Jet lag is easily the biggest, baddest wet blanket of any trip. You’ve planned it to perfection, you’ve overworked yourself in the days prior to take off to make sure your job will survive in your absence, you can’t wait for the wheels of that mammoth plane to touch down and release you so you can start frolicking through your new adventure site.
At least this is how I always imagine it.
But of course, the reality of any good adventure is that it takes you far far away (isn’t that a part of the mystique, after all?) and that includes with it long flights with big time differences.
So what’s an adventurer to do?
Start the battle against jetlag when picking your flight
Be very particular about flight times, departures and arrivals (if budgeting allows). This is huge, and a little thinking prior or during booking will save you a lot of headache on your trip.
So what I mean exactly is: think through your flight time logically. If it’s over 6 hours for example, you’re probably going to want to get some sleep on it, and the best way to get sleep on a plane is if it’s dark and it’s nighttime according to your current timezone based biological clock. Say you’re flying to Europe from North America: my advice is to pick a flight that leaves as late as possible in the evening. That way you can get on the flight, have the dinner service and soon after start to doze off, just like your body is expecting to.
Another consideration when booking is what time will it be at your destination at the time of your arrival? Some long haul flights land in midday local time. And if you’ve been traveling for 12+ hours you may find it very tempting to go to take a nap mid-day. It’s a fact, you’re going to be cloudy headed when you arrive no matter what, and having only half the day to truck through without sleeping in a bed won’t make you feel as guilty about not using your time on vacation well.
Help yo’ self: red wine and melatonin
I can’t site the scientific or physiological reason for it (this is a travel site not a nutrition and health site) but through my own anecdotal experience I can attest: red wine makes you sleepy. And the good thing about trans- continental flights is that even economy class includes a beverage service with libations and all. My trick is to enjoy one wine with the main meal service on long flights and start watching a dumb movie that I have no interest in to facilitate a hearty dosing off.
Another great tool is a natural supplement called Melatonin. I first discovered Melatonin after three totally and completely sleepless, jet lagged nights in India. An Italian friend of mine gave me some Melatonin, and instructed me to take one little pill before bed. I don’t really ever do medicines, but I was desperate. Plus she’s a post doctorate biological researcher and explained that Melatonin is produced naturally by our brains to control our biological clock (aka our enemy in the jet lag battle), and it also makes you sleepy. I now always travel with some melatonin, and always take one pill on the first few nights of a jetlag-inducing trip to ensure not only that I fall asleep, but also that I sleep through the night.
Make it through the first day- local time
The second the wheels of the plane touch down, change your phone, your watch, your everything clock to local time and go by that. That means not climbing into bed at 10 AM or having a steak for your meal at 7 am because it’s dinner time at home.
And the absolutely most important part of this is making it through your first day by local time. So now matter how hard it may be to keep your eyes open or keep walking on the busy streets, keep at it. Successfully making it through the first day and going to bed when it actually is nighttime is critical.
Same rules apply en route to home
This is currently my battle- I’m really disciplined about following my own rules on the to the adventure, but I get lazy when I’m flying home (it’s home, after all), allowing myself to nap through the day and silly things like that. Which just makes for one really over-exaggerated jetlag. Following a recent trip to Vietnam I was loose with my own rules, set myself up for failure, and spent about an entire week in a jet lagged haze seasoned with sleepless nights. And that’s no fun.
It’s an ongoing battle; but it’s one most of us travelers gladly accept- it’s simply another part of the grand adventure.
If you have any tips of the trade of your own- do share and drop me a line. I will share the tips but I always promise to give credit where it’s due.