Jet lag is one of the few true drawbacks to travel. Classified as a disorder, jet lag happens when you travel across multiple time zones in a short period of time, like with air travel. Your internal body clock gets out of sync, and it can feel like a bad hangover, zapping your energy and literally making you sick to your stomach. The bigger the time difference, the more likely you are to experience serious jet lag, but we are here to talk about how you can prevent, or at least minimize the effects of jet lag.
My First Experience with Jet Lag
My first big overseas trip was when I moved from Florida, on the east coast of the US, to Japan. Not only was it a painfully long flight of 26 hours (including layovers), but there was also a 13-hour time difference. Torture!
It was literally night and day, making it even more challenging to adjust. Nauseous and extremely lethargic, I was like a college kid swearing off binge drinking. Never again!
But of course, I did have to do long haul flights again, and again, and again. So, I started experimenting with what helps with jet lag, and what doesn’t. Now, I have a routine I plan for anytime we travel more than two time zones.
Common Symptoms of Jet Lag
Luckily, jet lag is temporary and tends to go away in a few days. However, we personally hate wasting any of our travel time feeling unwell, especially since most of the time jet lag is preventable.
- Daytime exhaustion
- Insomnia (or waking up incredibly early)
- Grumpiness – as you’re lacking quality sleep, expect to be moody
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Feeling run down or like you’re sick
Tip One – Stay Hydrated
Flying takes a lot out of you, especially water. Airplane cabins have low humidity levels that dry out your skin, eyes, and can leave you very thirsty. Dehydration is a big contributor to jet lag.
Pass on the complimentary sodas, and yes, even the alcohol. Instead, bring an empty water bottle. Most airports have water refilling stations beyond security where you can fill your bottle. And don’t forget to bring a nice hydrating lotion for your face and hands.
Tip Two – Consider if Adjusting is Worth It
If you’re only going to a new time zone for a day or two (e.g., two days in LA, then back to NYC) the best thing you can do is stick to your home schedule if you can. It’s not worth trying to adjust to the new time zone only to be even more disoriented when you get back home.
Tip Three – Don’t Delay
Start mentally preparing for your new time zone as early as you can. Change your watch to your new time zone before you even board the plane. On the plane, only sleep if it’s night at your destination. Once you’re at your destination, stick to the new schedule, no matter how tired, or how awake you are.
We’ll talk more about what you can do during your flight to help prevent jet lag in Tip Six.
Tip Four – Prevent Jet Lag by Inching Your Day Forward/Backward
This is really easy to do and works perfectly for short time zone jumps (1 to 4-hour differences).
For instance, our recent trip to Las Vegas had a three-hour time difference. A week before our trip, we shifted our sleeping schedule one hour later. The night before we left, we shifted our entire day by two hours. We even shifted our eating schedule.
Even if you can only make a one-hour shift ahead of time, it makes a big difference to how quickly you’ll adjust to your destination.
Tip Five - Embrace Waking Up Early and Catch a Sunrise
The one consequence of jet lag we’ve grown to love, especially when traveling west, is naturally being up for sunrise.
Here on the east coast of the US, we struggle to get up for sunrise, but when we were out in Utah, we naturally woke up with enough time to get out to catch the spectacular morning rays. Honestly, it worked out so well, we didn’t bother to readjust. We just stuck to our east coast time schedule for the majority of our trip.
Tip Six – Have a Flight Plan
Our most critical tip has a few nuances, but centers around using your flight time to prevent jet lag.
First, consider the time difference, the length of the flight, and how well you sleep on a plane, when selecting your flights.
Traveling East, Flights 5 – 10 hours
When traveling east, we look for schedules that land in the morning. This way we can time our sleep on the plane with our destination. For instance, flying from the US to Europe, we opt for the overnight flights and try to arrive between 8 – 9 am local time.
However, you must force yourself to stay up the entire day. No naps.
If you know you can’t sleep on a plane, or you won’t be able to last the day, our long flight solution may fit you best.
Traveling West or Long Flights 10+ hours
On longer flights, where exhaustion is inevitable, like to Japan, we prefer to arrive in the early evening. We can sleep the first part of the journey (if it’s night at our destination), but we stay awake for the majority of the flight.
This works well for us as we struggle to sleep on planes anyway, so staying awake is rarely our problem. When we arrive exhausted, we can check straight into a hotel and go to sleep within hours of arriving. The key is aligning our sleep to our destination.
Tips for Sleeping on the Plane
For those of you who have no issues sleeping upright in a dry, noisy metal tube, we envy you. For the rest of us, here are a few tricks we use to get some well needed shut eye in the air.
- Make sure the flight attendant can see your seatbelt. There’s nothing worse than being woken up to prove you are still wearing your seatbelt.
- Dress comfortably
- Invest in a quality pair of noise canceling headphones.
- Use a blackout eye mask.
- Support your neck with a travel pillow that actually works.
- Take a natural sleeping pill – We aren’t fans of taking pills but a little melatonin as we board the flight works wonders.
Tip Seven – Reset Your Body Clock
This next tip isn’t going to be popular, nor easy, but I’ve been doing this since 2004 and it always prevents me from getting jet lag. It works best in combination with Tip Six.
On larger time differences, like traveling from Europe to Australia, or the US to Japan, I stay up for at least 24 hours straight and reset my body clock.
If I need to sleep on the plane to align with night at my destination, then I start my reset before my flights.
If I need to stay up for the duration of my flights, I count the flight time in my 24-hour+ reset. I will always plan my flights to arrive in the evening, so I can go straight to the hotel, and to bed.
Leading into Tip Eight, I won’t drive too much, if at all, that first day. It’s just too dangerous to do anything that requires focused motor skills. Safety is key.
Tip Eight – Plan an Easy First Day
No matter what method you use to prevent or mitigate jet lag, always plan an easy first day. You never know how you will feel on the first day in a new time zone. There is nothing worse than being somewhere incredible, like the Sistine Chapel, and not enjoying it.
We hope these tips help you prevent, or at least mitigate the worst of jet lag.
Do you have any other tips or tricks you use that we didn’t cover?