If you’re traveling more than a few time zones away, you are likely to be attacked by jet lag. It can keep you up when everyone else is sleeping, or make you want to nap while everyone else is awake. And the more time zones you go through, the more out of sync you can get, losing precious vacation time. So what can you do about it? While there are tons of tips and recommendations to flight jet lag out there, here’s what has worked well for me.
What time is it?
After you board the plane and settle into your seat, change your watch to the time zone you’re traveling to. If you don’t normally wear a watch, manually change the time zone on your cell phone, switch it to airplane mode, and turn it back on once electronics are allowed.
It’s a mind over matter thing. If you start telling yourself it’s the time at your destination, not where you’re leaving from, you will start to mentally switch to that time zone. Having your watch as a visual helps reinforce the “correct” time.
If you have a layover in another time zone, you’ll have to decide which time to choose. If you can keep track of the difference in your head, set your watch to the time zone of your final destination. But if your layover is after a long overnight flight, you might be too groggy for this. In that case, set your watch to the time zone of your layover, and then once you get on the next flight, reset it again.
Water, water, and more water
You guessed it, drink lots of water. Airplanes are extremely dehydrating, and being dehydrated can make you feel even more tired. Because of the liquids restrictions, you can’t bring a bottle from home, so fork over a few bucks in one of the airport shops and buy yourself a big bottle to bring on the plane.
Stay away from alcohol and caffeine. They contribute to dehydration as well. On red eye flights, I have occasionally indulged in a rum and Coke or Bloody Mary. I find that one drink is enough to make me a little drowsy, so the hope is this will increase my chances of falling asleep. But believe me, it doesn’t work!
So like I said, while on the plane drink lots of water, but no alcohol and no caffeine. Staying hydrated will help you fight jet lag.
When you arrive
This varies greatly depending on what time it is when you arrive at your destination. In general, it’s best to get yourself on the local schedule as quickly as possible. That might mean forcing yourself to stay awake even if you’re exhausted.
If it’s still daylight, drop off your luggage at the hotel and go back outside. Walk around, see some sights, take some pictures, just keep moving. Don’t even sit down for too long for lunch. This isn’t the time to climb a mountain, but keep the blood flowing. You can trick yourself into thinking you’re not tired as long as you don’t sit still for too long and don’t focus on the fact that you haven’t slept in 32 hours.
If you really can’t stay awake, a 30 minute nap should give you an extra boost, but don’t go longer than that. If you sleep longer, you’ll also sleep deeper, and that won’t help your body’s clock adjust to the new time zone. After your power nap, get moving as mentioned in the paragraph above.
I let myself go to bed around 8pm or 9pm depending on how tired I am and how long I can force myself to stay awake. Even though that’s earlier than I normally go to bed, it’s close enough. At that point your body could use a little extra sleep anyway. But I still set an alarm clock for a normal wake up time in the morning so I don’t over sleep.
What if your flight lands at night? Lucky you! Go to bed at a reasonable hour, even if somehow you’re not tired after the long journey. Don’t forget to set your alarm for the next morning.
Traveling over several time zones can be tedious, but there are ways to fight jet lag. Use these tips to trick jet lag into submission. Mind over matter, staying hydrated, and forcing yourself to stay awake until it’s bedtime in your destination will all help you defeat this vacation wrecker.