Next in my How I Travel series, I thought I’d share some tips on jet lag. This year, I’m on track to be away from my home base 50%+ of the year, and a lot of that travel involves crossing multiple timezones, even in short periods of time (less than a week).
I can’t say I’ve conquered jet lag, but I no longer fear it. I also don’t think it should completely overwhelm any trip you take, especially during the light hours!
Here are some tips* I have to fight jet lag — add your own in the comments!
- On the day of arrival, never go to sleep before 10pm local time. Ideally 10:30p.m., or even later. I try and try to stay awake for as long as I can when I get to a new destination, and even though I’m tempted to go to sleep earlier, pushing through until it’s normal bed time for me in my new location is really important.
- If you drink coffee (yay, I love coffee), use it wisely, and with caution. Try to get on the local time as soon as possible, and spread out the doses of coffee as far as you can go (try a single shot of espresso or a smaller cup of coffee vs. a double shot or a big coffee). Even if you wake up really early, try to push your first coffee consumption until around the first coffee in your normal morning time. If I know I’m going to have trouble staying awake, I usually have one more coffee between 4-6p.m. local time in the first 2-3 days after arriving to push me through the evening. For reference, I usually only have 1-2 espressos a day, and while traveling try not to let that go up too much, to a max of 3 the first few days and then back down to my normal 1-2 after I’ve adjusted.
- Stay hydrated (and away from alcohol) on the plane, and when you arrive. Alcohol might help you get to sleep, but don’t overdo it. Waking up with a hangover and jet lag is going to really ruin your arrival. I used to think being able to get free wine and beer on transatlantic flights was cool, but I rarely drank them (and FYI, the quality usually isn’t very good). I have some stories. One woman almost fell over walking off the plane a few months ago after having too many free glasses of wine. Skip the alcohol, stay hydrated, and keep drinking water heavily the first few days you arrive. I also think this helps your digestive track readjust to the new eating schedule.
- If you must nap, never start a nap later than 3pm, and never for more than 90 minutes. Sometimes a nap is inevitable. Keeping naps short and not too late in the day is how I try not to disrupt my sleep schedule completely. I use a sleep mask if I need to to block out the light, and set an alarm to wake up. Don’t trust yourself to normally wake up “when you feel rested,” this is a trap to oversleep.
- Get physically moving in the morning. If you can go for a walk and get outside in the morning, you’ll get your body moving and your metabolism, too.
- Stay vertical as much as possible later in the day. Get out, be with friends, go for a walk. Try not to lay down to read or watch TV until you’re very close to bedtime.
- Use sleep aids like an eye mask and ear plugs. I’ve taken to using these more and more, especially on flights I want to sleep on, to make sure I get to sleep and stay asleep. If you’re someone who has trouble getting up after a normal amount of sleep, set an alarm so you don’t oversleep. If wearing sunglasses on flights is your thing, you have an excuse to wear them even after arrival, depending on the direction you’re going.
- Invest in some white noise. If you don’t have ear plugs, considering putting on some music to help you sleep (especially on flights). I have a special playlist called “Airborne” which has some gentle music that I listen to. Sometimes I just keep my headphones in my ears with no music playing, too. Alternatively, I like Calm (iPhone, free) and Noizio (iPhone/Mac, free) for some calming sounds.
- After you lay down to sleep, stay away from your digital screens. If you wake up during the night, avoid getting on your phone if possible. Backlit screens can actually keep you awake, and especially if your family/friends/network are now awake, you might get caught up in their updates and pings and render yourself fully awake. Resist the temptation! On my computer, I also use the f.lux application (
Mac onlycorrected! available for a lot of platforms!) to help dim and brighten my computer’s screen according to the local time.
- Sleep with the blinds open. Even if you’re using a sleep mask (if you don’t, even better), sleeping with the blinds/curtains open will help you get onto the local time by letting the light filter in gradually and help your body know when it’s time to wake up. It also helps to catch some spectacular sunrises, as you’ll see below.
Some tips to fight jet lag I don’t use personally but others subscribe to:
- Melatonin. While I haven’t had to take this myself, several friends and colleagues swear by it.
- The jet lag fast. Using an empty stomach to combat jet lag.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen some of my pictures tagged #jetlagwinsagain (note & gentle beware: If you’re browsing that tag on Instagram, all tags are public so not all the photos in there are mine). These are pictures, usually of sunrises or other activities I do when I get up just a bit earlier than normal, thanks to jet lag. I may be tired, but I’m happy that when #jetlagwinsagain, I have a nice memory of it.
Here are a few of my favorite #jetlagwinsagain moments:
The incredible sky waking up in Park City, Utah:
A breathtaking sunrise over the Santa Cruz boardwalk:
Catching the rays of sun between the clouds in Tokyo:
An early-morning walk near San Francisco’s Bay Bridge:
The sun flirting with us between the buildings in Chicago:
An early-morning run I got in in Kauai:
Rome’s sunrise peeking over the rooftops:
A run in Key West, Florida:
The San Francisco skyline saying good morning:
Spying the sun’s rays in a reflection at dawn in Las Vegas:
Sometimes I’m thankful for jet lag. :)
What about you? Which tips do you have for fighting jet lag?
Disclaimer: Do I really need to tell you I’m not a doctor? This is my experience and not medical advice. :)