Tips For Dealing With Jet Lag

Reader Nick asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Lucky,

Not sure if you have covered this before, but I thought I would ask how, with so much long-haul travel, you deal with jet lag? Its got to take a toll on you, no?

-Nick

This topic seems especially timely, as I’m writing this from my hotel room in Abu Dhabi at 5:30AM, after sleeping from 7PM till 11PM. Breakfast opens in 30 minutes, so rather than going to sleep I’ll likely stay up, have breakfast, and then pass out till early afternoon.

jet-meme

My jet lag “situation” is probably different than most

Let me say upfront that I’m probably the worst person to ask about jet lag. The reason is because when I’m traveling I have to “work” as usual, and I don’t work on “local” time. While I have the flexibility to work wherever (and technically whenever) I want, in practice 90% of what I need to do happens during US east coast business hours.

So when traveling I never totally try to adjust to local time. Instead in each region I try to have a schedule which at least overlaps somewhat with US east coast business hours:

  • As I explained in a recent post, I love being in Europe in terms of the timezone, as I can have a normal schedule, go sightseeing in the morning, and then work in the afternoons
  • In the Middle East/Asia I try to get up late and go to bed really late, so that I can enjoy local activities until the afternoon, and then be around during the early east coast business hours

Yes, jet lag takes a toll

Maybe it’s not the “jet lag” itself that takes a toll on me, but I do find that constantly being in different timezones does. I love traveling and being on the road, but I will say that for me the most “relaxing” vacation is being at home. Well, I’m “homeless” now so I guess there’s no such thing anymore, but I’ve always been most relaxed at home, having a regular schedule, going to bed at a reasonable and consistent hour, etc.

But I’ve never been one for relaxing vacations, as there’s nothing in the world more exciting to me than traveling the world and constantly being in different timezones, so it’s a small price to pay.

Or maybe it really isn’t, since I’m 24 and I don’t remember the last time I’ve been IDed at a bar in the US. šŸ™

How to overcome jet lag

So I think there’s a lot of “obvious” advice out there about beating jet lag, and it’s not totally without merit. At the same time, I do think a lot of it is unnecessarily complicated.

Some of the most common tips I see include:

  • Change your watch as soon as you leave home to the local time at your destination, so you can start acclimating
  • Based on where you’re flying to, don’t sleep the night before so you can get sleep on your flight
  • Always stay on local time and never nap

And perhaps some of that is good advice, but there are some other tips I’ve found especially useful:

1) Stay out of your hotel room as much as possible

When you live in hotels, your room becomes your office.

And the lovely thing about my “office” is that it has a desk — typically with a mediocre office chair — and a super comfortable bed. Can you guess where I prefer to work from? šŸ˜‰

Do everything you can to avoid being in your room as much as possible if you don’t want to sleep.

Staying in rooms always leads to naps, so avoid it. If you have to do work on your laptop, go to a coffee shop, club lounge, hotel lobby, local restaurant, library, etc. You’re much less likely to give in to the temptation of sleeping, and might even observe some local culture.

W-Guangzho-Hotel-68
A club lounge can be a great place to get some work done

2) Don’t nap after 2PM

This is quite possibly the most important point for me.

Some people say you shouldn’t nap at all when battling jet lag. I don’t think that’s necessary.

For example, if you have a longhaul flight and land at your destination at 6AM, do nap for a bit so you’re refreshed. But don’t ever nap after 2PM if you can avoid it, because you’ll end up sleeping till dinner time and then be up all night.

Tokyo-Skyline
Don’t be caught counting cars at 2AM

3) Don’t leave your phone next to your bed when sleeping

This definitely won’t apply to everyone, but:

  • I’m addicted to technology
  • When I’m in another timezone, I always wonder what’s going on during “daytime” hours at home

If I leave my phone next to my bed I end up just browsing on my phone for hours and don’t fall asleep. I force myself to always put my phone on the desk when going to sleep, so that it won’t distract me and keep me up.

4) Being up at weird times doesn’t suck

I think this is something that’s easily overlooked, as a lot of people try so hard to develop a “normal” schedule that they forget how interesting destinations can be at “off” hours.

Some of my most memorable travel experiences (and I’m not just talking about Bangkok) involve wandering foreign streets in the middle of the night.

Whether it’s India, where it actually is rush hour at 3AM, or Hong Kong, which is dead at that time, it’s fascinating to see a city in a different light than you’d see during the day. It can be surreal sometimes.

5) Jet lag is mind over matter

I find that dealing with jet lag is 99% a mental exercise.

I think the problem is that some people follow these elaborate “tips” for dealing with jet lag and then are genuinely surprised when they’re exhausted mid-afternoon or can’t sleep late at night, thinking they did everything they could to prevent jet lag.

It really is all mental, in my opinion:

Realize you will be exhausted.

Realize you will be tempted to sleep.

