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As no stranger to flying long-haul flights internationally, jet lag is an unwelcome friend. Despite taking many long-haul flights, I rarely experience jet lag as I have some tips to help you banish the worst of your jet lag before, during, and after your flight!
Please consult with your doctor prior to taking any medicines. This does not constitute medical advice.
Bring (and take) melatonin
Melatonin is a natural chemical produced by our bodies that has scientific evidence to back up its science of helping people deal with jet lag. It’s sold as a dietary supplement in many countries, including the United States, so you can purchase it online or at drugstores.
It is important to note that you must carefully time your dosage to ensure that it doesn’t make you too sleepy and it’s best to consult with your doctor/pharmacist about an acceptable dosage. I’ve taken melatonin mostly after I’ve arrived at my destination to help me sleep. Please be aware that taking too much melatonin as well as taking it too often can disrupt your sleep.
Melatonin is not for people who are pregnant, who have autoimmune diseases, issues with seizures, depression, and who take a number of medications. Please check for possible interactions before taking this.
Avoid sleeping 24 hours beforehand
For those unable to take medicines due to medical issues (or preference), my go-to trick for dealing with harsh time differences is staying up 24-36 hours before my flight, especially 12+ hour flights that are direct with minimal layovers. This is quite rough if you have to deal with school or work in the days before, however the reason why I do this is that I usually end up quite tired on the flight after at least a day of lost sleep.
For those who struggle with sleeping on planes, this is a very useful although tiring trick. If you have a tricky connection on you arrive and/or need to drive once you arrive, please get your beauty rest and try another method! It’s worth arranging a taxi to be safe!
Force yourself onto the right time zone during the flight
A trick that I try to implement is to switch my phone to the right time zone. I try to avoid sleeping until it’s nighttime where I’m going, which helps a lot for forcing myself on the right time zone. Sometimes, I struggle with sleeping when it comes to the right time, which can leave me sleepy once I arrive. Still, I find that it makes a noticeable impact in terms of reducing jet lag.
Utilize a time shifter in the days before your flight
For those who really need to adjust quickly to their time zone, a time shifter can help you plan smartly to shift your body’s natural rhythms to your destination. This is one of the smartest ways to prevent jet leg.
Shut off your electronics to avoid blue light
The blue light coming off our electronics is so bad for us, especially when you’re trying to sleep. Although playing a fun game on your phone while on your flight might be helpful for relaxation, research has shown that blue light is good for inhibiting your melatonin production, which can reduce your sleep quality. I’ve been getting in the rhythm of not using my phone before bed and I see a noticeable difference already. For those with glasses, I have found that wearing glasses with a blue-light filter has been really helpful.
Nobody said that plane pillows were great. Bring your own pillow with a pillowcase that you can clean afterward. For a long-haul flight, I love a U-shaped pillow.
Avoid booze and coffee
Although the temptation to enjoy the plane’s free coffee and alcohol is high, both beverages can impact your sleep. Many swear by alcohol for putting them to sleep, however the downside (as many of us know!) is that you often don’t sleep very well after drinking. Similarly, the caffeine in coffee can prevent you from sleeping.
Eat to help yourself sleep on the plane
Nobody is excited about plane food, but after a large meal, your body often needs a nap. I sometimes snack in the airport, but I often find that I get very sleepy after also enjoying the food on the plane. Enjoy your body’s natural reaction to a large meal and sleep if you can.
Falling asleep is the hardest part of jet lag for me and the most important. One of the hardest parts of jet lag is simply sleeping on the right time zone. It’s easy to say go to sleep, but many of us (myself included) struggle with the aftereffects of a trans-Atlantic flight.
Listen to a soothing story!
Something that has worked amazingly well for me is the Sleepcast feature of the Headspace app. I have a yearly subscription and it’s a lifesaver. Within this part of the app, you can enjoy a short breathing exercise before having a calming voice tell you a quiet story, just like when you were a kid. Don’t expect fairy tales, but a nice sleep!
Bring an eye mask
If light is an issue, I recommend bringing an eye mask with you to help you get complete darkness. Small adjustments go a long way to bringing you comfort!
Try out muscle warming gel
Bear with me, but for those who struggle with back pain might be familiar with Voltaren. As someone who struggles with back pain, I’ve found that it helps my back and shoulder muscles relax. Shortly after, I fall asleep. It works for me well and although it’s a weird tip, I hope that it helps others!
Go out in the sun
One of my best tips for those trying to get over that pesky jet lag is to go out in the sun. It can hurt and sunglasses aren’t a bad idea, however the sunlight will help your body naturally adjust to this new time zone. It might be rough the first day, so please take it easy on yourself! My first day in a new destination typically includes lots of food, coffee, and sitting out in the sun.
Arrive in time for sleeping at your destination
If you really need to be quickly adjusted to your new timezone, I recommend ensuring that you arrive in time for bedtime at your new destination. Even if you can’t sleep on your long-haul over, you can stave off the jet lag by settling into your bedtime routine and heading to bed early. I find that a meal before bed can also help if I arrive between 4-7pm. After the meal, I’m typically ready for bed.
When I fly to New York in the evening, I sometimes go to bed at 9 pm. The next morning, I wake up fresh at 5 am! Other nights, I last until 1 am. It really depends on the evening, however, you’ll definitely feel refreshed in the morning!
Stay on your home time-zone (if possible) for shorter trips
I heard this tip from a traveling professor who often travels around the world for talks! Instead of trying to adjust to the time zone, focus on getting the work that you need to get to get done on your normal schedule, providing that you’re awake and functional for what needs to be done. If you’re flying to Australia or Hong Kong for just 1-2 days from Europe or the US, save yourself the jet lag and keep your sleep cycle as normal as possible!