3 Ways to Minimize Jetlag that make sense
Updated: Jan 24
I travel internationally quite frequently. And I now own quite the assortment of neck pillows, because I just can’t seem to find one that works well for me. And quite honestly, my back doesn’t tolerate sleeping upright very well. Sometimes I splurge for business class, or get lucky on a last minute upgrade coming back, when the exchange rate is in our favor. But in general, I don’t count on getting any more than two or three hours of sleep on a flight. I also don’t want to waste several days upon arrival, recovering. And when I return, I don’t want to make re-entry back into real life any harder. So I have done some trial and error experiments and these are the three most effective jetlag tips that I stand by:
1. DRINK WATER
Okay, I know. This is the most often touted recommendation for long flights and not original. But it’s so true! Sure, I'll have a beer or a glass of wine if offered, but nothing messes up my sleep habits/circadian rhythm faster than dehydration. Yes, it can be a hassle to climb over sleeping people or ask them to move repeatedly when you need to use the bathroom. Booking an aisle seat is one solution. But if you can’t, this small hassle is far better than wasting time recovering when you get to that exotic place on the other side of the world and are eager to start exploring.
2. Plan your eating around your destination’s waking hours
International poker players use this trick, so that when they arrive, they are alert and ready to play right away. And I have found that planning when you eat, more than what you eat, can ease the transition into the new time zones and help reset your internal clock. The best way to do this is to think about what time morning will be in the country you are arriving in, then plan to fast twelve hours before that. So you have your first light meal after your fast on the plane, but in your new time zone's time. This mimics what happens in your home zone when you sleep. Allowing your sugar levels to drop, then starting your ‘day’ with a protein-content ‘breakfast’ will signal your body that you are in a new time zone. Now this may mean that you skip a meal that is offered on the plane. And this may also mean that you are eating ‘breakfast’ while everyone else is sleeping. If needed, bring your own protein bar, or ask the attendant to hold the meal for you, even if it’s not typically what you eat for breakfast.
Example #1 – you have a 10 hour international flight that leaves at 10pm (your time) and has you arriving at 8am in the new country’s time zone. Your last meal (dinner) should be about 8pm (your time), which is 2 hours before your flight, then board and don’t eat the entire flight, mimicking your typical evening/sleep fasting. When you arrive, eat breakfast. Get it? Here’s a harder one:
Example #2: say you have a ten hour international flight that has you arriving at noon (lunchtime) in the new country’s time zone. Assuming a typical meal day schedule, 4-5 hours before you land is when you eat your ‘breakfast’. If you departed at 10pm from your home country, this means you may have to skip the first meal that is typically offered 1-2 hours into the flight (or ask them to hold it) and eat your ‘breakfast’ meal five hours into the flight (~3am ) when everyone else is sleeping. When you land five hours later, it’s now time for lunch and its noon there. Now thinking back further, since in your regular life you typically fast ten or twelve hours between dinner and the next days breakfast, the last ‘dinner’ meal you should have is at 3-5pm the afternoon of your flight, which is ten or twelve hours before your new 3am ‘breakfast’ on the plane. Still with me? That is prepping your body for the new time zone. Bottom line: think of what time of day you will be arriving at your destination and plan your meals, working backwards from your new time zone. It may sound wonky. But your 'gut' governs more of your body's function than you may realize.
3. Pay for that extra day and night
I used to try to push the limit of all of my vacation days, leaving as soon as I could at end of day Friday and returning as late as I could on Sunday night. In actuality, it cost me more time in recovery at each end of the flight. Now I look at schedules very carefully. Flight cost is still a priority, but I now intentionally plan to show ourselves a little more grace and allow recovery time when we travel:
A) I take direct flights as often as I can. Sure, 3-4 leg flights with long layovers are the cheapest. But now I try our best to plan for direct or 2-legged flights. If I can’t, I try to break up the flight with an overnight stay if a third leg is absolutely necessary, even if it costs a little more.
B) I look at my arrival time, and if I have a 10+ hour flight that gets me in at 9-10am in the new time zone, I book my arrival hotel for an extra night. When you travel long-distance, where ever you plan to stay that first night, consider booking an extra night, the night before your arrival. So that way, you can roll in at 9am and have a room ready and waiting for you. You will have to email the concierge or contact the hotel to let them know (as you won’t be there for the previous nights check-in). But when you walk straight in and dive into that comfy bed for a few hours recovery nap, it will be well worth it.
C) On the return home, I now almost always try to come home two days before my next scheduled work day. Having Sunday or whatever that extra day is, to get a few extra hours sleep in, get back into our schedule and maybe even start some laundry, makes re-entry back into the real world a lot less stressful.