In a few weeks we will begin our trip to China and Mongolia by suffering through a 14 hour flight from Atlanta to Tokyo. As much as we are looking forward to this grand adventure, we’re really dreading the long flight. Sometimes the worst part is having a layover in an unfamiliar airport between two long flights (Tokyo, in our case). You’re exhausted and just want to sleep, but all you can do is sit and wait, trying to keep yourself awake. Finally, once you arrive at your destination, you want to have the energy to explore your new surroundings. However, your internal clock will soon overcome any adrenaline rush, forcing you to retire to your new hotel.
Yes, jet lag really sucks.
Some say that it takes an entire day to adjust for each timezone that you cross on your flight. That could be up to 12 days if you’re traveling to the opposite side of the world. Who has time for that? It’s different for everyone, though, as some adjust faster than others. Younger travelers, or those that exercise often, are said to adjust faster.
Whatever your specific situation, here are some tips to help you adjust to jet lag faster and prepare for your long flight.
- Try to sleep on the plane according to the schedule of your destination instead of when you feel tired. Sleeping on a plane can be extremely challenging for many people. However, staying awake during the flight can actually help to reset your internal clock so that you can adjust faster when you arrive.
- Don’t take sleeping pills, either on the flight or after you arrive. Medications affect your natural sleep cycle in several ways. It might be tempting to try to sleep during the flight so that you will awaken with lots of energy when you arrive, but after a few days you will be even more screwed up than before due to the way the pills mess up your internal clock. Taking sleeping pills when you arrive, in an attempt to force yourself to adjust to the new time zone, has often shown to have the same affect. Once you stop taking the pills, you’re vacation will be ruined.
- Don’t drink alcohol during the flight. While drinking can have many of the same effects mentioned with sleeping pills, alcohol will also dehydrate your body and leave you more susceptible to a hangover. Airplane cabins are kept very dry, and the dehydrating effect will be stronger. A bad hangover or even a mild headache will urge you to sleep as soon as you arrive, which is not ideal if it’s daytime. The best thing you can do is to drink lots of non-caffeinated and low-sugar drinks, such as natural juice or water.
- Stick to your normal coffee or caffeine intake schedule. If you usually drink coffee in the morning, then do it in the morning at your new destination, but try not to go overboard with it during the day. This will help you establish a normal sleep/awake cycle.
- Be active during daylight hours at your new destination. If you’re flying around the world, the best way to adjust is to force your brain to realize that “now is when the sun is out, and now is when I need to be awake,” even if it’s time to sleep at home. Physical exercise, even if it’s a walking tour of your new environment, will send the right signals to your brain, especially if you’re outdoors. Later, sleep in a dark room or with an eye mask on during nighttime hours to further establish your routine.
- Set your alarm clock. Get up with the sun, or at least in time for breakfast, even if you don’t want to. A few days of suffering at the start of your trip will force you to get through the jet lag, and you’ll be better off in the long run.
- Eat normal meals on a normal schedule, even if you’re not hungry. Again, this helps to reinforce your new schedule.
- Start adjusting your schedule several days before you leave. Depending on which direction you’re traveling, get up early or stay up late by several hours each day up to a week before you leave. An inconvenient schedule at home will lead to a happier adjustment once you arrive. We actually did this once for a two week trip to Europe, and it worked quite well!
Do you have any jet lag tips to share? We’d love to hear them.
Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won’t let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.