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Dealing with jet lag

5 Tips to Dealing with Jet Lag

How is it that some people hop in and out of time zones with no signs of jet lag, yet others (myself included), can struggle for days?  We’ve all been there – wide awake at 2 am, the eyes just refusing to close!

East to west for jet lag

I’ve had my fair share of it!  The time difference from Sydney, Australia to Chile in South America nearly did me in.  I was sleeping in a hostel in Pucon with a group of strangers.  The time zone change was 14 hours…and, well, you can do the math!  As the others peacefully slept in their beds, I lay there, wide awake and ready to go.  Every sound was magnified in the silence of the room.  I couldn’t even turn a light on and read my book as I would surely wake everyone else up.  It was frustrating.  I could literally feel every cell in my body store up energy and feel ready to pounce!  I am sure, most people who have crossed date and time zones have had that same feeling.  So, how do you deal with the age old traveller’s dilemma: jet lag?

We know that jet lag is a result of our circadian rhythm being thrown off balance.  Light exposure, meal times and activities are disrupted as we cross into the new time zone – it just doesn’t compute with the internal clock that has become out of synch with the world around you!  An article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that air cabins pressurized to 8,000 feet lower oxygen levels in the blood. This, coupled with lack of movement for extended periods of time and dehydration can exacerbate jet lag symptoms and make it more difficult to your system to get back in sync.

So, what can you do to combat jet lag?  Obviously, avoiding travel is never the answer!

1.  Fake it til you make it!

Set your clock to the new time zone as soon as you can and try to follow the natural rhythm of the destination.  That means adjusting your eating schedule and sleeping pattern to the location.  If your schedule allows, why not try adjusting or time shifting even before you leave?  I rarely do this, but the experts say it helps.

2.  Move it like you mean it!

A little exercise, especially after a long haul flight, will do you the world of good in resetting your internal clock.  Get the blood pumping and stimulate the senses with fresh air and sunshine.  Sunlight, after all, is a powerful stimulant and will naturally help regulate our circadian rhythms.  I find it so much easier to adjust when I arrive in a sunny location.  If only we had the ability to convince Mother Nature to guarantee a little sunshine upon arrival.

Getting over jet lag...fresh air and sunshine

3.  Adapt your schedule to suit!

You know yourself best.  If you are going to be struggling to stay awake past 6pm, the first few days are not the best time to be sitting in a theatre or booking fancy restaurants!  Have a light meal and get out for a walk as your system adjusts to the time change.  If you find yourself waking too early, take advantage of the morning to explore the city before the crowds or to watch sunrise.  When traveling to Australia for 3 weeks, I knew I would be waking before dawn for the first few days.  One of my objectives was to see the sunrise over the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road.  I planned my trip accordingly and was easily up before dawn to get to the perfect site for sunrise.  Turnip Seed Travels has a few ways to adapt – Around the world in 80K – Slow travel on a fast schedule

Australian coast

Sunrise at the Twelve Apostles

4.  Avoid powerful stimulants before sleep!

It is tempting to stock up on coffee and tea to keep ourselves going through the afternoon, pushing as we try not to lose a moment on the road.  Next thing you know, it is time to sleep and you are feeling a little jittery!  Make sure you drink enough water – the flight will have left you dehydrated, and your body needs that water to function.  Top it up to keep it going!

Spending time on the computer before bed is also likely to over stimulate when you are trying to get yourself into the new time zone.  Take some time wind down and relax before bed.  Lower the lights in your room and settle in.  I like to flip through a magazine before bed.  If my schedule is too hectic and my mind is racing, I also put a note pad and pen on the table.  It helps to jot down some of those thoughts.  That way, my mind doesn’t worry about me forgetting, especially if I am in a time zone induced fog!  Ear plugs and an eye mask may help muffle ambient noise and light, especially if you are a light sleeper.

5.  Is the jury out on the impact of food?

Some say what you eat will impact your transition to the new time zone, others say there is no evidence to suggest this.  Personally, I find if I am trying to stay awake, a heavy meal will have me dozing before I hit my bed.  A long seating at a restaurant will also leave me struggling.  I prefer to keep it light for the first day or two, eat in bright restaurants and go for an after dinner walk or activity!  The later I can stay up the first night, the better my chances of sleeping through to morning.  There is nothing quite like falling asleep by 8pm, only to wake at midnight feeling refreshed as if I have just had a small nap!  Makes for a rough adjustment period.

How do you deal with the travellers dilemma of jet lag?  Do you use herbal remedies like melatonin and chamomile or doctor prescribed sleep aids?  Or do you tough it out and try to get through it?

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About Anita Mac

The bucket list just keeps growing! The more I cross off - the more exciting new destinations and activities I find! I have been fortunate enough to travel a considerable distance over the years. My love of many things, including travel, cycling, kayaking and photography fit together like hand and glove. I have to keep asking myself....where to next? I am happy to share my travels and photography through my blogs: http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com and http://anitamacphotos.wordpress.com Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! On to the next adventure!


26 thoughts on “Dealing with jet lag

  1. I traveled a TON years ago to Asia, just visiting family and friends etc and always did the staying active routine to balance myself out, worked out great! 🙂

    Posted by andy1076 | March 13, 2013, 10:48 am
  2. Great post! 🙂

    Posted by Virginia | March 13, 2013, 11:17 am
  3. Daylight Savings zaps me – ha! I try to take naps while flying and then once arrive depending on the time usually keep moving, get plenty of water and maybe a snack. Great Post – thanks for sharing! Have a Great Day:)

    Posted by cravesadventure | March 13, 2013, 11:58 am
  4. I was just thinking about this topic. Daylight Saving Time switch on Sunday had me thrown off the past couple of days. I finally feel fine now. It’s crazy to think that one hour affects me as much as returning home from Europe. Great advice to not plan things such as theater the first night in the destination. I also try to adjust myself for a few days leading up to a trip. For example, when traveling to England from the U.S. I try to adjust my bedtime and wakeup time back by an hour per day for a week. By departure day I’m in bed around 9 p.m. and up by 4 a.m., which is 3 a.m. to bed in London and awake at 10 a.. in London. Of course when my wife doesn’t do this I’m on one schedule and she’s on another.

