I got back from Taiwan less than 48 hours ago, and while this was probably my 30th trip abroad, I’m still not immune to the effects of jet lag. I went to bed at my “normal” time last night and woke up at my “normal” time this morning, for example, but I seriously question whether I’ll be able to give my 100% at the gym in 30 minutes. Eep – it’s 29 minutes now!
While it’s impossible to avoid the effects of jet lag completely, I have developed a set of habits and strategies to minimize its effect on my body. Here are my best sleep-travel tips – can you recommend any of your own?
1. Think about the time on the ground, not the time in the air
Set your phone or watch to the time of your destination as soon as you get on the plane and then, time your sleep accordingly to avoid jet lag. For example, if your flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo takes off at 10 PM Tokyo time and your bedtime is midnight, try to fall asleep as close to two hours into the flight as possible.
2. Fly in a premium class if you can
Many innovations exist to help you sleep anywhere, from special pillows to special pills. If you can afford the extra cost (or, if you have some extra frequent flier miles), upgrade to business or even first class on long haul flights. Most global carriers now offer lie-flat beds in these service classes, as well as amenities like pajamas and eye masks, which makes sleeping in the air almost as easy as sleeping on the ground.
3. Stay hydrated
It’s tempting to drink coffee (and especially alcohol!) on an airplane, but what you really need to be loading up on is water. Pressure conditions inside most planes cause you to become dehydrated faster, which not only messes up your sleep schedule and makes you feel more jet lagged, but also weakens your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness on your trip than you’d be if you’d stay hydrated.
4. Adjust your eating habits
Avoiding jet lag isn’t only about adjusting your sleep habits, but about getting your entire body on your new clock – eating is a crucial part of this. Even if you can’t fall asleep or wake up exactly at your normal times, you should be resting, which means not stressing out your digestive system with a heavy meal. Likewise, if it’s your normal breakfast, lunch or dinner time, eat something, even if you’re not hungry.
5. Stay awake as long as you can
If you arrive in the morning, that is, as if often the case on eastbound flights, such as from the U.S. to Europe. While it might seem tempting or even helpful to take an afternoon nap, doing so will just protract your body’s transition to your new time zone and increase your susceptibility to jet lag. One way to prevent yourself from falling asleep is to stay active on your first day, even if you simply walk in the park.
6. When you do sleep, set yourself up for sleep success
Studies have shown that people sleep better when it’s cold and dark, so when it’s your bed time your first night on the ground, close your shades completely and turn the air up. If you haven’t got air conditioning, minimize your body’s excess heat – take off the covers. Likewise, if your hotel or hostel doesn’t have the best curtains, get yourself an eye mask to block out the light.
7. Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up
Traveling as much as I do, I know better than to break these rules, but guess what? Yesterday, i.e. my first full day back, I took a nap at 2 p.m., which is part of the reason I feel like such a zombie today. As is the case with any malady, part of jet lag is psychological, so put mind over matter – just because you made a mistake along the road to beating jet lag doesn’t mean you need to succumb to it.
What strategies have worked for you in beating jet lag?