Have Any Tips For Avoiding Jet Lag?

by on December 8, 2013 · 28 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Jason tweeted me with a question about a problem that plagues many long-distance travelers – jet lag:

@thepointsguy With your constant int’l trips and multiple time zone changes, how do you reduce the effects of jet lag?”

If you’ve never experienced it before, jet lag can be brutal because it’s not just about losing sleep. It can throw your whole schedule – including sleeping but also eating and everything else – and thus your whole trip off.

I find one of the toughest circumstances is leaving a place at night and arriving at night – like flying west across the Atlantic from Europe to the states where your day is super long, or flying east across the Pacific from Asia to the west coast on those night flights where you just fly through an ultra-short day on the way.

But even just flying overnight and arriving in the morning – you can feel fine at first, even great and energized to have arrived and you hit the ground running only to get hit with waves of exhaustion in the afternoon that just torpedo the rest of your day.

Jet lag can throw off more than your sleep cycle.

Jet lag can throw off more than your sleep cycle.

Everyone handles it differently, but I personally find it’s easier traveling west – in the same direction as the sun – which lengthens your day and makes it just a bit easier when it is finally time to go to sleep in your arrival time zone to adjust. It’s what I did on my recent trip to the Maldives, where I went New York to Asia, then the Maldives, then on to India, Dubai and then back to New York, flying around the world going completely west and I managed to avoid jet lag altogether.

When heading to Europe, I plan ahead so that in the afternoon of the day I arrive, I take a 90-minute power nap and make myself get back up and go out dinner and for the evening so that I stay out and awake until a normal time in my new time zone.

In general, one key factor is trying to be as comfortable as possible on the plane so that I can maximize my sleep. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as getting too much sleep on the plane because it’s not like the restful, normal sleep you would get in your bed, no matter how great that first class seat is.

I also try to avoid drinking too much alcohol. I do like a cocktail or two and have a hard time turning down champagne on the plane, but I watch my intake carefully and make sure to hydrate as much as possible since there’s nothing worse than that thirsty, headachey, dehydrated feeling on top of jet lag.

On the plane, I dress in layers to be able to adjust easily to changing cabin temperatures. Sometimes the cabin is freezing, most of the time I find it gets very hot in the middle of the night on the plane, so just being able to bundle up or strip down easily can make a big difference.

Above all, listen to your body and hey, if you want to take a nap when you get to your destination, do it, just be sure you get back up again! I keep the blackout drapes open so there’s natural light in the room since that helps your body adjust its internal clock, as does getting out and walking around in the daylight when you arrive.

Those are just a couple of the things I do to moderate my jet lag. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – but don’t get too anxious or worry about it. It happens, just be aware of your body and what it needs, and take all things in moderation.

So those are a few of my tips, please feel free to share your own!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Michael Newman

    I use melatonin to sleep when I go to Europe or Asia, but not when going west from Europe to North America. It helps a lot.

  • RakSiam

    When I go to Asia I try to arrive at night when possible so that I can just go straight to bed. Then I wake up the next day on schedule in the new time zone.

    I also set my watch to the new time zone as soon as I get on the plane. I think it helps me psychologically get myself on track.

    Going to Europe is tougher. I hate those overnight flights because I don’t sleep hardly at all on a plane and you arrive early in the morning.

  • Ben Price

    Melatonin + Xanax combo = good times and restful sleep!

    Also, conventional wisdom says “don’t nap on Day 1″

    I disagree, especially where napping is part of the culture (Spain, anyone?).

    Just use common sense…if you’re going to be arriving at your destination in the morning, sleep as much as possible on the plane. If you’re arriving in the evening, try to arrive more tired than usual. Don’t eat huge carb-centric meals that are going to weigh you down. Sunlight, fresh fruit, no alcohol, etc help.

  • Peter van Es

    Same here, towards the East it works very good for me.

  • Pragmati

    Has anyone tried melatonin or a sleeping pill (Tylenol PM) to help sleep — on the flight or post flight?

  • Richard

    Flying coach class? Flying business class? Exhaustion after 14 hours in a middle coach seat is not “jet lag”. Depart well rested, avoid alcohol, avoid drugs, avoid a schedule day one. Eat if hungry. Sleep if tired.

