How To Deal With Jetlag: My Tips & Strategies

How To Deal With Jetlag: My Tips & Strategies

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There are endless articles out there with tips from “experts” about how to overcome jetlag. As someone who has flown millions of miles and has spent a countless number of nights in timezones very far away from home, I figured I’d share my take.

In addition to sharing some general tips for overcoming jetlag, I wanted to also talk about why I’m not as obsessed with getting over jetlag as others. Let me start by saying that this advice is intended primarily for people traveling for leisure, rather than those who are on whirlwind international business trips.

I don’t buy into “traditional” jetlag advice

The way I view it, there’s some traditional advice for avoiding jetlag that I don’t follow. I’m not saying it’s bad advice, but I just question why one should even bother. For example:

  • Already start to adjust to your new timezone days before you leave on your trip, by getting up progressively earlier or later — that seems like a lot of effort
  • Don’t drink alcohol or eat on the plane, but rather go straight to sleep — okay, totally fine if you’re flying economy, but you haven’t been racking up all these miles with credit cards in order to drink water in Emirates first class, right? 😉
  • Change your watch to the local time at your destination as soon as you leave home, so you can start acclimating — fair enough, but that’s not some magical pixy dust that’s going to make you adjust… oh, and I also don’t own a watch
  • Always stay on local time when you get to your destination, and don’t nap — naps are kind of amazing, though, and who doesn’t love an afternoon siesta?
What I’m drinking in Emirates first class… sorry, not sorry

Why I’m not intimidated by jetlag

While I generally try to adjust to local time when traveling internationally, I’m not obsessed with it in quite the way other people are. Why?

  • I get up at 4-5AM when I’m at home, and I love being a morning person, so if I get up an hour or two earlier (or later than usual), it’s not a big deal; I feel like jetlag advice is largely for people who are late risers, who don’t want to get up early
  • I kind of love the feeling of being jetlagged; I love making a coffee at 3AM in my hotel room, getting some work done, going to the gym, and still being the first person at breakfast
  • I have the flexibility to work from anywhere, and I also work whenever I travel, so I try to have at least some of my day overlap with US business hours; since my travels aren’t generally a “once in a lifetime” holiday where I have no work, I don’t have the same obsession with being perfectly adjusted that many other people have
I love being awake when most people are sleeping

My tips & strategies for dealing with jetlag

With the above out of the way, I figured I’d share my tips and strategies for dealing with jetlag while in timezones that are far away from home. In no particular order…

Stay out of your hotel room as much as possible

If you’re like me, your hotel room is also your office when traveling. But that’s also a slippery slope. Your room might have a mediocre office desk and a very comfortable bed. So if you’re anything like me, you might get off a long haul flight, then go sit at your desk in your room, and then slowly start working from bed, and then… zzzzz.

Therefore while adjusting to a new timezone, I always recommend staying out of your room as much as possible if you don’t want to sleep. Get some fresh air and sightsee, go to the gym, or if you want to work, go to a coffeeshop, the hotel lobby, or the hotel club lounge, assuming you have access. This will help you avoid the temptation to sleep.

A hotel club lounge can be a great place to work from

Don’t nap after 2PM

This is quite possibly the most important point for me. Some people say you shouldn’t nap at all when battling jet lag. I don’t think that’s necessary.

For example, if you have a long haul flight and land at your destination at 6AM, in my opinion you should nap so that you’re refreshed. The key, though, is to avoid a nap late in the day. Based on my preferred schedule (getting up around 5AM, going to bed at around 9PM), I never nap after 2PM.

When I try to nap after 2PM that typically turns into a full-on slumber, and that’s not good for adjusting timezones.

Don’t nap late in the day (unless you’re Winston)

Use the power of caffeine

Others will disagree with me on this, but in this post I’m sharing my tips, so too bad. 😉 I love coffee in general, and in particular when traveling. When it’s the afternoon on my first day at a new destination and I’m tempted to nap, I instead leave my hotel room and try to find a great cup of coffee somewhere.

That kills many birds with one stone — I get caffeine, fresh air, and I pass time.

A good coffee goes a long way!

Don’t leave your phone next to your bed when sleeping

Once you finally do fall asleep for the night and are trying to overcome jetlag, I recommend not putting your phone within easy reach from where you’re sleeping. Why? When I wake up in the middle of the night I’m tempted to just look at my phone briefly, but once that happens, I’m wide awake. After all, life is continuing in my timezone back home, and I have all kinds of emails, messages, etc.

So instead I leave my phone face down and far away. I turn on a white noise app, and I can choose for how long I want it to play. For example, I might play it for six hours — then rather than looking at what time it is, I can tell by the noise whether six hours has passed since I fell asleep. I have a much easier time going back to sleep when I don’t look at my phone.