    Posted by tripsbylance | March 13, 2013, 1:17 pm
    • I am impressed that you time shift! I generally plan on it, but am a bit of a night owl…the early to bed becomes a real challenge. It must be even more challenging when you and your wife are on different zones.

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 13, 2013, 8:40 pm
  5. Good tips. I’m a ‘try and tough it out’ type of traveller, though do try and allow a few days leeway in my travel plans to take it easy if I need to. Jetlag can work in my favour sometimes though as I’m normally dreadful in the mornings so when I’m in the US later this month I’ll try not to adapt to the full time difference so I can make more use of the hours before 10am!

    Posted by Lucy Dodsworth | March 13, 2013, 3:06 pm
  6. Good post, and I would add one other – if you are flying long haul, change your ticket to around the world and plan the legs to always fly east to west.

    Posted by cyardin | March 13, 2013, 9:33 pm
  7. They are some really great tips for surviving jet lag!
    My wife thinks wearing cotton underwear during the flight helps, but I can’t back up that claim. A fresh change of clothes and washing up after a flight has helped in the past, but I have still passed out due to fatigue so I’m not sure it is much of a tip. However, we did feel better for a time.
    We generally just keep pushing ourselves till we are sort of use to the new time zone.

    Posted by Colin Butterworth | March 13, 2013, 10:15 pm
    • Not sure about the cotton underwear, but a change of clothes is refreshing. On super long haul flights, I used to change half way through! My favourite Canada to Australia route used to be through Hawaii. While I never left the airport, a wardrobe change always made me feel better! Also meant being more clothes appropriate for the destination. Nothing like arriving in Australian heat from a Canadian winter!
      Happy travels.

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 15, 2013, 10:33 am
  8. I had awful jetlag when I travelled back from Europe to Oz recently. I dealt with it by being a grumpy slumpy pain in the ass for a week. I find I cope much better when I keep hydrated on the flight, get some light exercise when I arrive and shift immediately to the new timezone. Easier said than done when sleeping on a coat hanger seems an attractive option.

    Posted by Tracey | March 13, 2013, 11:10 pm
    • I feel your pain Tracey! Luckily, have never done that route….I have heard it is gruelling! I lucked out with 5 days in Thailand to break it up! Sometimes, it isn’t just the jet lag that gets you, but the countless hours spent sitting on the plane! Hydration a huge help! I like to do laps on the plane for those flights. Just get so uncomfortable sitting still for so long otherwise!

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 15, 2013, 10:35 am
  9. Gorgeous shot of the Twelve Apostles, Anita! The West to East is dreadful and the jet lag really can go on for days. I find trying to get a flight that arrives late afternoon/early evening then going to bed at bedtime works quite well. If its an early morning arrival (which often ours are) I go home and got to bed till lunchtime. Then stay awake till bedtime. That seems to work best best for me.

    Posted by frugalfirstclasstravel | March 14, 2013, 6:38 am
    • Oh…I haven’t tried the go to bed til lunchtime trick! When I used to fly back to Oz, I would arrive at 6am,drive to the Coast and head straight to work. I could usually work til 2 or 3 in the afternoon before the travel crash would hit! My first week home (in Oz) was always super productive though – I would be up and out the door by daybreak. It was the afternoon meetings that would knock me about!

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 15, 2013, 10:37 am
  10. Thanks for the shout out!! This is a great list! One thing I would add would be if you are working hard to adjust to the new time, but are likely to fall asleep at 6pm, it might not hurt to prebook something a bit later to force yourself to stay awake. Nothing fancy that you’d want to be fully alert to enjoy (posh dinner, theatre), but just something to keep yourself awake and moving, like a ghost walk, pub crawl, or an evening presentation at a gallery. Sometimes you just need some extra incentive to stay awake! Fortunately, my jet lag is always of the “MUST. KEEP. EYES. OPEN type, not the “so tired by still wide awake” variety!

    Posted by Vanessa | March 14, 2013, 9:38 am
    • The ghost walk and pub crawl are awesome ideas! Something to help push to stay up! I am generally the “MUST. KEEP. EYES. OPEN type, but the “so tired by still wide awake” variety caught me unprepared in Prague…drove me nuts for the first 3 nights!

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 18, 2013, 9:01 am
  11. When visiting a new destination I find the excitement and adrenaline kicks in and I’m usually able to adjust fairly easily. Not always as easy when returning home though!

    Posted by The Travelbunny | March 17, 2013, 4:01 pm
    • Funny how coming home can be a bit of a jet lag issue. Not the same to plan a pub crawl or evening out when you get to the comforts of home and just want to sit and relax! I used to fall asleep on the couch at home and delay my re-introduction to the home time zone. It would just happen, no matter how hard I tried to stay awake! I blame the couch! LOL.

      Posted by Anita Mac | March 18, 2013, 9:03 am
  12. Great tips. Of course we booked our trip the wrong way around the world, but I’m hoping that overnight flights help.

    Now if I can find a way to sneak into first class…..

    Posted by Ryan W. | March 30, 2013, 11:22 am


  1. Pingback: TDBL Roundup – July 2013 | Travel Destination Bucket List - July 31, 2013

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