The Best Ways To Manage Jet Lag

How to cope with jet lag

Isn’t it fantastic that we can travel to the other side of the world in less than 24 hours? But the change in time zones and jet lag is always a massive trade-off.

Lucky for you, I’ve been through it a few times, and I’ve picked up a few tried and tested tips to help you better cope with jet lag the next time you travel.

Jet lag can hit you no matter if you are travelling in first-class or economy. And it also doesn’t matter if you are flying across the country or to an entirely different continent. As long as you cross multiple time zones, your body will need to adapt to the change.

What Is Jet Lag?

To put it simply, jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder/fatigue caused when you travel quickly across multiple time zones.

The name jet lag came from the fact that fatigue was most commonly associated with the introduction of jet-powered air travel.

The more time zones you move across the worse you’ll experience the symptoms of jet lag as your body becomes more out of whack with what it is used to.

While only temporary, your sleeping and eating schedule might take a few days to get back to what you are more comfortable with, depending on how far you have travelled.

For each time zone you cross, it can take up to a day for the body to adjust to the local time. This means that if you travel from Sydney to London, where there is typically a 10-hour difference, it could take you up to 10 days to get back to normal. But we’ve got a few tricks to speed up the process.

Jet lag hits the hardest when you lose time travelling which is typically when you travel from west to east. And especially when you cross the international dateline.

Fun Fact: Did you know if you fly from Sydney (or Brisbane, Melbourne or Auckland) to Los Angeles (or San Francisco), you technically arrive before you left?

What Causes Jet Lag?

Jet lag occurs due to the changes in your biological clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) when you travel long distances quickly. You know, typical modern air travel…

Your biological clock is responsible for controlling when you feel tired and want to go to bed and also when you wake up. Moving across different time zones at high speed alters what your body considers normal and, as such, you will need to adjust to the time zone of the new location.

It is also worth mentioning that travelling in a pressurised cabin of a plane can reduce the oxygen levels in the blood. This can also cause fatigue in addition to other stresses you might generally feel while travelling. Especially once first arrive at your destination.

Jet Lag Symptoms

Jet lag can present itself in a few different ways, and the intensity and duration vary greatly for different individuals.

The most common symptoms associated with jet lag include fatigue, insomnia (depending on which direction you have travelled) and difficulty concentrating.

You might find that you also experience a sense of overall discomfort, uneasiness, or malaise. Feeling physically and mentally off balance, lacking your usual level of energy and vitality. This could also present in headaches and dizziness.

While appetite changes and gastrointestinal problems could also be an issue for you while you adjust to a regular eating pattern in the new time zone.

How To Cope With Jet Lag

Now that I’ve got you up to speed with what jet lag is and what causes it, how can you cope with it? Here are a few tips that you’ll be able to use to manage jet lag better so that you’ll feel fresher, much more quickly as a result. Allowing you to make the most of your time away.

Start Before You Leave

If you know that you will be travelling to a different time zone, it is best you begin the process of coping with jet lag before you leave.

You can easily get this started by first working out the time difference between your present location and where you will be travelling to.

Once you know the difference in time, you can begin adjusting your routine accordingly a few days out. Simply changing when you eat and sleep by an hour a day or so before you go will make a big difference once you arrive.

Also, being well-rested before you travel will help significantly. Travel is stressful, particularly long-haul international travel; adding exhaustion to that in the lead-up isn’t doing you any favours, making it that much harder to catch up on sleep at your destination.

Eating healthy and drinking plenty of water in the lead up will also be a big help as it will put your body in the best possible position to adjust.

Make Adjustments While In Transit

On the day of your flight, you’ll want to adopt the timezone of your destination.

Obviously, don’t adjust your watch until you get on the plane; I wouldn’t want you to miss your flight in a mix-up, but getting up earlier or trying to sleep in based on where you are headed will be a big help.

If it is a really long-haul flight, then plan to try (I emphasise try as I know it’s hard to sleep on flights) to sleep at a time that would be nighttime at your destination.

On long-haul flights, they tend to adjust the lights and serve meals at times better suited to the crew’s rest times. That might not suit your adjustment to the new timezone you are headed.

As such, I recommend bringing some of your own snacks and an eye mask so that eat and sleep (or at least try to sleep) at times better suited to your plans.

Arrive Early

When booking your trip, try to give yourself a couple of days to acclimatise.

At the very least, you are going to need the first day on a long-haul international trip to just feel human again after being stuck inside a plane for such a long time.

If your trip is work-related, try to make sure you get there a day or two earlier than required so you have that time to adjust.

If you’re travelling to multiple destinations or doing a tour, give yourself a couple of days to let your body make the biggest adjustments before pushing through to even more changes.

Be Careful With Alcohol And Caffeine

Both alcohol and caffeine can really mess with your sleeping habits. Especially when you’re already out of whack due to jet lag.

I find that the best thing to do is avoid them immediately before and while you are on your flight. This will give you the best possible chance of getting a decent sleep on the plane.

When you arrive at your destination, just be conscious of when you consume them so as not to exacerbate the symptoms of jet lag.

Obviously, a coffee (or two) in the morning, if you are tired and fatigued, will help you get through the rest of the day. But if you are craving a coffee in the afternoon, hold off so you can get one good sleep in to help you adjust.

Also, remember that both cause dehydration, which will make you feel much worse when jet-lagged, particularly immediately after a long-haul flight that would have already dehydrated you.

Move Around

As soon as you arrive at your destination, try as much as possible to move around. Unless, of course, you have arrived at night time.

When you arrive check into your hotel as early as you are able, have a shower to make sure you feel refreshed, and then get out and do some sightseeing or even just walk the block to get your bearings.

Getting your body moving after you’ve been stuck inside a plane for however many hours will go a long way to making you feel a lot better. It will also help you exhaust yourself so you can fall asleep easier depending on which direction in time you have travelled.

Use Light Therapy

The number one thing that is going to reset your body to a new timezone is natural light from the sun.

Your body knows it is supposed to be awake when the sun is up, at least for most people. So by trying to spend the first couple of days at your destination outdoors in the sun to help speed up the reset process.

Trust me, a couple of days in sunlight will make a big difference in how quickly you beat jet lag.

Eat When You Normally Would

In your normal routine, you will have times that you would typically eat. Adopt those times (in the timezone that you are in) as soon as you arrive at your destination.

Even if you aren’t hungry but typically have lunch around noon, try having a small meal to prevent yourself from getting hungry later and snacking.

Your body knows what is normal, and things like food consumption and sunlight will quickly adjust the rest of your body to something it is more used to, particularly sleeping patterns.

Recommendation for First Time Long-Haul Travellers

Trust me; you are going to feel jet lag when you arrive at your destination. It’s unavoidable.

That said, if you take on everything that I have just mentioned in this post, you’ll feel a lot better a lot quicker, and that is the best way to manage jet lag.

Getting Around the United States of America

If you’d like some more great tips about travelling, I’ve also got some very useful posts on long-haul flying an how to get your seat upgraded the next time you fly.

For more general travel tips, make sure you check out the rest of my blog posts as well.

Also, make sure you check out the travel tools that I use the most to help you save some money when booking your next trip.

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And if you have a travel-related question you would like me to answer, head over to my contact page to get in touch and let me know.

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About the author

Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator - I've spent the last 20 years actively seeking out new destinations and new adventures. Find out more about me here: vandersyde.com.au

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