Avoid being distracted while trying to sleep

Being up at weird times isn’t that bad

I hinted at this earlier, but I think it’s worth emphasizing — being jetlagged isn’t that bad, and on some level I’d encourage people to embrace it. Some of my fondest travel memories have involved wandering foreign streets in the middle of the night. There’s something beautiful about being up before everyone, and watching the sun rise (if that’s not something you’d usually do).

Sure, try to adjust to local time as much as you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it exactly right. You can see a destination in a whole different way at off hours. For that matter, there’s something really nice about taking an afternoon nap if you got up much earlier than usual. I especially love this in tropical destinations where it may be ridiculously hot in the afternoons.

Who doesn’t love a sunrise beach walk?!

Pick your arrival times deliberately

I find that timing when I arrive at a destination can have a big impact on how I do with jetlag. Coming from the East Coast of the United States, here are my general preferences for the time at which I like to arrive at destinations:

  • For Europe, I like to arrive as late in the morning or early in the afternoon as possible; this allows me to avoid napping the first day, and then I’m deliriously tired by bedtime, and get a good night of sleep
  • For the Middle East and Africa, I prefer to arrive in the early evening; it has usually been a very long travel day, and my best bet is to have dinner or take a walk, then go to sleep, and then wake up early the next morning (as usual)
  • For most of the rest of Asia I don’t have that strong of a preference one way or another, since it’s such a massive time change, and it’s going to be a struggle no matter what; I generally prefer an early morning arrival with the possibility of a nap, assuming my hotel room is ready, but that’s a whole different adventure
  • For “deep” South America you have to take a long flight but the timezone hasn’t really changed, so I prefer taking an overnight flight to travel as efficiently as possible, and then I’ll try to take a nap early on my first day
I prefer midday arrivals in Europe

Enjoy your flights

This counters typical jetlag advice, but OMAAT is largely about helping people maximize their rewards to travel in comfort. Maybe I’m just still a kid at heart, because the prevailing “beating jetlag” thought process seems to be to board a plane, not eat or drink anything, and go straight to sleep.

Not only do I struggle sleeping when there’s a meal service (because of the noise, smell, lights, etc.), but for that matter a large part of what I love about first & business travel is the inflight service, especially on top airlines.

So while this perhaps isn’t great jetlag advice, by all means enjoy and maximize a flight if you’re looking forward to it. Have some great food and drinks, take a nap (or don’t), and you can figure out your jetlag situation when you’re on the ground. Of course this assumes that you’re traveling for leisure, and aren’t traveling for business and need to hit the ground running on arrival.

I’ll always try to enjoy premium cabin flights

Bottom line

I’ve certainly done my fair share of long haul travel over the years, and the above is my general approach to dealing with jetlag. As you can tell, I don’t pursue a “zero jetlag” strategy, but rather try to find a happy middle ground. I’m a very early riser anyway, so if I get up an hour or two earlier or later, it doesn’t really matter to me. If anything, I hate when I get up at 8AM or later, since I feel like I’ve already wasted half of the day (yes, I’m weird).

Personally when trying to adjust to a new timezone I try to stay out of my hotel room as much as possible, drink coffee (and use finding a good cup of coffee as an activity any hour of the day), avoid afternoon naps (and embrace morning naps), put my phone far away from me when sleeping, etc.

What’s your strategy for dealing with jetlag when traveling?

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  1. iamhere Guest

    Another pointless article. Your advice has a lot of contradiction too. You don't want to get up past 8AM because it feels like you wasted the whole day but you will be okay to arrive at your destination in mid morning or early afternoon. Arriving in the evening wastes another night paying for a hotel.

  2. No fags allowed Guest

    You forgot to mention the other way.

    As an arse pirate, you start your day with a load of semen, after another jockey pilages your arse, with bloody hemorrhoids hanging from it.
    For a real sailor of the anal ports, like you, there is nothing like ramming the schooner into another man's glory hole…

    Argh me matey, sure do love to swab the poop deck!!!

  3. brianna hoffner Gold

    Argonne National Laboratory has a tested and proven fasting schedule for fighting jet lag. I use it every time I take a long flight.

  4. Ross Kennedy Guest

    From UK to SYD club class BA direct via SIN. BA15 arrives 0630 odd, for not a lot more book hotel from previous day (must make sure hotel understands that you are arriving till early am or they might resell your room), so, arrive at hotel say 0900hrs, direct to room, shower then breakfast. Following that outside till 1100 ish, 1130 then sleep till 1430ish. Shower, out and about, early dinner plus a couple of...

