The miracle of modern air travel is that you can get in a sealed metal tube in one city, and 12 hours later end up nearly 10,000km away in a completely different part of the world. But even with all the innovations like flat bed seats and “mood lighting,” there is still the brutal reality of jet lag – thanks to skipping over 15+ time zones in such short order.
Even for the most experienced travelers, jet lag is a force to be reckoned with. Symptoms can vary from person to person – but generally speaking, most people feel out of sync with the clock, wanting to go to bed when they should be going for lunch. Others can get irritable, get headaches, and otherwise feel ill.
I tend to feel a bit lethargic when I’ve traveled a long distance, and sometimes find it a little difficult to do the things I need my brain running in top gear for – like writing a blog post or recording a podcast (in fact – this week’s Gone John Show took about 10 takes to actually get right. It was not a fun adventure.)
Whether it’s four time zones from LA to New York, or 15 hours from Saskatchewan to Tokyo, there are some tried and true techniques I use to conquer jet lag.
Alter my routine at home.
While it’s impractical to try and replicate the destination’s time zone at home, you can alter your routines to try and get in the zone so that the time difference won’t be so jarring.
Before this trip to Japan, I moved my gym time from mid-afternoon to late at night – which would be around the same time I actually plan to try and go to the gym in Tokyo.
Adjusting these routine activities might help ease you in to your new time zone.
Set your watch/phone/tablet/computer to local time as soon as you can.
After I landed in Minneapolis, one of the first things I did was open up the settings on all my digital devices to change over their internal clocks to be on Tokyo time. That way, every time I looked at a clock, I had that visual cue as to what time my body should think it is.
Doctors and sleep experts tell us it’s a bad idea to be too stimulated before bedtime. That means shutting down and putting away our digital devices, avoiding caffeine, and not watching movies or TV shows which make you think too much.
On a flight where I know it’ll be bedtime en route, I tend to opt for a beer or two during those first few beverage services (even if it’s 10am back at home) rather than a cola or coffee. I know that alcohol makes me a little drowsy, so if it helps me get relaxed I’m all for having my liver take one for the team.
I also try not to play games on my iPad or try and blog. I want to power down my brain as much as possible so I can get some rest on the flight.
Sleep on the plane.
Let’s face it – unless you are a frequent flyer with thousands of miles racked up or have a really high status level with the airline, you’re not getting upgraded to one of those lie-flat beds up at the front of the plane unless you’re paying for it. But that doesn’t mean you should just suffer through the flight and avoid sleep.
The reality is you’ll have to give up some comfort in order to try and sleep on the flight – and making the effort is worth it. You will arrive feeling refreshed – even though it may not be as comfortable as your bed back at home.
On arrival, stay awake.
This piece of advice came from European travel guru Rick Steves. He says you want to try and stay awake until “an early local bedtime.”
If you doze off at 4 p.m. and wake up at midnight, you’ve accomplished nothing. Plan a good walk until early evening. Jet lag hates fresh air, daylight, and exercise. Your body may beg for sleep, but stand firm: Refuse. Force your body’s transition to the local time.
On most of my trips to Japan, I’ve opted to stay out late with friends for drinks and dinner on arrival. This has often resulted in a decent ability to dodge some more intense symptoms of jet lag.
For many of us, jet lag is unavoidable, but it can be managed. How do you fight the effects of it when you travel? What works and what doesn’t? Add your suggestions in the comments below.