10 Tips to Combat Jet Lag

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Jet Lag

Don’t do the math. I just woke up in my hotel room in London when the alarm went off at 8:00 AM after flying in last night. My watch says it is 8:00 AM and my body needs to get used to the idea.

Whatever I do, don’t do the math and figure out that it is… ugh… midnight in California. If you have traveled internationally then you have had to deal with those days where your head is in one timezone and your body is in another. Here are some tips for combating jet lag.

Decaffeinate

Especially if you are flying somewhere like Europe on a night flight, I recommend not trying to have your last Starbucks in the airport and then trying to sleep on the plane. Friday we took a night flight from San Francisco to JFK and then on to London. Knowing that I would want to sleep on the plane I had my last caffeine (Diet Coke being my delivery mechanism of choice) in the morning so that I would be tired by the time of my 10 PM flight. It does help if you, like me, are often one Diet Coke away from unconsciousness.

Set You Watch

As soon as you get on a plane set your watch to the time at your destination. Your goal is now to adjust your body until it matches your watch. (also read How to Sleep on a Plane)

Eye Shade

You will often need to sleep to adjust your schedule and it might be daylight outside. If it is daylight then you will want to have an eyeshade to make it easier to sleep. You can wrap a towel around your head as one Australian did on our flight to London… but then you look particularly silly. 

Noise Canceling Headphones

I have bought myself two sets of noise canceling headphones to drown out the background noise of the airplane. I bring a pair of AKG N60nc headphones. Bose has well-regarded headphones as well. My headphones work so well that other immediate family members have stolen them from me.

Earplugs

A less expensive option than noise canceling headphones is cheap foam earplugs (which people are much less likely to take from you in my experience). I carry a bag of them as I lose on average one per flight. I usually find it more comfortable to sleep with earplugs in than wearing my noise canceling headphones.

Drugs

Many people recommend chemical solutions from a glass of wine to prescription drugs to induce drowsiness. I have had mixed success with this kind of approach. Years ago I went to Tanzania which involved two-night flights in a row. I had thrown out my back just before and brought Flexeril which is a muscle relaxant to knock me out. I combined that with a glass of red wine (which I later learned was against the instructions on the label) which turns out to be a bad idea. I woke up on the flight nauseated and faint because I think my blood pressure had been dangerously lowered. 

As you can imagine this kind of incident makes me less excited about taking any sort of drugs but I do find that for a long flight when I want to get some sleep I take an over the counter sleep aid whose active ingredient is Doxylamine Succinate. The recommended dosage is two but I usually only take one. It helps me stay drowsy.

CAUTION Don’t Take Ambien!

Every flight attendant I know has stories of people sleepwalking on planes who have taken Ambien. They have been known to mistake the galley for the bathroom, undress and wake up with no knowledge of what they have done. I have a friend who is a well-known travel blogger (who has sworn me to secrecy to protect his identity).  He took Ambien and woke up in security with the very serious security people telling him to swear to “never to do that again“. To this day he doesn’t know what he did.

I know a number of travelers who prefer melatonin based pills which is the same chemical that your body produces when it is exposed to sunlight.

Nap

When you arrive at your destination take a nap if necessary but if you do, decide how much sleep you will allow yourself and set an alarm. 

Shower

A refreshing shower can sometimes keep me awake for another hour or so and feels good after a long plane flight.

Sunlight

Use the local sunlight to help convince your body what is day and what is night. When you get to your destination get outside in the sunlight and walk around. Some other travelers use 

Stay Up

If at all possible try and stay up to your normal bedtime. You will adjust quickly if you can. I find that it is easier to do this if I get outside in the daylight. If the sunrise will happen at a reasonable hour then leave your hotel curtains open a bit to help you wake up when it is day time. Of course, this doesn’t work as well when you visit Northern Europe or Canada in the summer and the sun rises at around 4 o’clock.

Relax

You might not make it up to your normal bedtime or you might not be able to get to sleep at that time. Cut yourself some slack. You may just need to decide that in this time zone your bedtime is 2 hours sooner or 2 hours later. For some reason, in Africa, I could not sleep past 5 AM. That just gave me more time to work on my blog.

10 Tips to Combat Jet Lag #travel #trip #vacation #tips #jet-lag #jetlag #airplaine #flying

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

4 Responses to “10 Tips to Combat Jet Lag”

Charles Rahm (@DWJustTravel)

Says:

Thank you for sharing these tips. I always do number 2. and set my watch for the destination as soon as I board the plane. As for alcohol I tend to stick to a small bottle of wine ( 2 glasses) with the main meal.
http://www.dontworryjusttravel.com/

Marc

Says:

Thanks for the tips. I use most of these tips to combat my jet lags while traveling overseas all the time. It seems like the longer the flight, less jet lag I have. any ideas?

chris2x

Says:

For me it depends a bit on when the flight takes off and lands too. I prefer a flight that lands in the evening because I will arrive tired, go to sleep and wake up adjusted.

Kathy

Says:

I noticed in your newsletter that you mentioned driving right off a night flight. This is extremely dangerous. Driving with jet lag is as bad as driving drunk, and there is nothing you can do to prevent microsleeps.

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