    Characteristics of the individual cannot be discounted. Internal clock non functional so “jet lag” per se is not a factor in travel. Exhaustion after 10 segments in 10 days is a factor.

  • Chad

    For many years in the US State Department, officials who travel intensively have used triazolam, a prescription sedative, to quickly adjust to new sleep schedules. Secretary of State James Baker called it the “blue bomb”

  • DanG

    I also find that from New York, it is far easier to fly to Asia than to Fly to Europe. For me, the Jet lag is not as bad as simply getting enough sleep.
    When time allots, I take the AM flights to London, and stay over. As there are multiple hotels physically in LHR. (Sofitel, Yotel) Iceland Air also has this option, but only in the summer and the hotels aren’t in the airport. (Nice country though)

  • JustSaying

    On a long flight, right after dinner the attendant makes my bed and I take an ambien and give my wife one……we’ll both sleep thru to when the attendant wakes us for breakfast. I also wear sunglasses on the plane and in the terminal on arrival. Read this is the way the astronauts helped adjust their inner clocks when traveling a lot cross country. Don’t quite understand it but it seems to work.

  • Katie

    My favorite jetlag busters: sunshine (if possible) and a good exercise the first morning after arrival.

  • Richard

    So true!

  • Jetstream007

    Your inner clock (Carcadian clock, the natural wake/sleep pattern after, say a few weeks underground with no indication of time) runs at 25 hours/day. That is why it’s easier for most (but not all) people to lenghten their day (flying West) and harder to do the opposite (flying East, shortening your day). It gets you more in/out of sinc with your internal ‘body time’.
    Basic rule is when your stay is under 24 hrs and you are returning, keep the old time ‘alive’. In all other circumstances adapt asap. Do so by: exposing yourself to light (any bright light will do more-or-less) which is nr 1 factor in resetting your internal clock. Also adapt your eating pattern, reset your watch asap in the flight, and go to sleep around your usual bedtime, in the new timezone, not sleep early. Melatonin and some benzadiopeens (al the stuff that ends on -lam) can help, but that’s personal to figure out for yourself. Most people benefit from some medication, just for day 1-2. For the rest it’s common sense about alcohol, drinking water, etc. I usually plan to work/be active right away after landing, just helps to adapt, but that’s personal of course. Any sleeping time you can get on the airplane is great.
    During the Cold War this was a major issue for the US, because all the soldiers that would be flown in to Europe to fight off the Russians would be jetlagged. The first 2-3 days they were considered only to be at 30-50% of their (mental) capacity. When you fly in 300.00 – 500.000 that counts…

  • girlycheckin

    In the past, after an overnight flight, I’d do the thing where you stay outside all day (or as much as possible) and then go to sleep at a normal hour. And I’d (try to) sleep the entire flight, which is a challenge in coach. But I still got jet lag. The last couple times, I did all of that but I also started using the No Jet Lag homeopathic remedy (it’s on Amazon) and I swear it really worked for me. On a trip to Europe with my son last February, we both used it and neither of us had any jet lag. So I’m a big proponent of that now. You chew one tablet before you take off, then one tablet every two hours during the flight, and one tablet on landing. I know it seems counterintuitive to be waking every 2 hours on an overnight flight, but I just set my alarm to go off every two hours and have the pills handy so I can just pop one in my mouth without fully waking. Seriously, it worked.

  • paulwesterdawg

    From the US to Europe my problem is winding down and sleeping on the plane because …even after 10 trips to Europe in 2.5 years I still get excited about international flights.

    I compound my problems with booze because I typically am entertaining my sales team. That’s right…not clients. My sales guys.

    It took a lot of trial and error but I finally did figure out that booze and international travel make jet lag and readjusting so much harder

    I dialed that back and the results have been positive.

  • A.J.

    Jet lag is a bit like a hangover in that everyone has their own remedy. For me its consuming only water in flight and snacking on dried fruit. Its refreshing to see so many people realizing that Alcohol and flying (like other modes of transportation) do not mix well. I vote for an ice water and ambien cocktail in flight and saving martinis for celebrating a safe arrival to your destination. Happy safe travels everyone! And happy holidays.

  • A.J.

    Agree 100 %. For me an outdoor jog does wonders!!

