Jet lag is a subject I find myself talking about. Perhaps it’s because coincidentally I have two friends who both returned from trips to Asia and are suffering through some serious jet lag right now. Recently I had a travel experience I’ve never had before……..an easy jet lag! I mean like no jet lag after a long travel day of three flights and a 16 hour time difference. It was really something, and I realized a few important things.
What I Did Differently This Time
I usually land on the west coast of the US in the evening. I unwind a bit and go to sleep thinking I’ll be in sync with everyone else as far as sleep goes. Ha, this never works. And so four days later I’m done with jet lag.
On this last trip, not for any particular reason except that it was the way my itinerary worked out, I got home in the middle of the day. Even though I had only a few hours sleep during my travel time, I stayed awake until the evening and even went for a long walk, did a bunch of chores, and ran errands. It made a huge difference in adjusting my body rhythm. I had an amazingly easy re-entry to my normal routines of work and sleep.
And it got me doing some deeper thinking about jet lag.
Jet lag can be a major nuisance. It’s also a privilege in the sense that it comes with the territory of all the incredible travel adventures we enjoy. People say that when they were young they were able to push through it more easily, but for me it’s usually been a four day process.
Everyone has their own methods of dealing with jet lag. A friend mentioned he deals with jet lag the old-fashioned way by drinking alcohol on the plane and taking a sedative. This combo puts him to sleep for most of the flight. That combo would probably kill me :)
I’m more of a “natural” solution seeker when it comes to avoiding jet lag, so here are some solutions to jet lag. They work, and offer many possible options for you to experiment with.
1. No Alcohol on the Flight
Let’s face it, though it can be fun to enjoy some wine on a flight, it’s more fun to arrive in your destination, get some rest, and get going without feeling so out of it from jet lag. People who used to drink a lot on flights tell me that they don’t just limit their alcohol intake. They strictly avoid it. While alcohol might help you fall asleep on the plane, the quality of sleep you’ll get is not good. The solution is to drink only water once you get to the airport and board your plane.
This one is tricky for me. One essential rule of good sleep hygiene is to stop caffeine intake ten hours before bed. That’s the average length of time your body needs to metabolize caffeine’s effect. If you drink coffee or an energy drink too close to bedtime, it becomes difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get into deep, restful sleep. You can start drinking coffee as soon as you land or see daylight from the airplane windows. But until it becomes “morning”, drink water and herbal tea on the flight.
3. Sleeping on Planes
If it’s evening time when you take off, go to sleep at the same time you do at home. On a recent flight to Hong Kong I took off in the late evening. Seemed like everyone on the plane was waiting for the dinner service. Not me. My eyeshades went on, earplugs went in, seat reclined, and I told the flight crew not to wake me.
I sleep for as long as I can, hoping for 5-6 hours of sleep. I can sleep through turbulence, so that’s not an issue for me. On this Hong Kong flight when I woke up I spoke with the crew about sleeping and jet lag and asked them how they handled it. They mentioned that I had done the right thing, and that by sleeping at my “normal” time I’d adjust more easily to the Asian time zone. Maybe it was being told I had done the right thing, but I swear when I got to Asia, I felt like I did indeed adjust more easily to the local time.
If you have trouble sleeping on planes here are some tips:
** Think about sleep before you leave home
Health professionals who write about sleep suggest that it’s good to think about preventing jet lag before you leave home. If you’re traveling east, go to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days before you leave. If you’re traveling west, go to bed an hour later for several nights. Adjust your meal schedule accordingly, too. And make sure you’re well-rested before you go, because starting a trip with too little sleep will make jet lag worse.
** Flight times do make a difference
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Put an early bird on an 8 p.m. flight and they’ll sleep right away. If you’re a night owl, take the latest flight out so it’s as easy as possible for you to get some rest. This is not always possible when booking a flight on an award ticket, but it certainly can be possible!
** Plane types make a difference
Older planes were not built with a thought to fighting jet lag. The cabin air is dry and the pressure is not matched to what we experience on land. The environment leaves us tired, even if we manage to sleep overnight.
However, the Airbus 350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner were engineered to “pump the highest pressure, which makes the plane feel more like being on earth.” They also provide higher humidity, which does less damage to your ears, nose and throat. This helps prevent fatigue. New planes also filter air in safer ways, offering actual air, rather than engine air. I’ve had quite a few flights on the Dreamliner, and I can for sure feel the difference.
4. Stay Awake
The least complicated way to fight jet lag is to force yourself to stay awake when it’s daytime wherever you are. You’ll be plenty tired at the end of your day so you’ll sleep most of the night. Although I have taken short naps when I’ve gotten to my destination and still slept well at night, it is generally better that after you land and get to your destination, you avoid the temptation to “just lie down for a minute” on your hotel room bed. Instead, do what I do and take a walk! Getting outside and taking in sunshine works wonders. Sun not out? Take that walk anyway. The fresh air and movement will still produce a tired YOU at the end of the day.
If you’re still struggling to adjust, try this. Take a cold shower, go for a swim, use the hotel gym, or get a massage. Just don’t lie down in the middle of the day. I once tried going to a movie, but as you can imagine, that didn’t work well:)
6. Eat Like a Local
Once you land, it’s time to start eating like a local, and adjusting to a regular mealtime as soon as you can. If I get hungry before bed, I’ll only have a small snack because I want to wake up hungry and ready to break-my-fast as the locals do.
7. If Nothing Works and You’re Jet-lagging Along
Just go with the flow. Do your best to work through it. Sometimes you’re exhausted that first night and sleep like a baby. And then the second night jet lag rears its ugly head. This has happened to me many times.
Each of us creates our own anti-jet-lag tool kit. It’s good to have multiple ways to work with jet lag because no two trips and no two jet lag experiences seem to be the same. And though I’m hoping to have other NO jet lag trips, somehow I think I got lucky this time!
If you have any tips you’d like to add, I’d love to hear them. Enjoy the journey!