then when arriving in say Venice. I too can’t sleep on planes. I once took a Ambien and drank 2 glasses of red wine and still couldn’t fall asleep. I rest but not sleep.

  17. It’s very hard for me to get hours of sleep during an 11-hr or so trip, upon arrival I go along with the destination (Philippines) time, if it’s daytime I walk around and catch some sunshine, then I sleep come night time. i

  18. Once I get on the plane, I set my watch to match the time zone that I will be arriving at. It really helps me beat jet lag!

  19. I make it a point to set my watch to the time at my destination as soon as I get to the airport. Works like a charm!

  20. Melatonin doesn’t work for me. I use Benadryl instead.
    Another rule for me: Get morning light if you are shifting east, and evening light if you are shifting west. There is also nothing wrong with a short nap (less than 1 hour) to bridge the afternoon if you arrived in the morning. Then an hours worth of exercise, a light dinner and off to bed. And yes, sometimes I take another Benadryl so that when I come out of my deep sleep I don’t come all the way out, but go back down into another sleep cycle.

    • Lyle, … take a sleeping aid, I use Walmart or Costco generic brands. Take a double dose and you’ll be asleep for 8 hours and yes you’ll be groggy with a double dose, but a cup of coffee and about an hour later you’re refreshed from your sleep of 8 hours and ready to go. I can only sleep on long flights if I take something like that.

    • Hi again Lyle. I just posted a second ago and reconsidered. I have to agree with Lady Light Travel; through a little trial and error I discovered that my one or two sleep aid tablets is all I need. My wife can take my dose and it will ruin her for the whole next day. If your avatar is a real picture of you then what are you worried about?, you look 25.

      • Trial and error is probably a good thing. Sleep can be a complicated matter and people react differently. I used to sleep well – I don’t know what happened! I envy those who sleep well. And yes the avatar is real.

      • One day when arriving in Bangkok and paying a fortune from San Diego in 1st class It dawned on me that coach customers arrived at the same time as I did. This started irritating my Irish blood so now it’s el cheapo all the way The problem with coach is the isle seat which I’m blessed with most of the time . It seems most people by the window that can take up two seats but only have one suffer with “TB” (tiny bladder) I’m very tall and the seat wants to go with me when I move (not fat either) to let the TB people out to wonder around the plane looking for the el banjo (Spanish no good) I also take sleeping medicine(medicin…o, no good either) What should I do! Help!

      • Have you tried NoJetLag? The herbal pills are available at GNC and I swear by them. Follow the directions – one pill before boarding, then additional pills as time goes on. They were invented by New Zealand flight attendants years ago. No hangover from these babies. All they do is ALLOW you to sleep – the thrumming of the engines and other people will not bother you. This is not a drug of any sort. Good luck.

    • COMMERCIAL RETIRED PILOT THAT HATES TO NOT BE IN THE COCK PIT.
      I BRING EXERCISE BANDS WITH ME AND DO A SHORT WORK OUTS EVERY 2 HRS. TILL I GET TIRED ENOUGH TO FALL ASLEEP AND 1 HR. BEFORE LANDING DO A 15 MIN. WORK OUT ( EVEN THE STEWARDESS GET INVOLVED IF THE BANDS ARE EASY ENOUGH ) UPON CKING. INTO A HOTEL IMMEDIATELY DO A 60 MIN. LIGHT TO MED. WEIGHTS AND CARDIO. EAT A SMALL AMOUNT AND PASS OUT FOR 10 HRS. AND WAKE UP FRESH AND ENERGIZED. IF IT’S NIGHT TIME I PARTY. IT HAS WORKED FOR ME FOR DECADES. THE NEXT DAY THE SAME THING AND I’M GOOD FOR THE WHOLE VACATION.

      • Hi John- I admire you. I don’t know if I could work out after a long trip but I will give it a try on my way back perhaps from my current stay in Africa. Thank you for the tip!

    • What I do is sleep as much as I can, but when I get to where I’m going, I set my watch to there time and it tricks my mind into believing i’m on that time.. and it works for me…also I always try to make sure that I land where i’m going at night and
      time for bed.. I don’t eat heavy foods either…

    • IN ALL TRAVEL OVER 6 HOURS I TAKE ONE XANAX SUB-LINGUAL 1 HOUR PRIOR TO FLIGHT; FLIGHTS 6-8 HOURS SECOND XANAX AND A COCKTAIL AFTER BOARDING, FLIGHTS OVER 9 HOURS FIRST XANAX 90 MINUTES PRIOR TO FLIGHT, NEXT JUST A BOARDING, FINAL WITH COCKTAIL WITH FIRST MEAL. THEN NECK PILLOW, EYE COVERS, AND WAKE UP ACROSS THE ATLANTIC OR PACIFIC. WORKS EVERY TIME, AND I ARRIVE REFRESHED AND READY FOR ADVENTURE. IF KIDS IN VICINITY EITHER EAR PLUGS OR HEAD PHONES…AFTER 64 COUNTRIES AND CROSSING EVERY OCEAN IT REALLY WORKS!

    • I always ask for window seat on long flights, the arm rest near the window can be lifted, giving more space. I take a Xanax, put on my eye shades, and pray the person seated next to me has bathed in the last month (trust me on this one). I curl into a little ball on my left side using my donut as a squishy cushion for my head (those pillows they hand out: no one ever cleans them). Take my shoes off but won’t do that going into the bathroom, oh please, ever seen a bathroom of a monster plane after ten hours of flight? Yuk. And I avoid Amsterdam, totally. Was verbally assaulted during screening for being a US citizen by one of the screeners, lucky I didn’t end up in jail over that one. Sigh.

    • I do exactly the same thing thing, but I’d add ear plugs along with the sleeping mask. I always leave each in the outside pocket of all my potential carry on bags and never have to think about them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *