10 Ways to Get Over Jet Lag and Enjoy Your Trip

By Carrie Kirby on 24 March 2017 0 comments

You imagined yourself cruising through Venice in a gondola or snapping photos of wallabies in the Australian outback. Instead, you're wandering around in a haze, falling asleep at dinner, and popping painkillers for headaches. It's that jerky trip-ruiner, jet lag.

It doesn't have to be this way. There are time-honored and research-based tactics that really reduce the time and severity of jet lag. I have been able to travel across the world and feel close to normal by the second day, and totally normal by the third, by following some of the suggestions below.

1. Power through that first day

After a long, wearying trip, it can be tempting to collapse into your hotel bed upon arrival, no matter what time it is. Don't do it! What you think will be a half-hour nap will probably turn into eight hours of inappropriately-timed shut-eye, followed by a desperate wander through shutdown predawn streets searching for breakfast.

In my experience, staying awake through the first day of an international trip is the most critical factor for adjusting your body clock. Don't schedule expensive or demanding activities on that first day, but don't plan to spend it in your room resting either, lest you fall right to sleep. And whatever you do, don't sit down to watch TV!

Force yourself to walk around your new location, or meet up with local friends whose company will keep you alert. Allow yourself to eat ice cream and other treats to keep you going.

2. Try melatonin

Check with your doctor first, but I have found a small dose of melatonin helped my family sleep better on the plane, and daily doses helped us fall asleep at the appropriate time at our destination. Follow recommended dosage limits, of course.

3. Try the fasting method

I find it hard to resist the temptation of an airplane meal being plopped in front of me, but there is scientific evidence that not eating for 12 to 16 hours before your new wake up time will reset your clock immediately.

I tried this on a recent flight to Australia, when I needed to reset my clock 19 hours forward. When we boarded our flight at midnight, it was 7 p.m. in Australia. This would have been a good time to start fasting. Unfortunately, I was hungry, so I ate the meal served at about 2 a.m. California time, or 10 p.m. Sydney time. But I did refrain from snacking until breakfast was served at about 5 a.m. Sydney time, so at least I avoided eating during most of the time when I would normally be asleep in Australia.

The result? I felt groggy the first day in Sydney, but woke up the second day ready to explore my destination. I think the sort-of fast helped.

4. Do everything you can to achieve decent sleep on the plane

If you are flying across the ocean, chances are that at least some of your flight will be during your destination's nighttime. Besides melatonin, I have found either Benadryl or a double scotch to be helpful in getting that mile-high shut-eye. Get a good travel pillow. On my Australia trip, I brought two different kinds so I could vary my position throughout the night. Wear comfortable clothes. Earplugs and eyeshades can also be helpful.

Some people suggest staying up all night before a flight, to make sure you can sleep on the plane. But this tactic could backfire badly if you're like me and have trouble sleeping on planes, because you could arrive at your destination too exhausted to make it through the first day.

Of course, the most helpful thing of all in getting a good night's sleep is an upgrade to Business or First Class — so if you've got the miles, consider spending them. Upgrades are one of the best values for your miles.

5. Use caffeine wisely

This means that if you're landing in the morning, go ahead and indulge — it'll help you stay awake on day one. But if you land within six hours of bedtime, stay away from the coffee shop, no matter how much you feel like you need it.

6. Use light to your advantage

Our bodies set their internal clocks based on light. Bright light, especially sunlight, tells us to be awake, and darkness tells us to sleep. On the most basic level, you can help yourself adjust to your new time zone by spending the first day outside in the sunshine as much as possible. Continue getting sunlight exposure first thing in the morning throughout your trip, and avoid artificial light and screen time at night.

If you want to get more strategic about it, you can purchase a light therapy device to expose yourself at the correct times before, during, and after your trip. Experts say that carefully timed light exposure before a trip can shorten jet lag symptoms significantly.

7. Try adjusting gradually

Some suggest moving your bedtime 15 minutes a night over the course of two weeks. For example, say you are flying from Chicago to Paris, which is six hours ahead. If you normally go to bed at 10 p.m. in Chicago, that's 4 a.m. in Paris. You need to go to bed and get up much earlier. A really dedicated two weeks of preparation, 15 minutes at a time, could move your bedtime up 3.5 hours, so that the night before your flight, you'd be going to bed at 6:30 p.m. Chicago time, or 12:30 a.m. Paris time.

8. Schedule your flight strategically

It's much easier to sleep on flights that leave late at night local time. It's also easier to stay awake through the first day of your trip if you don't arrive at dawn. Based on what you find most challenging — sleeping on the plane or staying awake once you get there — choose a flight time that plays to your strengths.

9. Stop checking what time it is at home

On my recent Australia trip, my kids asked me constantly during the first few days what the time was back home. I refused to tell them, saying, "It's 2 p.m. here. Time for ice cream." The sooner you can start thinking of local time as the "real" time, the better.

10. Give up and embrace being a vampire

Some destinations offer fun entertainment at all hours. Heck, some destinations — New Orleans, anyone? — are best late at night. If you truly can't get yourself on a normal local schedule, maybe you'll have a wonderful time in London's nightclubs and skip the Tower of London this time around. This is a vacation, after all, not a work shift. Ultimately, do what's best for you.

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10 Ways to Get Over Jet Lag and Enjoy Your Trip

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