    From UK to SYD club class BA direct via SIN. BA15 arrives 0630 odd, for not a lot more book hotel from previous day (must make sure hotel understands that you are arriving till early am or they might resell your room), so, arrive at hotel say 0900hrs, direct to room, shower then breakfast. Following that outside till 1100 ish, 1130 then sleep till 1430ish. Shower, out and about, early dinner plus a couple of beers, bed 2100 ish, sleep through to breakfast. Works a dream every time.

  5. Janet Guest

    I don’t seem to have trouble with jet lag. I get up around 4 every morning at home, and hate naps. I go to bed around 8 at home, so when traveling I usually just go to bed early my first night. Later this year I’m flying Boston to SFO to New Zealand. That trip, I’m worried about the time difference! Am flying PE so no nice flat beds for me.

  6. Alison Guest

    Andy's point is well-taken about distinguishing jet-lag and lack of sleep. I can't sleep well on planes, even in lie-flat so I am usually pretty wasted for the first couple of days on a trip just from the lack of sleep. That said, I find arriving late afternoon, walking around a city and then dinner and a reasonable bedtime works pretty well for the first night. Since I am usually flying from the west coast...

    Andy's point is well-taken about distinguishing jet-lag and lack of sleep. I can't sleep well on planes, even in lie-flat so I am usually pretty wasted for the first couple of days on a trip just from the lack of sleep. That said, I find arriving late afternoon, walking around a city and then dinner and a reasonable bedtime works pretty well for the first night. Since I am usually flying from the west coast to Europe, that covers most of my flights. Worst mistake we ever made was on one of our first trips when we went to sleep way too early. Once we learned to keep walking and stay up to 9:30 at least, it really helped.

  7. hartd8 Member

    Taking a shower when I get to my hotel room helps me to stay up till 10 p or longer on arrival..

  8. Mark Guest

    There’s somewhat substantial evidence that resetting your clock is about moving the hormones around in your body to adjust. so critically this means eat early in the day. especially that first day try to have food / breakfast between 6 and 9. a lot happens metabolically when you eat.

    a lot of it won’t happen if you don’t.

    1. Chris Guest

      I never eat early in the day, why would I suddenly do that when traveling?

  9. Chris Guest

    I mostly agree with lucky. But it misses that two most important things that help me against jetlag:

    1) be out in the sun as much as possible

    Yes, this requires good weather and a schedule that allows for it. But if you can it works wonders.

    2) exercise or at least move your a**

    If I do a good workout it always helps my body to sleep better. That can be the hotel gym, or even better something outdoors if possible (see point 1).

  10. Acquitania Guest

    Staying awake in Emirates first class is a poor man’s advice.

    1. Nelson Diamond

      Joking asside, taking it literally; "poor" guys don't travel First... ;-)

    2. glenn t Diamond

      Haha! slightly off on a tangent here, but yesterday I read a newspaper story of an middle-aged man of modest means who just won $40 million in a jackpot lottery. Among plans to use the money, he nominated overseas travel, in Business Class!
      My immediate thought was why wouldn't he fly First class if available? Would take an awful lot of travel in F to make a dent in that cash pile.
      So...

      Haha! slightly off on a tangent here, but yesterday I read a newspaper story of an middle-aged man of modest means who just won $40 million in a jackpot lottery. Among plans to use the money, he nominated overseas travel, in Business Class!
      My immediate thought was why wouldn't he fly First class if available? Would take an awful lot of travel in F to make a dent in that cash pile.
      So I guess there's some truth that 'poor' guys (ot those living a modest lifestyle) indeed do not travel First!

  11. Josh Guest

    Ben, not even an Apple Watch??

    These are great tips and I’m going to try them. (I am the first to admit that getting drunk on the 5pm JFK-Europe flights leads to a pretty terrible start to travel…)

  12. NicktheGreek Guest

    A very fond memory of our family was our first day in NYC, travelling from England. Jetlagged, 5am Dunkin Donuts walkikg around the Broadway area, then a 6.30 am walk around Central Park for a few hours. Not something we'd have every done if on time zone. Embrace the jetlag!

  13. George N Romey Guest

    My strategy is upon arriving and checking in at the hotel if it's daytime take a one hour walk then a shower. If at night, take a hot shower and put on relaxing music to sleep by.

  14. MeanMeosh Member

    As someone who finds nothing fun or exciting about being awake before 7 am, tackling jet lag is a little more challenging, but here's what I do which works reasonably well:

    1) Sleep as much as possible on the plane on an overnight flight, or for a daytime flight, sleep a few hours until 10-11 am destination time.
    2) Try for a late afternoon/early evening arrival at the destination, but if that's not possible,...

