These are simple things I have used over the years to successfully help prevent jet lag and get over it quicker once you arrive at your destination. If you follow them then I am pretty sure you won’t suffer as much from jet lag as you would otherwise. Everyone is different though so some may work better for you than others.
Before the flight
1. Go west young man
If you are traveling to somewhere literally the other side of the world, for example from the UK to Australia, try to book flights that only go westward.
In other words, going to Australia travel west via the US or Canada and then on the way back continue traveling west and fly home via Asia. That way you will circumnavigate the earth of course, which is pretty cool anyway.
Jet lag is worse when traveling east so if you can do this you should help to prevent jet lag or at least reduce it.
2. Sleep well before departure
This is perhaps not easy if your flight starts early in the day but, if you can, ensure that you have a good night’s sleep before you leave for the airport. That way at least you won’t feel tired before you start the long flight.
3. Choose your arrival time
If possible it is better to select a flight that arrives in the afternoon or early evening. That way you only have a few hours before bed time in your new time zone. If you arrive in the morning you have a whole day to go before your new sleep time so it is more difficult to stay awake until then.
It is not always possible to do this. For example, most flights from the US or Caribbean to Europe tend to be overnight flights, meaning you arrive early in the morning.
4. Choose your aircraft
Some aircraft (particularly modern Airbuses) have sophisticated air conditioning systems which actually maintain the humidity (rather than drying it) and lighting systems which can closely mimic sunlight.
Both of these will help you feel less fatigued and be better able to beat jet lag.
Ask the airline when you book what the aircraft is and if it has these systems.
If you can, try to build in a one or two day stop over en-route. That will help you to adjust to the changing time zones easier by letting your body catch up a bit before moving on. It will also give you an opportunity to explore a part of the world that you may not ordinarily get the opportunity to see
You may find that adding a stopover actually reduces the cost of your airfare too which is a bonus. More information on using this tip to get cheaper flights – how to fly cheaply – top 10 ways to get cheap flights
During the flight
6. Adjust your watch
As soon as you get on board adjust your watch and/or phone’s time to the current time at your destination. If you aren’t sure what it is ask a member of the cabin crew. This will help to get you acclimatized to the new time zone.
7. Don’t drink alcohol
This is pretty big in my opinion and I know that it will horrify some people.
Drinking alcohol on a long flight dehydrates you and will make you feel more tired. If you drink too much you will also end up with a hangover and that is never a good thing.
By the way, this also includes avoiding having those few drinks at the airport bar while waiting for your flight to be called.
8. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is not helpful when it comes to trying to adjust your body clock. In fact any kind of stimulant is not a good idea.
I do not drink tea, coffee or things like cola as I find anything containing caffeine doesn’t help me with beating jet lag. On a long flight I only drink water, and lots of it too, with perhaps the occasional orange juice.
9. Keep active
Avoid sitting in your seat for hours on end. Every 30 minutes or so get up, stretch and walk around. On a wide bodied aircraft walk all the way around the two aisles before going back to your seat.
When you are in your seat do some easy exercises such as bending your feet up and down, moving your toes in a circle, straighten your legs in turn to stretch and you can do similar with with your hands/wrists.
All of this will help prevent dvt (deep vain thrombosis) which can be a problem when flying long distances.
If you can, take short naps during the flight.
I say if you can, as it has never been something I have managed to do easily when in economy as I am 6ft 2in tall with long legs.
Just sitting comfortably can be a struggle sometimes let alone sleeping. So if you can afford it – fly business class!
After you arrive
If you really feel tired when you arrive at your destination, perhaps in the morning, try not to go to bed and sleep for a long time as this will just extend the time it takes your body clock to adjust to the new time zone.
If you absolutely must get some sleep then take a 20 minute nap or two and last until the evening before going to bed properly. You will recover from jet lag quicker if you can stay awake fully though.
12. Get out in the sunshine
If it is daytime when you arrive then don’t stay indoors but try to get out into the sunshine as much as possible, without getting burned if it is hot of course.
Your brain’s body clock will then adjust easier as it knows it is daytime, even though it may feel it should be nighttime. One of the reasons is that your brain doesn’t produce melatonin during daylight and that is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
13. Eat locally
By this I don’t mean eat at a restaurant around the corner but eat the meal that is appropriate locally. For example, if you arrive at lunchtime, eat lunch. Don’t eat breakfast just because your body thinks it is breakfast time.
14. Try to take it easy
On a long flight, across multiple time zones, your body goes through a great deal of stress – little sleep, sitting for long periods, dry air etc.
So, if possible, don’t punish your body for the first few days by doing lots of strenuous things, as tempting as that may be if you have gone somewhere exciting.
Try to chill out, swim, sunbathe or whatever and eat whatever is appropriate for the time of day.
15. Light therapy for jet lag
Lots of research has been carried out on how the brain reacts to light. The result, from a university in Australia are the Re-timer light therapy glasses.
These are producing incredible results at combating the effects of jet lag and allowing fast recovery from it. On shorter trips they can even prevent jet lag completely.
Melatonin is a hormone released by your brain to make you sleepy. When your body clock is disrupted then this may not happen when you want it. You can take Melatonin supplement tablets to help you sleep after you arrive at your destination. Generally you will only need these for the west to east leg of your journey.
Melatonin has been extensively researched and is now used widely as a jet lag remedy and sleep aid. The latest research seems to show that Melatonin aids sleep during times when your body clock says you wouldn’t normally be resting which makes it perfect for countering jet lag. You can read about a study in the British Medical Journal here “Alleviation of jet lag by melatonin: preliminary results of controlled double blind trial.“
If you have any medical conditions you should speak to your doctor before taking these.
Further travel articles
British Medical Journal areticle “Alleviation of jet lag by melatonin: preliminary results of controlled double blind trial.”