People always ask me for jet lag tips. Having traveled to over 100 countries, I’ve seen all sides of time-zone affliction. Whether it’s traveling to Asia and the Americas with only a few days in London in between, or going back and forth between the UK and the US multiple times in a month, I’ve been a jet lag survivor. But over the years I’ve developed strategies to overcome jet lag, and today I like to think of myself as a jet lag conqueror. If you want to be one too, read on for my 7 steps to overcoming jet lag.
Jet Lag Tips
Jet lag comes in many forms for me. Sometimes it’s lying awake all night, others it’s the inability to keep my eyes open during the day. Sometimes it’s headaches, others it’s backaches. But whatever shape it takes, it’s not a fun way to start (or end) a trip.
Some people have recommended sleeping pills or melatonin, but I’ve shied away from the former and can’t buy the latter over-the-counter in the UK. So I’ve come up with my own system, and I hope it will help you overcome the symptoms as much as it’s helped me.
1. Plan for East or West
There’s no silver bullet cure for jet lag, because it takes a different shape depending whether I’m traveling east or west. If east, I want to stay awake all night and sleep all day. If west, I want to go to bed at happy hour and wake up at 4am. So I’ve learned to tailor my strategy for the direction of travel.
If I’m flying east, I take a power nap on arrival to help me survive the day. In the evening, I meditate before bedtime to relax and coax my body into sleep.
If I’m flying west, I expose my eyes to as much daylight as possible from the time I land to the time it gets dark. This helps convince my body to stay awake during the day. When evening comes I avoid alcohol and heavy meals that might induce food coma, then try to have evening plans that keep me out and encourage me to stay awake as late as I can.
After the first couple days my internal clock starts adjusting, and when I fly home I reverse my actions to get back on London time.
2. Bring Sleep Aids
One of the reasons I get hit hard with jet lag is that my sleeping environment isn’t always the most conducive to…well…sleep. Whether it’s daylight streaming through the curtains at 5am or loud noise coming from the street, sometimes even my best preparations can be affected by external forces.
So I mitigate the risks by bringing things that help me rest well. The first is earplugs. I know I’ve written about them before, but they’re lifesavers for a light sleeper like me. I swear by Ohropax, soft earplugs that have helped me sleep through a lot of loud nights. You can get them here.
The second is an eye mask. Having it on while I sleep or nap improves the quality of my sleep and ensures that any cracks in the blinds don’t wake me up too early or keep me from napping. You can get one here.
The third is a neck pillow. I have trouble sleeping on long-haul flights because my head bobs up and down when I nod off. A neck pillow is a great help, and the sleep I get with it makes me feel a lot more refreshed when I land. You can get one here.
3. Avoid Excess Alcohol and Caffeine
I’m no teetotal, and I like a good cup of coffee. But over the years I’ve learned to drink alcohol in moderation and curb my caffeine intake after long-haul flights. A glass of wine on the plane can help me sleep, but too much and I can’t drift off. A cup of coffee in the morning can revive me after I land, but a second can make me jittery and unable to sleep later. Both alcohol and caffeine can also dehydrate me, leaving my body a mess and exacerbating the effects of jet lag. So I’ve learned to have both in moderation until I’ve adjusted to the time difference.
4. Stay Hydrated
My next jet lag tip is the flip side of the last one. In addition to avoiding too much alcohol and caffeine, I try to drink as much water as I can. There’s nothing like an airplane to dehydrate me, and often part of my jet lag stems from not having had enough water. So I make sure to drink a lot of water before I travel, while I’m on a flight, and when I land. It makes a huge difference to my wakefulness, energy, and general well-being, setting me up for overcoming jet lag before I even touch down.
5. Fly on Planes with Good Cabin Pressure
Another of my best jet lag tips is to do some research when booking a flight to try to fly on a plane with good cabin pressure. Whether it’s an A350 or a 787 Dreamliner—both are pressurized to 6,000 feet instead of the normal 8,000—it can make a big difference in everything from less ear popping to easier in-flight sleep. The kinder the flight is to my body, the better I feel when I land. And that’s half the battle for me.
6. Listen to Your Body
Perhaps the most important jet lag tip I have is that even when I do all the things that usually work, sometimes I still can’t escape it. I used to try to force myself to adjust even when it wasn’t working, but I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing to do is listen to my body.
If I feel a crushing need to sleep at 6pm in California, I should take a nap. If I feel wide awake when I land at 8am in Asia, I shouldn’t take a nap. Forcing myself into a routine can just cause stress, which makes my jet lag worse. So I check in with myself and adjust my jet lag survival routine accordingly.
7. Know Yourself
The above are all things that I’ve refined over the years for my body, brain, and circadian rhythm. But everyone is different, and what works for me might need some tweaking for you. You may need to consult your doctor or do some experimentation to find the perfect mix for yourself.
Whatever works for you, I hope you succeed in conquering jet lag and making the most of every day of your next big trip.
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