    As someone who finds nothing fun or exciting about being awake before 7 am, tackling jet lag is a little more challenging, but here's what I do which works reasonably well:

    1) Sleep as much as possible on the plane on an overnight flight, or for a daytime flight, sleep a few hours until 10-11 am destination time.
    2) Try for a late afternoon/early evening arrival at the destination, but if that's not possible, plan full day of outdoor activity on the first day to keep moving.
    3) No naps, period.
    4) Stay awake until at least 9 pm local time, set the alarm for 7:30 or 8 the next morning, and then keep my head on the bed until the alarm goes off no matter what.
    5) No sleeping pills or other sleep aids.

    As for alcohol on the flight over - others will disagree, but I will have a few drinks to knock me out. Yes I feel like crap the first day, but after fighting through it, I sleep great that night and the rest of the trip is fine.

  15. Donovan Guest

    Great post - I love the simplicity and practical take.

    I don't worry about jet lag too much. I just try to shift my eating times and sleep times to somewhat match where I am traveling to starting the morning of departure or starting after take off. Usually this means staying up extra, managing caffeine, skipping a lunch, or delaying dinner just to nudge some slight circadian rhythm changes. I find most traditional advice...

    Great post - I love the simplicity and practical take.

    I don't worry about jet lag too much. I just try to shift my eating times and sleep times to somewhat match where I am traveling to starting the morning of departure or starting after take off. Usually this means staying up extra, managing caffeine, skipping a lunch, or delaying dinner just to nudge some slight circadian rhythm changes. I find most traditional advice or "hacks" to be better for those who need to help young kids adjust since its harder to tell kids to skip meals and such. Otherwise that advice is just details or unnecessary fluff that sounds better for an article click than for actual practice.

  16. Grogg Member

    I also try to be thoughtful when it comes to picking the arrival time. For the US to Europe flights, I'd add that a late morning or early afternoon arrival time typically means a departure time later in the day from the US. This makes it easier to get a decent amount of sleep on the plane, which reduces my need for a nap upon arrival.

  17. Drew Guest

    Fresh air and caffeine are the best.

    My 'best' jet lag memory which seems perfect for this blog is waking up at 3am at Al Maha the morning after Emirates F from IAD to DXB. I got in the plunge pool and took in the total stillness of the desert at night. Sunrise was spectacular. And both the flight and the hotel were on points, so all the better :-)

    My second best memory is...

    Fresh air and caffeine are the best.

    My 'best' jet lag memory which seems perfect for this blog is waking up at 3am at Al Maha the morning after Emirates F from IAD to DXB. I got in the plunge pool and took in the total stillness of the desert at night. Sunrise was spectacular. And both the flight and the hotel were on points, so all the better :-)

    My second best memory is Paris in the early hours of the morning when nothing was open but some people were out washing down the sidewalks. Moments of quiet in busy crowded cities are wonderful.

  18. Joey Diamond

    Walking works for me and I agree not to take naps after 2 or 3pm.

  19. Donna Diamond

    For me, it comes down to time zones and direction of travel. Anything six time zones or less is easy. My normal is nine time zones and flying eastbound is far worst than westbound. I eat and drink modestly inflight and sleep a few hours flying eastbound to Europe. Arriving in the morning, I stay up all day without napping, getting out of the room and assuming a full schedule. I go to bed around...

    For me, it comes down to time zones and direction of travel. Anything six time zones or less is easy. My normal is nine time zones and flying eastbound is far worst than westbound. I eat and drink modestly inflight and sleep a few hours flying eastbound to Europe. Arriving in the morning, I stay up all day without napping, getting out of the room and assuming a full schedule. I go to bed around 9pm local time and take a prescription drug called Sonata in 5mg which has a very short half life and is approved for commercial airline pilots. Even with poor sleep on the road, it doesn’t affect my energy or ability to work, it’s just more of a nuisance.

  20. Towelie196 Member

    Rick Steve's simple quote describes my approach on jetlag:

    "Jet lag hates fresh air, daylight, and exercise".

  21. Daniel from Finland Guest

    I share Ben's view about fond memories of early morning walks in cities that are safe for that. An empty Singapore at 4 am or a surprisingly busy Lumphini Park, Bangkok, at 5 am are great and relatively cool (as in less hot) ways to start the day.

  22. Bret Guest

    Take an ambien the first 2-3 nights in the new location. For me this helps me sleep a full night initially, otherwise I’ll wake up way too early. This has helped me cut the amount of time adjusting to jet lag in half.

