• How to Fight Jet Lag

    by  • Planning • 15 Comments

    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.

    fight jet lag

    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.

    fight jet lag

    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.

    fight jet lag

    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.

    fight jet lag

    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.

    fight jet lag

    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.

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    15 Responses to How to Fight Jet Lag

    1. September 4, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      Great tips! Particularly the one about water – I’m always completely amazed how much more tired I feel (jetlag or not) when I’m dehydrated.

      • Ali Garland
        September 5, 2012 at 10:33 am

        Thanks Jessica! Totally true, such an important part of not feeling tired.

    2. Matthew Cheyne
      September 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      This is really great advice. My Nanna lives 3,000 miles and two time zones away from me on the other side of Australia in Perth. In the past I’ve found that going back the two hours flying into Perth isn’t a problem. It’s the other way round when you go into the future when you are heading eastwards as in my case returning to Melbourne Airport that is the problem. I seem to be a little disoriented when I come off the plane for a little while when coming back home. Part of it may be the realization that the holiday is over and it’s back to reality.

      I put my hand up as guilty when it comes to consuming alcohol on the plane. My last trip was back in 2006 where I flew on a business class airline called Ozjet between Melbourne and Sydney that only existed for about four months and I think you’ll quickly find out why. Everything and I mean everything was included in the ticket price. I was drinking wine as though it was bottomless because I didn’t have to pay for it. And you’re entirely right Ali – drinking alcohol on a plane doesn’t necessarily make you go to sleep. It does however provide for an epic hangover or in my case an epic headache later on.

      I’m also in agreement with going out and doing things the same day after you’ve found your hotel. I think it does help relieve the jet lag as it seems to take your mind off the fact that you’re in a different time zone to what your brain is used to.

      • Ali Garland
        September 5, 2012 at 10:50 am

        Thanks Matthew! I prefer flying east to west as opposed to west to east too, at least when it’s shorter distances like from east coast US to west coast US. I think it’s because I’m a night person, so it’s not so hard to just stay up a little later when I arrive on the west coast, but arriving on the east coast means trying to go to bed before I’m tired.

        I’ve definitely had a drink or two on a shorter flight, it’s the longer ones where I avoid it. You’re not really going to have to deal with jet lag with the short distance from Melbourne to Sydney, and you won’t be in the plane long enough to get really dehydrated. And if it’s included, how can you say no? ;-)

        • Matthew Cheyne
          September 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm

          Your right about the lack of jet lag between Melbourne and Sydney. They’re both in the same time zone and only an hour’s flight time from each other so there should be no issues of jet lag for most people. What I don’t like when it comes to flying between Melbourne and Sydney is the 45 minutes you can spend on the tarmac in Melbourne or Sydney waiting for a take off slot. But that could be the subject of another post for you. I know the problem is much worse in the States than it is here.

          • Ali Garland
            September 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm

            Luckily I have never experienced any of the extreme wait times I’ve heard of from some other people. An hour or so maybe (which certainly is annoying) but not the crazy multi-hour waits I’ve heard about.

    3. September 4, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      I never get jet lag when I am traveling for leisure or on a press trip. But when I travel back to Phoenix from Italy for my full time job, I have suffered horrible jet lag for data on end.

      I think the difference is I’m excited to see the sights when I am on a fun trip. But with work, I generally arrive after 20+ hours of travel and have to be in the office the next day. No matter how exhausted I am and even though I usually arrive in Phoenix at night, I wake up at 2am for the day consistently for at least 7 – 9 days I am there.

      It drives me insane!

      • Ali Garland
        September 5, 2012 at 10:51 am

        That’s awesome to never get jet lag for a leisure trip! But I can understand that flying from Italy to Arizona is quite a haul and will cause you jet lag no matter what the reason is for going there. Wow, 7-9 days though?! That’s crazy!

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    5. January 26, 2013 at 9:13 am

      Hi Ali,
      Great advice, especially the point about dropping stuff off at the hotel and getting back outside if it is still light and drinking lots and lots of water. I have another suggestion, especially if you are flying only a short trip like to western Europe and/or you have to be at a wedding or some other event shortly after you arrive that you must be relatively coherent for. Starting a week before your departure, start slowly adjusting to the new time. Start waking up and going to bed an hour earlier each day and the day you leave you will have woken up in the middle of the night. Since flights from the east coast of N. America leave in the evenings, make sure to stay up until your flight leaves. Once on board, eat your meal, have a glass of wine, skip the movie and fall asleep. This is what helped us stay awake during our friend’s wedding in Norway. :)

      • Ali Garland
        January 26, 2013 at 11:18 am

        That does sound like a helpful way of slowly adjusting to a new time zone. I’m not sure I’d ever have the discipline to do it though! Maybe I’ll try it next time I go somewhere a few time zones away. I’m glad you found something that worked well for going to your friend’s wedding. Thanks for sharing!

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    8. Anne
      May 3, 2014 at 9:08 am

      I’ll be flying from Brisbane to Rome in September and from Rome to Brisbane in December, both with a stop over in Hong Kong. Just wondering roughly how long it would take for me to adjust to the destination time zones coming from both directions?

      Also I have found that even a couple of alcoholic drinks can cause a hangover and drinking water has helped a lot, not that I intend to drink on my long haul flights.

      • Ali Garland
        May 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

        Hi Anne, sounds like a great trip! No, don’t drink alcohol. I’ve tried it a few times hoping it would make me drowsy enough to fall asleep, but I still don’t sleep on planes. Alcohol dehydrates you, which makes the jet lag hit worse.

        It’s hard to say how long it will take for you to adjust to the time change. It depends on what time you leave Brisbane, how long your layover is in Hong Kong, and what time you land in Rome. Also depends on how much sleep you’re able to get in flight. I often find the really long journeys like this are so sleep depriving, that when I arrive at my destination I sleep ton and actually get past the jet lag quicker.

        If your flight lands late afternoon or evening, just try to stay up until 8pm or 9pm and then sleep until morning, and hopefully it’ll just take you another day or two to feel back on track. If your flight lands in the morning, it’s a bit more of a struggle, but do your best to stay up all day. It might take a little longer to adjust, but the important thing is to do whatever you can to eat and sleep at normal times once you arrive.

        My last long haul flight was a 13 hour redeye flight from Singapore to Zurich (I live about 2 or so hours from Zurich in Germany) and it was a struggle to stay up all day. I think I caved and had a short nap. But I think it took me about 3 days to feel like I was completely adjusted to the time difference, which is 6 hours.

        Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

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