And realize that neither a nap nor an extra two cups of coffee areĀ reallyĀ the end of the world.

What tips do you have for dealing with jet lag?

Comments

  1. I swear by the Flux app for my MacBook Air. It turns the blue light generated by a computer screen (which makes your brain think DAYTIME!) into a more yellow light (which doesn’t make your brain think DAYTIME!) at sunset, or at any time you specify. Think the difference between a harsh fluorescent light and a nice normal lightbulb. Perfect for me, and especially right now, since I’m currently in France working a NY 9-5 (i.e., 3-11pm local time).

  2. I usually fly between LHR-AUH/DXB at lest several times a month, normally I try and get an mid afternoon flight to the UAE which land there around 1am. Go straight to bed then wake up around 8am, spend the day doing usual stuff then Go to bed at a normal local time, around 10/11pm. It normally sorts me out straight away

    Hope this advice helps anyone.

  3. On my frequent trips to Asia (from US west coast) I try to land late evening, take a couple Tylenol PM (nothing stronger!), and get a solid sleep that first night. Second night the same, and by third night I’m fine. Europe is always tougher, but landing around 4pm so I can get a walk in in the sun seems to reset things somewhat. I’m off to South Africa next week and decided to try a new experiment: going to sleep an hour earlier each night for 9 days so I’m pre-set to the time change. Tough as the LAX-FRA leg leaves at 7pm, right in the middle of the “night”, so I’m probably going to be just royally screwed up, but I’ve always been interested in trying this.

  4. i am 38 and sometimes i get IDed… especially when i shave.
    when i keep the scruff i usually don’t have that problem.

  5. As you get to be an age you can’t even imagine now, you might revise the percentage of the mental part! But how great that you are traveling so much at your age!

  6. My biggest battle is taking ‘just a quick nap’. So I’ve learned my lesson and when I arrive in a city during the day, I try to set an appointment either meeting a friend or for business, just a couple of hours after checking in the hotel. So napping isn’t an option, or I’ll be forced to really do just a quick one. In the end I do agree its 90% a mind matter.

  7. It seems like many “tips” just get regurgitated. The two biggest ones I have are: Aim for an evening/night arrival if at all possible, and if not, no afternoon naps as you say.

    I don’t get much in the way of restful sleep on an airplane, no matter what. I even had an FA on CX F (HKG-JFK) ask me if I was ever going to sleep. Yeah, 16 hours on a plane, and the best I’m going to get is an hour or two.

    I managed to score a seat on QF F (MEL-LAX) next year. Given the AM departure, I expect to get no sleep on the plane whatsoever. I’m actually looking forward to the connecting F seat I have on the A321T to JFK, because I will be tired enough after landing in LAX to want a real nap/attempt to sleep. So QF is for kicks and grins, AA F is for practical purposes. Go figure.

  8. I set my time to HKG time before leaving LAX. I connected in Seoul and thought I still had an hour left for my icn to hkg flight. Little did I know the flight was leaving in 5 minutes! Time diff is an hour between icn and hkg. Made my flight just on time. Careful with setting your watch when connecting lol!

  9. Generally I am better arriving earlier in the day — and I’ll make it a point to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Walks around the city, whatever I can, and that helps acclimate to the local time zone.

  10. This is off topic. Since you are living in hotels for a year, why not consider “house sit” in different parts of the world? It is the perfect opportunity to live a nomadic life while indulging in the authentic local culture?

  11. Drink lots of water on the plane. Dehydration is a major factor in jet lag. About 4-5 bottles worth for a long haul flight. Yes you’ll be using the bathroom a lot, but you’ll land in much better shape.

  12. jet lag is an interesting phenomenon. totally agree it is mind over matter for the most part. would explain why i rarely have any coming from asia back to the east coast of the u.s. yet sometimes a simple JFK-LHR run will throw me off for two days.

    all great suggestions above. my routine is:

    -change watch/phone time the moment i enter the airport to my destination time

    -loads of water: two glasses for every one glass of champagne, one bottle of water per hour

    -activity: get up and walk around, do simple stretches every waking hour on the flight

    -no naps, power through so you get deep, restorative sleep at night and VERY important, don’t sleep over 8 hours. too much sleep can be just as pernicious as too little.

    -relax! don’t let the idea of jet lag worry you, don’t try to do too much your first day, just take it easy and soak in the atmosphere, watch some tv, etc… you will almost always have more than enough time to see and do everything you want to

  13. @lucky Just wait another decade or so and jetlag is an entirely different beast. It used to be that heading to SE Asia from NYC was practically jet lag free. Now it hangs around for a couple weeks (though it diminishes after the first 4 nights), even though I employ every known trick and usually fly CX in F thanks to knowledge passed on by bloggers like you. And I don’t want to give away all the unexpected side effects of aging but 2 beer hangovers are a real thing…

  14. I’ve found that Lucky’s tip # 2 above works best when traveling from the U.S. east coast to Europe. Take a 4 hour nap as soon as you get to your hotel (usually around 7 or 8 am Europe time.) Then get up and go about your day. Go to sleep that night at your normal time, and when you wake up the next morning, no jet lag. At least that’s been my experience.

