Take a long-haul flight to anywhere in the world and the chances are you will have to deal with jet lag at the other end. While a lucky few don’t seem to suffer from it, most of us do, and it’s not fun. I would love to show you a magic trick that will make it disappear, but if there is one, I haven’t discovered it yet. What I have figured out is what helps make it more tolerable until it wears off. So here are a few of my tried and tested remedies for jet lag.*
What is jet lag and why does it affect us?
Jet lag is the disruption that happens to your body clock (or circadian rhythm) when you cross multiple time zones. Where you would go to sleep at 11 p.m. back home and suddenly find yourself in a place where it is only 3 p.m., you will be ready for bed while it’s still the middle of the day. Or you’re tossing and turning in your hotel room bed because your body thinks it’s daytime while it’s the wee morning hours at your destination.
As your body clock adjusts to its new time zone, the jet lag will eventually wear off. It typically takes about a day for every hour of difference. So if you have crossed 5 time zones, you can expect to be fully adjusted after 5 days.
What can you do to cope in the meantime?
There are a few things you can do to help get your body into its new time zone so that it can begin to adjust as soon as possible.
While you are travelling
The best trick I’ve found so far to deal with jet lag is to start from the minute you get on the plane:
- Change your clocks. Switch the time on your watch, phone, laptop etc. to that of your destination. This way you can start to adapt straightaway. If it’s now dinner time, have something to eat and try to get some sleep. If it’s early morning, avoid sleeping if you can, or nap for just an hour or so.
- Work to your new time zone. Eat the right food for your new time zone. If it’s breakfast time, have breakfast. If it’s dinner time, eat dinner. Sounds simple! You may not feel like breakfast at what feels like 10 p.m. for you, but it will help you get into the right mindset.
When you arrive
Try to fit into your destination’s time zone straightway. I find the following usually work:
- Napping. A short nap can help if you have a full day ahead of you on little to no sleep. However, avoid anything longer than a couple of hours. Set your alarm and get up and moving.
- Stay active. If it’s daytime, stay awake and stay active. This will keep you busy and tire you out so that you’re ready to sleep. An early night can work – just don’t make it too early!
- Take advantage of being awake. If you wake up early, get out and make the most of it. One of the best things about early mornings are the sunrises and watching a city (or nature) wake up. Grab a coffee and watch everyone else get to work or enjoy the birds and animals as they go about having their breakfast.
- Light therapy. Get plenty of fresh air and maybe some light exercise. For starters, you won’t be lounging on the sofa where the temptation to nod off is greater. More importantly, fresh air and exercise and especially daylight will work wonders to reset your circadian rhythm.
- Focus on your current time zone. Forget what time it is back home. Be present in your new destination and enjoy it! The only time you need to worry about the time difference is if you need to call home.
Plan ahead where possible
The best way to beat jet lag is to plan ahead, if you can. You will enjoy the journey more and suffer less at the other end.
- Start at home. A few days before your trip, try to get to either get to bed or wake up earlier – depending on what the time at your destination will be. This way you’re cutting down the number of days it takes to acclimate on arrival.
- Rest up before your flight. Easier said than done, I know! But if you are organised and not leaving everything until the last minute, you will not be as stressed on your journey.
Similarly, if you can plan your return to fit into your disrupted sleep, even better. I recently travelled from Europe back home to the US, which is a 7-hour time difference. This meant waking up at an ungodly hour. On my return, I was due to attend an online conference that was on UK time, which is a 5-hour difference. With jet lag, making those 5 a.m. networking Zoom sessions was a piece of cake for someone who is not a morning person! Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but if you can fit in your trip around anything that you must do on your return, I promise it will make things much easier.
Using over-the-counter medication
Less so in Europe but much more available in the US are various sleep aids that frequent travellers swear by, such as melatonin products. Melatonin has the opposite effect to light, signalling to your body that it’s time to sleep. Many swear by it, but I personally avoid it. As a solo traveller, for safety reasons I prefer to be (or be able to quickly become) alert and have my wits about me to get around. If you decide to try taking melatonin or any other sleeping aids, please speak to your doctor or pharmacist first.
If you have a tried and tested way to deal (or even beat) jet lag, please do share!
*If you want to delve into the science behind jet lag, try the Huberman Lab by Dr Andrew Huberman, which has some interesting podcasts on the topic.