Reader Nick asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:
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?
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.
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. 🙁
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? 😉
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.
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.
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 are really the end of the world.
What tips do you have for dealing with jet lag?