  15. This article reminds of a college friend who tried to avoid jet lag completely by timing his sleep in flight and before / after departure during a trip to China. It worked very well for him from US to China but screwed up during return and he had disturbed sleep for a month šŸ™‚

    My mantra is simple, follow your body, when it tells you to sleep, sleep and take rest. Works very well for me.

  16. One of the best tricks for me is to actually pre-empt the time change at home. If living on the west coast and I’m going to Europe in a few days, I’ll start waking up earlier and earlier to pre-empt at least 3-4 time zones.

    In more extreme cases, I’ll deliberately stay up all night the night before. I recently flew PHL-DFW-ORD-PVG and decided to spend the entire night awake in DFW. Slept soundly ORD-PVG and was acclimated to Shanghai time perfectly fine the night of my arrival.

  17. Pre-condition yourself! Gradually decrease your overnight sleep and start taking a nap at what will be your new overnight sleep time. Start with 1 hour the first day, 2 hours the second….etc as many days as you practically can pre-condition. It will give you a couple days head start! This is the best approach when you have a 9+ hour shift. For something less can use the gradual adjustment method of your overnight sleep time.

  18. Oh.. and I read a recent article that said the key is _sunlight_. It is sunlight that most helps your body adjust so make sure you get out and in the sun as soon as possible at your new location and it will help you adjust. I found this to be quite true.

  19. Oh poor baaaaaby, jet lag make you sleepypoo? You write a travel blog, let’s not act like you’re really on “work travel” here.
    I call bullshit on your whole game. I see you’re also asking for donations so you can afford an exorbitant fare to experience a first class apartment on a flight. So you can “review” it? So you can let people know if it’s worth it or not? What the hell ever man, you’re not helping anyone but yourself and it’s highly transparent.

  20. I guess I’m in the minority here, but I think only the young think it’s mind over matter. The circadian rhythm is well established and found in many other animals and plants )some of which don that minds).

    Daylight is the most important “metronome” for retuning the rhythm. My strategy for dealing with jet lag is different for east-west travel to Europe and also different for travel to Asia.

    Most important is to get on local time ASAP, assuming you’ll be in one time zone or so for a while.

    On a US Europe flight (coming from LAX), I almost always arrive in the AM. If so, I always take an afternoon nap and never for more than two hours. That way I can soldier on for the rest of the day, and go to sleep around 11 pm local times. For those who say never an afternoon nap, I’d say four hours is not a nap, it’s much more. ( water hydration is also good; I haven’t found alcohol consumption to be problematic re: jet lag, YMMV).

    Returning seems to be much easier, always a daytime flight and whether I nap on the plane or at home, it seems like the lag is minimal (again, only a couple of hours, maybe three on the plane). The key is getting into your normal rhythm ASAP.

    US to Asia is more complex, it feels like you are gaining time flying east and losing it going west – technically true because of the international date line but I think the length of. The flights also come into play. In general, going lax-asian with an daytime flight, I can stay up for 8 hours, sleep for six on the plane (thank you CX F!) and then I’m in HKG. Assuming I’m going onward, by the time I get to my destination, check in, do something outside for a couple of hours, I can fall asleep around 1am, and then will sleep for another 6-8 hours. If an evening departure, I push myself to stay up for about 8 hours, and then sleep.

    Maldives is the toughest to acclimate too, as it’s 12 hours difference. However, other than if you. Want to di, I can’t think of a place where what time it is matts less.

  21. Sorry for all the fat finger typos in the above. The last phrase was supposed to be: other than if you want to dive, I can’t think of a place where what time it is matters less.

  22. Very interesting to read everyone’s strategies. Never been to Japan (traveling westbound; +14 hours time difference) so kind of wondering how that will go. Somehow, don’t think it’ll be as easy as adjusting to European time.

    On a most recent trip, I’d stayed awake for 30+ hrs on a way to Vienna (late afternoon flight where I couldn’t fall asleep + layover + second flight, etc.). Was darn exhausted by the time I got to the hotel in the evening but was up bright and early with no ill effects. Somehow, coming back messed with me more even though I also tried staying awake and got in around midnight (fell asleep on domestic leg).

    P.S. Jet lag definitely gets worse with age. Takes awhile for my mother to adjust after trips to Russia (between +9 and +12 hrs).

  23. Any tips on US to Australia? I’ll be leaving basically at midnight, getting in at 7 am skipping a day. I think I’ll want to sleep right away since it’s bedtime where I’ll be, but then what will I do for the other 8-10 hours?

  24. @ Joe — Agreed. I’d probably try to nap at first, then sleep for as long as possible prior to arrival.

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