Five ideas to beat the dreaded jet lag
The majority of my work travel over the past couple of years has been decidedly long-haul, which means that as well as getting to discover some incredible places, I’ve also enjoyed my fair share of jet lag (going both east and west). I’ve definitely reached the point where I genuinely get super excited about any short-haul travel (i.e. under 4 hours) or travel within the same time zone where I’m not going to have to make a gargantuan effort to reset my body clock.
Now, realistically there’s no way for me to avoid jet lag on my work travels. Not only is jet lag generally unpleasant to experience, but I’m also often required to attend meetings and events soon after I arrive in these far-flung destinations. So I’ve gradually established some ways to get over the worst of jet lag. From having spoken to quite a few fellow travellers about this, jet lag affects everyone differently; some people find it easier to fly east, some to fly west (I’m in the latter camp). So working out what is best for you personally is going to be a case of trial and error. Whether you’re travelling on holiday or are travelling for work and have to attend a string of meetings looking remotely presentable the day after you arrive, hopefully my tips will help you readjust to your time zone quickly so you can make the most of your trip.
1. Check the timing of your flight
I think it’s actually really important to think about what time your flight lands and then consider whether or not you want to try and sleep on the flight. For day flights out to North America for example, I might have a nap to keep me going but generally I’ll try not to have a big sleep because I won’t be tired enough that evening. If you’re flying east, day flights that land at night are good because you can go straight to bed when you arrive and relieve some of your jet lag straightaway!
2. Try to go to bed at a reasonable time
I’d say that anytime between 8pm-1am is a good window to aim for, whichever direction you’ve flown in. This should help you to adjust to the time zone rather than ending up in a nocturnal situation. If you’re finding it hard to sleep then whatever you do, don’t go on your phone or your computer! I find this immediately wakes me up and then it’s even harder to get to sleep than before.
3. Set an alarm
Whatever time you go to sleep in the evening, set an alarm for the morning at a reasonable time. I know, ‘a reasonable time’ is pretty vague, but I tend to take two things into consideration: what time I have to be up for a meeting/activity and how many hours sleep I’ll get. I usually want at least 5 hours after a long journey to be able to remotely function the following day. Even if you’re only going to end up getting a couple of hours sleep, if you get up at a decent time in the morning, you’ll get into a routine much quicker (and sleep better that night!).
4. After a night flight, sleep if you’re tired
Mitigating the effects of jetlag is much easier when you’ve managed to snag a day flight – the three tips above should shift you onto the correct time zone pretty quickly. I personally struggle most with the aftermath of the dreaded night flight. As my work travels over the past couple of years have been to the Americas, the night flight is almost completely unavoidable. The only day flight back to the UK I’m aware of is from New York City, and I’ve rarely been sent there on my travels. I’ve tried a couple of different techniques, and all I can say is don’t force yourself to stay awake if you’re really tired. I’ve previously tried to stay awake all day, but as sleep quality is really pretty poor in Economy seats on planes, this was pretty grim. Instead, I’ve recently favoured night flights that arrive in the UK at around 6am and I’ve tried to stay awake for most of the flight so I can then have a really good sleep when I’m back in my bed at around 9am. I’ll set an alarm for about 2pm and get up by 3pm, which has worked very well for me on my last couple of trips. It’s a long enough sleep to recharge and then I can usually get to sleep again by around midnight that night.
5. Go exploring when you arrive
If you’re flying west in the day and arrive in the afternoon you’ll need to kill a few hours if you’re serious about getting rid of your jet lag. I highly recommend dumping your stuff when you arrive at your accommodation and immediately turning around and heading out of the door. For me, being that close to a bed when I’m already flagging seriously jeopardises my beat-the-jet-lag strategy. Identify somewhere you’d like to see before you arrive and plan to go there as your first point of call. If you’re feeling especially brave/crazy (like me on my last trip), one variation of this is to pick up your hire car and stop off at points of interest en route to your hotel, which is at least 2 hours’ drive away from the airport. Trust me, you’ll arrive after dark and be absolutely shattered so will sleep like a log.
Do you have any tips for beating jet lag when you travel long-haul? Let me know in the comments below!