How to Beat Jetlag
We’ve all been through it—you’re traveling halfway across the world and getting ready to embark on an incredible trip. But you have to get there first. And sometimes getting there is half the battle. Maybe you’re excited and drink too much champagne in the lounge before you take off. Maybe you’re a nervous flier, you’re too tall to fit comfortably in the seats, or you just can’t sleep easily on a flight. Maybe you have a screaming infant next to you and don’t get a wink of sleep. Whatever the reason—you ultimately end up at your final destination and you’re tired, completely exhausted, and so jet-lagged that you can’t even enjoy your trip. After years of flying internationally and reading eight million blogs on the same topic, I’m here to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Here’s my list of six things to do to help beat jet lag.
Set Your Watch to the Time at Your Final Destination
This first rule is extremely important, and the sooner you do it and start living by the time at your final destination, the easier it will be for you in the long run. If I know I have a trip coming up with a significant time difference, I start prepping for it a few days before the flight. If the time difference is significantly later, I start staying up later than usual and waking up later. Similarly, if the time difference is earlier, I try going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. As soon as you set your watch, you must intentionally change your mindset so that you think you are in the time zone of your new destination. Sometimes this is difficult to do if you have work or other obligations in the days leading up to the trip, but you can ease into it gradually. If other obligations don’t permit you to be able to start doing this a day or two early, then do it as soon as you get to the airport.
Once you get on the plane, you have a decision to make: try to go to sleep as soon as you get on the plane or wait and stay up. Most international or long-haul flights are redeyes, which is actually good for helping combat jet lag. But you need to be sure to go to sleep at a time that is closer to the regular bedtime at your intended destination and not the time at the place you are leaving. For example, if you have a 4:30 pm flight out of Los Angeles to Dubai, you need to try to go to sleep as soon as you get on the plane. Yes, at 4:30 in the afternoon! That’s because it’s 3:30 am in Dubai, and when you arrive at 7:30 pm Dubai time, it will be 8 am your time, so you will be completely wired and won’t be able to go to sleep if you sleep on the plane on LA time. So this is why I say you need to start prepping ahead of time. Start going to bed earlier and earlier as you approach the trip, and try to get up earlier and earlier. That way, by the time you get to your travel date, you will actually be tired by 4:30 pm and will be able to sleep easier.
On the contrary, if you’re traveling to Hong Kong on a redeye, you’ll need to to try to stay up as late as possible. Just about every flight I’ve taken to Hong Kong leaves at either midnight or 1 am. If you leave at 1 am, it’s already 4 pm in Hong Kong the same day. So you’ll need to stay up as late as possible so that you go to bed at a reasonable time on Hong Kong time. This means you will need to start staying up later and sleeping in as much as you can in the days leading up to the trip. If you are able to get on the plane and stay up as late as you can, like until 4 or 5 am (channel your inner 19-year-old partying self), that will be 8 pm Hong Kong time, which is certainly a more reasonable hour to go to bed. That way, you will wake up feeling refreshed and will actually be able to make it through the whole day when you land in Hong Kong at 7 am.
2. Arrive at the Airport Early
This is important because of point number 3. Since most long-haul flights are redeyes, you will need to get a good night’s rest. Being stressed or anxious or having to rush, which releases adrenaline, will make it difficult for you to relax and sleep once you get on the plane. So give yourself plenty of time, maybe get there early enough to have a nice meal at the airport (most international terminals in major cities have decent restaurants) and give yourself ample time to get through security and get to the gate well before takeoff. Or get there early and park yourself in one of the airport lounges, where you can eat, drink, browse the internet or read a book and relax.
This is the second (or maybe the first—I think they are a tie) most important thing you need to do in order to feel great when you get to your intended destination. You absolutely MUST do whatever you need to do in order to sleep a full eight hours on the plane. I don’t care what you have to do—take sleeping aids, have a few cocktails (in moderation though—see point heading 4 below)—but getting a full night’s sleep is absolutely critical to feeling well when you arrive at your new destination. This requires some prep ahead of time, like starting to adjust your body clock to the clock at your new time zone (see above), but also making sure you have at your disposal all the gadgets, drugs, or comforts of home to help you sleep easier. The following are some of the things that I simply will not travel without on a long-haul flight:
Over-ear noise cancelling Bose or Beats headphones, which you can buy HERE.