  • Kate

    Don’t eat on the plane from US to Europe since it takes too much time away from sleeping on a relatively short flight. We have dinner in the BA business class lounge before boarding. Once on the plane, 5mg zolpidem, one scotch and lights out. I’m good for about 4 hours of sleep if I have a flat bed. (If in coach, it’s more like 10 minutes of sleep.) Reverse it for the opposite direction. I stay awake the whole time and watch movies or read. I find traveling west MUCH easier than traveling east.

  • joeypore

    I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole jet lag thing.

    I’ve heard a lot of sleeping tips for avoiding jet lag, but mostly from people who don’t fly a lot.

    The thing is there’s two rules
    1) Make sure that you’ll be tired enough to go to bed at a decent time in the time zone you’re arriving in.
    2) With rule 1 being the exception, if you’re tired, sleep.

    Obviously business and first class help. For me, the difference isn’t just a more comfortable flight; it’s literally not wasting a day getting rid of the jet lag.

  • Stvr

    TPG you used to be a big proponent of Lunesta. Has that changed?

  • Donnie Berkholz

    I highly recommend the Jet Lag Rooster site, which provides a specific calendar of when to get light, avoid light, sleep, and (optionally) take melatonin.

  • asdfasdfsadf

    I always use the fasting technique to reset my body’s clock. You fast for 10-12 hours and when you eat is your new morning. It’s rather complicated to compute the time zone math yourself so I developed an app to do it. It’s at

    It’s not very good looking right now but I’ve got a new version on the way.

  • mindblossom

    Take one melatonin at the time you would normally sleep in the time zone of your destination. Works for me every time with ZERO jetlag. It’s a natural compound that your body makes.

  • RJCAthens

    Here’s a 13-minute video clip of a TED Talk on the science behind jet lag. I found it pretty interesting.

  • P-U

    If you fly BA, and need eye blinders (to block out light) for sleep, avoid using theirs (that they hand out in first, business or premium economy classes — for some reason they insist on giving out ones that have an obnoxious perfume on them. Gag. Yuck.

  • P-U

    Things that work for me:

    - eat light several hours before travelling (and during). Avoid heavy foods or high carbs… or high fiber. I nibble on some trail mix with no-salt nuts and low-sugar dried fruit. For the flight’s meal, I limit myself to eating the salad greens and some of the protein. I avoid the breakfast they serve, as it’s usually a sugar- or carb-filled bonanza that makes me lethargic when getting off the plane.

    - drink water, but not too much to avoid too many calls of nature during the flight. Drink just enough to keep you hydrated during the flight.

    - avoid alcohol on the flight (while it can help you become drowsy to sleep on the flight, in the end it disrupts sleep and causes more dehydration, which makes your body/mind weak when you get to your destination.

    - do light exercise before and after the flight. Prior to the flight, it helps you relax; after the flight it invigorates you.

    - shortly before landing, go to the lavatory and wash your face, brush your teeth. You’d be surprised how this will spring you to life!

  • dwfr

    There are many great tips here.

    I give kudo’s to TPG’s recommendation on clothing (dressing in layers, etc.). Long flights have changing temperatures, plus there’s nothing worse than having constricting clothing to relax or sleep on a flight, if need be.

    If at all possible, where comfy clothing. This isn’t the 1960s anymore where everyone got dressed up for airline travel. If you aren’t needing to be dressed to kill the moment you get off the plane, do yourself a favor and drop your pride, and dress for comfort, not style. You can always make a wardrobe change later, if you plan ahead.

    What I do (I am male… so females can adjust):

    - no belts (it just constricts you, and causes more “stuff” to do at airport security)

    - elastic waist pants (I wear sweat pants — lighter weight if summer)

    - slip off shoes (also easier at airport security). Zappos has a great New Balance slip-off “sneaker” that I love… and very comfortable for long walks in airports.

    An important note: I see a lot of travelers on flights go to the lavatory without shoes. Please do yourself a favor, and don’t do that. Put on your slip-on shoes, and avoid stepping into a urine saturated carpet in the lavatory. Think about it… would you ever enter any public restroom without shoes? Sorry, but I had to say that.

  • Juju

    Fasting 10-12 hours before breakfast time in arrival country works great for me. + Sleeping pill + do not wait for dinner if it will encroach on your sleep.

  • shonuffharlem

    I’m trying Melatonin tonight – found a 5 tablet bottle for $1.00 at Walmart, good to see how it goes first time!

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