Avoiding jet lag when you’re flying coast-to-coast or around the world is definitely possible if you know how to do it. A survey by Conde Naste said that 93% of travelers get jet lag and even 96% of flight attendants get it as well. Jet lag is no fun as it can affect your ability to enjoy your vacation if you get sidelined by the extreme tiredness that often accompanies adjusting to long flights across many time zones.
My first true experience with jet lag occurred on my first trip overseas to London and after that experience, I vowed to learn the secrets of avoiding jet lag. I had a red eye flight from JFK to Heathrow and arrived at my hotel around mid-day. I was so extremely tired when I checked in to my hotel that I proceeded to take a very long nap. This was exactly the wrong thing for me to do as it took several days before I eased into the rhythm and flow of London’s time zone. I’ve since learned a lot of tips for avoiding jet lag and no longer have my trips sidelined by it.
First, you need to know that traveling across different time zones is the number one cause of jet lag. It happens most frequently by going from the west to the east, but you can get jet lag by traveling east to west also. Second, I have learned that a huge reason for experiencing jet lag, at least for me, is purely psychological but that does not mean there are not physiological reasons impacting the feeling of jet lag as well.
Here are some tips that I’ve collected and applied over the years that seem to work very well. I used these tips for avoiding jet lag when I traveled from Los Angeles to Finland and back in four days for a video shoot with Travel Editor Peter Greenberg. I produced a “Search for Santa” segment at the Arctic Circle featuring Peter for ABC-TV’s Home Show.
1. Get little or no sleep the night before you travel. Believe it or not, this is a great tip for avoiding jet lag. I usually have so much to do the night before I take a long flight, that I stay up very late the night before my trip taking care of last minute details such as packing my suitcases and taking care of lots of odds and ends. This activity has actually served me very well as I then find it very easy to fall asleep on the plane and arrive at my destination ready to take in the sights. By sleeping on the plane, it helps me to quickly adjust to the new time zone that I’m traveling to and it’s very helpful for avoiding jet lag.
2. Take a Tylenol PM or Melatonin to help you sleep on the plane. I find that if I have a little help with a sleep aid to induce a nice relaxing sleep, I get the rest and sleep I need while I’m on a flight and this is very helpful for avoiding jet lag. For me, that means just ONE Tylenol P.M. or about 15mg of Melatonin (with one-to-two 5HTPs) but you should use it responsibly. I get Schiff’s Melatonin at Costco and it’s very inexpensive and I will sometimes take Melatonin throughout my vacation to help reduce the effects of jet lag as it helps me adjust my sleep pattern for the new time zone.
Before you rely on Tylenol PM or Melatonin for a trip, you really need to take them for a “test spin” before your flight to determine if they are effective for you or not. I initially tried these sleep aids on a Friday night when I knew I could sleep in or relax on a Saturday if they made me too tired after taking them. This is VERY important to do this. The recommended dosage on a Tylenol P.M. is TWO tablets. I have NEVER taken two tablets because one tablet is more than enough to induce sleep for me. I only want to get a good night’s sleep. I do not want to feel groggy for an entire day so that’s why you personally have to determine how your body will respond to this suggestion. I’m also personally not a fan of the prescription sleep medications so I can’t comment on using them for this purpose.
3. Do NOT drink alcohol or caffeine when you fly. Drinking alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas during your flight will dehydrate you and contribute to your feeling of jet lag – so just don’t drink these beverages on your travel day. I know that sounds harsh but you certainly don’t want to drink alcohol (including wine and beer) if you’re taking Tylenol P.M. Now, if you must have a cup of coffee, then wait and have your brew in the morning right before you’re arriving at your destination when the flight attendants are serving breakfast. Save the drinking for fun spots, swim up bars, pubs and dining out when you get to your vacation destination. If you don’t follow this travel tip for avoiding jet lag, then you will really pay for it on your vacation.
4. Do drink plenty of water. It is very important that you drink plenty of water when you fly as dehydration will contribute to your physical feelings of jet lag. Some airlines try to keep passengers hydrated on long flights by coming around with water, but they don’t usually do a very good job of coming around enough and that’s why I always make sure I have at least one-to-two liters of water with me. I also ask for extra water when the flight attendants come around offering drinks. Drinking plenty of water while I’m on a coast-to-coast or international flight greatly contributes to avoiding jet lag.
5. As you travel, slowly start setting your watch ahead to the correct time zone at your vacation destination. This is the single most important tip to avoiding jet lag. You should slowly start setting your watch ahead an hour or two during your flight to the correct time at your destination. Make sure that you have your watch set for your destination’s time zone several hours before you actually arrive as you will be psychologically set to jump right into the new time zone. I’ve used this tip for avoiding jet lag for over twenty years and it works wonders at alleviating jet lag for me whether I’m traveling coast-to-coast or flying half-way around the world. In my opinion, most jet lag is purely psychological and getting your mind fixed on the new time zone is one of the easiest things to do to avoid jet lag.
6. If you arrive at your vacation destination in the morning or afternoon, do NOT go bed when you arrive at your hotel. I made this mistake only once and learned my lesson quickly. Drop your suitcases at your hotel and then go out and explore your destination for the day. Take a double-decker bus tour and get a quick orientation to your city or lay on the beach for the day. Have an early dinner and then go to bed early your first night at your vacation destination. You’ll sleep a very good sleep and be quickly adjusted to the new time zone by morning.
Finally, make sure that you get up and move around while on a long flight because sitting in a cramped position for hours at a time only adds to the misery of getting jet lag and could also have some very serious (even deadly) implications. Get some exercise while you are on your flight. You can twist and stretch out to keep your muscles relaxed or walk up and down the cabin if possible every once in a while. This can keep your feet from swelling up.
Now I don’t know if these tips will work for you, but I can tell you that they’ve worked for me for years and I have yet to experience jet lag at my vacation destination since implementing these tips for avoiding jet lag. Just remember, you don’t need to let jet lag ruin your business trip or vacation. If you use these tips suggested here for avoiding jet lag, you will enjoy your trip!
For over twenty years, TV Travel Show Producer, Marianne Schwab, has been collecting money saving travel tips as a travel producer for high profile television programs and also as a road warrior of business travel. In addition to traveling around the world, she has flown all over the country to produce and direct video shoots and live television productions. She has produced on location from Ceasar’s Palace on the Vegas Strip to Universal Studios Hollywood to the beautiful island of Oahu.