Jet lag is a real trouble maker. The first time I visited the United States, it was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when I simply gave out, and ended up napping on a friends couch for a few hours, as my body thought I was still in Thailand. And that it was 3am. It took a good couple of days to acclimatize, and it was all rather exhausting.
Looking back, I did everything wrong.
It was about a year later I chanced to sit next to a rather frequent traveller. He worked for a big four consulting firm, and he crossed time-zones every 10 days as he flew to and from his job. During the flight, I asked him how he coped, and he filled me in on a few secrets to beating jetlag.
Here’s what I learnt:
Be flexible with your schedule
Don’t think you can walk off the back of a 16 hour red-eye flight to the other side of the world and be fully-functional for a day in the office. It’s just not going to happen. Instead, try to book your flight to land a day or two early, so you arrive on Saturday or Sunday and you can acclimatize a little before a full day of meetings. No matter how well you prepare there will still be some elements of jetlag, and an extra night in a hotel is a small price to pay to be on your game Monday morning.
Start acclimatizing early
This can be tough if you’re flying from Asia to the United States where the time zones are almost perfectly opposite, but anything you can do to start preparing early is a good thing. Stay up a few hours later than normal so you develop a routine that’s at least a little closer to your destinations. Oh, and this goes for eating too. Your body has certain rhythms it follows each day, and changing time zones gets these all out of sync. Which is essentially what jet lag is. Get these closer aligned, and the effects of your jet lag are going to be far less.
Sleep well before your flight
Staying up late so you “sleep during the flight” isn’t a smart idea. You’re not going to get a chance to properly rest on the plane, so what you’re doing is only compounding how tired you’ll be when you land. Get a good night’s sleep before you travel, so you’re not a walking zombie even if you can’t sleep a wink on the plane. No one is nice to be around when they’re tired and cranky. Don’t be that guy.
Land in the morning
If you’ve got any choice, book a flight that lands during the day. It’s even better if you land in the morning because it’ll be easier to force yourself outside when the sun is shining and you’ve got a whole day to explore the sights. Doing so will help your body adjust to the new time zone, and there’s a greater chance you’ll be able to push yourself to stay awake until the evening. It’s far easier to keep yourself awake then to try and sleep when you’re not tired at all.
Don’t load up on caffeine or alcohol
Coffee and alcohol will both dehydrate your body, which only serves to compound the effects of jet lag. Don’t drink anything that’s got caffeine in it, even cola can give you a rush that will keep you from drifting off to sleep. Instead, try to drink plenty of water, and you could even stock up on a handful of herbal tea bags from the airport lounge and enjoy a warm soothing drink before you nod off. The stewards are always happy to hand out cups of hot water.
Drowse off during your flight
Bring everything you need to be able to sleep on the plane, from a big comfortable jacket, to a pillow, ear plugs and an eye mask. Even if you don’t get a solid 8 hours of sleep, managing even two or three over the flight will leave you feeling far more refreshed than if you stayed up all night watching reruns on the in-flight entertainment. Do yourself a favor and at least try to drowse off during the flight.
Now all of these are rather straightforward, but together they form a strategy for ensuring you get off the plane rearing to go, no matter where you’re headed in the world.