  23. Never In Doubt Guest

    As noted the last time Ben made a jet lag post, you don’t really have to worry about jet lag if you have no fixed schedule when you have to “perform” in public, like Ben.

  24. Clem Diamond

    You know that getting to bed very late and being a night owl can also achieve your goal of being awake when everyone else is asleep :D .

    Joking aside, melatonin has been tremendously helpful for me to deal with jetlag quicker.

  25. KK13 Gold

    Cold shower, a cup of tea, no electronics, turn off the lights...

  26. Bob Jones Guest

    Zzzquill is the game changer for me. It’s medicine that makes jet lag go away.

  27. Jan Guest

    flying from Europe to south east Asia: arriving later afternoon is great ..Flight starts late the day before. then just sleep 4 hours in you first or business class seat. after that I get up and stay awake. Landing in the afternoon, going out the evening and at 11:30 pm into bed. alarm clock for 9 a.m. so enough time for breakfast and have a great day.

    from Europe to us west coast: arriving early...

    flying from Europe to south east Asia: arriving later afternoon is great ..Flight starts late the day before. then just sleep 4 hours in you first or business class seat. after that I get up and stay awake. Landing in the afternoon, going out the evening and at 11:30 pm into bed. alarm clock for 9 a.m. so enough time for breakfast and have a great day.

    from Europe to us west coast: arriving early afternoon. staying awake as long as possible (sometimes 8 or 8 p.m.) and getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 to get most oft the day and feeling so awake at this early hour is fun. I there never adjust full but go to bed early every day.

  28. S Gold

    Interesting note on the timer for white noise apps. I use white noise sounds sometimes but never thought to put a timer that long on it. I usually just put it on for 30 mins or so to help me fall asleep.

    For Asia, I prefer to arrive in the evening. Lets you crash at a natural time for sleep when you're dead tired.

    Also agree that there's nothing wrong with being jetlagged. It is fun being the first person in the breakfast hall at 6am and being wide awake.

  29. Alec-14 Member

    Your forgot your biggest tip: fly business or first

  30. Andy Diamond

    Based on my experience, I need to distinguish a "lack-of-sleep-lag" and "time zone lag". I'm very strongly affected by lack of sleep, even when I stay in the same time zone (e.g. a night out wrecks almost the entire week thereafter, even if not drinking). Much less severe is the time zone lag. Yes, I may wake up or get tired early (or late), but that's not really a problem unless you have conflicting committments.

  31. Nelson Diamond

    Ok, i'm not that kind of guy who stay's more than 24/48h outside my home but after more than 30 years in the business I still don't know what is jetlag. The only thing I've heard is that you should adjust your clock on hour per day. And without a doubt, consuming alcohol in flight doesn't help for sure. I know travelling Westbound is easyier then eastbound buth in neighter the cases I had issues....

    Ok, i'm not that kind of guy who stay's more than 24/48h outside my home but after more than 30 years in the business I still don't know what is jetlag. The only thing I've heard is that you should adjust your clock on hour per day. And without a doubt, consuming alcohol in flight doesn't help for sure. I know travelling Westbound is easyier then eastbound buth in neighter the cases I had issues. I remember doing flights westbound i.e. ZRH-GRU and the people waiting for me asking "are you coming from a 2 hour flight or a 12 hour flight"? Ok, traveling Y is different than J but still, I'm quite sure alcohol is the worst enemy for jetlag. Tomato juice and water are the best drinks to avoid jetlag.

  32. Cedric Guest

    No booze and plenty of water makes the biggest difference.

  33. KevinLed Guest

    I find if I do vigorous exercise soon after I arrive the jet lag goes away much quicker. Even 5 or 10 minutes of weight lifting helps a lot.

  34. Kendall Guest

    The occasional melatonin supplement is also helpful

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Drew Guest

Fresh air and caffeine are the best. My 'best' jet lag memory which seems perfect for this blog is waking up at 3am at Al Maha the morning after Emirates F from IAD to DXB. I got in the plunge pool and took in the total stillness of the desert at night. Sunrise was spectacular. And both the flight and the hotel were on points, so all the better :-) My second best memory is Paris in the early hours of the morning when nothing was open but some people were out washing down the sidewalks. Moments of quiet in busy crowded cities are wonderful.

4
Chris Guest

I mostly agree with lucky. But it misses that two most important things that help me against jetlag: 1) be out in the sun as much as possible Yes, this requires good weather and a schedule that allows for it. But if you can it works wonders. 2) exercise or at least move your a** If I do a good workout it always helps my body to sleep better. That can be the hotel gym, or even better something outdoors if possible (see point 1).

2
Acquitania Guest

Staying awake in Emirates first class is a poor man’s advice.

2
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