Earplugs (yes, these AND the headphones)
A sleep aid of some kind (I typically take either Ambien, Tylenol PM or Xanax. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and do not recommend taking any drugs without the consultation of a doctor first. This is just what I do; you must do so at your own risk.). Melatonin is another good, natural option. Purchase it HERE.
Pre downloaded sleep stories on the Calm App, or a relaxing music playlist.
Always wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes and warm socks. I like to dress warm (even if going to a tropical destination) because flights are always cold and the blankets are never warm enough. These joggers from Lululemon are a new favorite of mine, because they're super soft and comfy, yet trendy enough to wear through the airport without looking like a total slob. To shop my favorite travel clothes, visit my Amazon Storefront.
You can also bring a small vile of lavender essential oils to rub on your neck just prior to sleeping. The Westin properties now hand them out at their hotels for free (so snag one the next time you stay at a Westin property), but you can purchase a rollerball version just like it HERE.
Anyone who has traveled with me knows that I have my long-haul sleep pattern down to a science. I can sleep on just about any flight, in any tight, cramped, uncomfortable seat, and can get a full eight hours of sleep by just being prepared and making sure I have all the comforts of home to help me sleep. As noted above, I make sure to wear something comfortable and warm on the plane. I typically travel wearing Lululemon leggings or joggers, compression socks and sneakers, a comfortable t-shirt and a sweatshirt (again, I even wear a sweater or sweatshirt when traveling to a tropical destination because the flights are always freezing cold). If you get really cold, bring your own blanket.
If I need to try to fall asleep right away, I try to book a window seat so that no one will bother me. I will get right on the plane, take my shoes off, put my neck pillow around my neck and cover myself in a blanket. Then I put my headphones on and either play soothing music or listen to a sleep story on Calm (Note: be sure to download several ahead of time because they typically require an internet connection). If there is a crying baby or screaming child, I will put earplugs in and then turn my noise-cancelling headphones on and play ambient music. Trust me, if you do both you will not hear ANYTHING. Then I take my sleep-aid of choice, put my eye mask on and drift off to sleep. Sometimes if I’m REALLY wired, I’ll take a sleep aid, have a cocktail (again, do so at your own risk) and watch a movie for a bit. Once I start feeling sleepy, I’ll put my eye mask on and try to fall asleep.
4. Don’t Drink Too Much
I know—this one’s a tough one. Whether it's because you’re having celebratory drinks because you’re excited or you just have a few more cocktails than normal to help you sleep, too much alcohol will definitely impact your ability to arrive feeling refreshed and not tired. If you try to eat a healthy meal and limit the alcohol consumption to only one or two drinks, you will feel a lot better when you arrive. And even if a few cocktails helps you to fall asleep, you will not be able to enter full REM sleep if you are drunk (or you will likely not sleep as long as you would if you were sober). So just try to lay off on the alcohol.
5. Drink a Lot of Water
I find this one to be the most difficult to follow because there’s a tension between being able to sleep or remain in a seat for a long time and drinking lots of water because I don’t like having to get up a bunch to pee. But staying hydrated (especially if you insist in drinking alcohol) is incredibly important to feeling your best when you arrive. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that air cabins pressurized to 8,000 feet lower oxygen in the blood, making passengers feel uncomfortable and dehydrated. Drink as much water as you can before, during, and after your flight and try to avoid drinking coffee or caffeinated sodas before you take off.
You can also take supplement your water intake with hydration and electrolyte packs, like the ones I like from Liquid IV and Drip Drop, which you can buy HERE. They come in individual-use packets, so they're perfect for travel.
6. Stretch and Walk Around
When you’re not sleeping, it’s important to try to walk around and stretch as much as possible. You can actually combine this with rule number 5—if you physically get up from your seat to fill cups of water, you can stand in the galley for a bit and stretch. The bigger planes on longer flights have space where you can stand, stretch, and help yourself to water and other beverages. Take advantage of that. Blood circulation is just as important as hydration in feeling good when you land. So be sure to take a brief walk to the bathroom or the galley every hour or so, and stretch your legs out in your seat as much as you can.
To shop the complete list of all my favorite products to fight jetlag and clothes that I wear on the plane to fel more comfortable, visit my Amazon Storefront.
Anyone else have tips or tricks they use to avoid feeling jet lagged? Comment on my social.
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Questions? Comments? Feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org