You have the power to beat jet lag before it beats you. We promise.
Jet lag is a nasty, ugly monster. But it is not unstoppable.
Sure, if you let it, jet lag will stomp all over your entire trip, rip your plans to shreds and leave you curled up shaking in a dark corner of your hotel room instead of frolicking through the destination of your dreams.
Once, I went to Canada from England for a week to visit my family. I was so jet-lagged, I don’t remember any of it. Not a single minute. I’m sure my brother’s wedding was beautiful – the pictures prove I was there – but I don’t remember a damn thing about it.
How NOT to Beat Jet Lag
Between us, Stephen and I have tried some bat-shit crazy tips to beat jet lag.
Fasting? You want me to be tired and hungry? That’s how air rage happens. Avoid caffeine? Uhhh, see above re: air rage! Gradually shift my sleep schedule before the trip? And mess up my life for two weeks before I even leave home? No way. How about strobe lighting? Who doesn’t want to sit next to Disco Stu on the plane?
Through trial and (lots of) error, we’ve come up with a few techniques to beat jet lag that actually work – and are also not completely insane.
The proof is in the pillows. When we flew to London from Vancouver a few weeks ago, we both got a solid 10 hours of sleep the first night.
Take that, jet lag! So here you go.
Our 8 top tips to beat jet lag.
This one is easy because you’ll probably be up half the night before your departure packing and/or wriggling with excitement. Don’t worry if you can’t sleep. Stay up, read a book, watch TV; the exhaustion will help you with jet lag.
The night before we left for London, I didn’t go to bed until midnight (which is very late for me) and we got up at 4:30 am. After a full day of dragging through various airports and a 6-hour layover in LA, I was ready to collapse when we finally boarded our long-haul to London. I slept soundly on the plane, which has never happened to me before!
Leaving tired is a risky strategy that can backfire if you’re not careful. You don’t want to be so exhausted that your immune system crashes, leaving you susceptible to every sneeze and cough on the plane.
Bring the Right Equipment
Hear no evil: I never go anywhere without earplugs. They have saved my middle-of-the-night sanity so many times I can’t even count. Earplugs drown out incessant cabin noise on the flight and help you sleep through baby screams, flight attendant call buttons, and those unavoidable coughs and sneezes from your fellow passengers.
Pillow party: Ever since we cycled the world, we take our Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillows everywhere. On the plane, mine keeps my head firmly wedged in place, so I don’t do that jerky sleeping dance. Stephen sits on his pillow to protect his butt from uncomfy plane seats. In hostels, hotels, and friends’ homes, we use them to improve the comfort of less-than-perfect pillows, thereby giving us a better chance of sleeping through the night.
Everyone has a certain time of day that’s particularly awful during jet lag. Mine is late afternoon, around 3 pm. That’s when my brain turns to mush, my legs feel like sandbags, and I could fall asleep standing in the middle of Times Square.
This is one time it’s OK to ignore what your body is telling you.
Instead of dragging yourself off to bed, go outside, whatever the weather, and get some exercise. A brisk walk in the sun can be enough to trick your body into staying awake a little longer. The sunshine helps reset your internal clock and the fresh air helps keep you from crashing.
If you can get to a yoga class on your first afternoon in a new time zone, even better. Stephen taught yoga at Union Station Yoga in London the day after we arrived. It was a great way to work out the kinks from our flight and to make our bodies adjust to the new time zone.
Eat Light, Eat Often
The jet lag monster loves it when you gorge on piles of fries, spicy curries, and sugary donuts during your travels. Starve that monster by eating lights snacks at frequent intervals instead.
As food-obsessed vegans, we always carry plenty of emergency snacks with us including granola bars, dark chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit (which are technically not allowed on some international flights, but no one seems to care). A square of chocolate with a few almonds is an amazing energy boost when you feel yourself flagging.
Constant eating keeps me sane (hangry is an ugly mood on me) and lets my body forget about regular meal times, which means when its breakfast in a new time zone, I am ready to eat.
Avoid Caffeine (and then Drink Caffeine)
Most jet lag advice involves avoiding caffeine altogether, which, if you’re addicted to the stuff, is pure insanity. I do not want to be travelling with Stephen when he hasn’t had his coffee! Terrifying!
(Airplane coffee is so awful we highly recommend you avoid it completely).
However, careful timing of your caffeine boosts can have a powerful effect on jet lag.
The day of travel, I skip my morning tea. Instead, I try to have a cup of tea later in the day, as close as possible to morning at my destination. I also try to grab a cuppa when I feel as though I can’t possibly go on (which always happens around 3 pm).
If you usually drink tea or coffee first thing in the morning, it sends a jarring signal to your body and brain to wake up. So it’s a no-brainer that when your body starts to think it’s bedtime, but it’s really only 2pm, a small jolt of caffeine can buy you another few hours of alertness.
Small is the key here. Don’t throw back five light-roast espressos or you’ll be up all night with the caffeine jitters.
Come Over to the Dark Side
Light has a powerful effect on your circadian rhythms.
Once, we went night fishing in the far north of Norway during the midnight sun. As the sun slowly dipped towards the horizon, my body ached to nod off to sleep. The sun disappeared completely behind the edge of the earth and I could barely keep my eyes open. A minute later, the sun popped back into view and began to rise. As it did, my energy rose with it. The rising sun sent an unmistakable signal to my body that a new day had begun and it was time to wake up.
The first few days at your destination, get outside as much as possible, especially first thing in the morning and whenever you feel yourself slipping back into your old time zone. If you can’t go outside, sit near a window and soak up the natural light.
When you finally go to bed, make the room as dark as possible. If you’re staying somewhere that has flimsy curtains and lots of ambient light, slip on an eye mask or throw a t-shirt over your head when you go to bed. Being in the dark will help you get to sleep and prevent you from waking in the middle of the night, wondering what the hell time it is.
Use a Meditation App
Usually, we meditate in the morning, to set ourselves up for a productive day. When I’m travelling, I like to use guided meditations to send me off to sleep. My current fav is OMG, I Can Meditate! which has, like, a totally dope name. It also has an entire section of meditations to help you fall asleep.
Do one of these before you go to bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night completely alert, try another one. I find they help calm my mind and send me back to sleep, even if my body thinks it’s time to get up.
Less Jet Lag Flights
One of the major selling points on Norwegian (other than extremely cheap flights) is their “less jet lag” cabins. On their Dreamliner planes, they keep the air pressure higher than most airlines do and keep the cabin air extra-moist. They also boast fancy cabin lighting that is supposed to help you sleep and wake naturally.
I don’t know if any of this stuff actually works but I do know that I didn’t need to drink eight gallons of water and bathe in moisturizer immediately after disembarking. So whether it beats jet lag or not, that’s a win!
[No, Norwegian did not pay me to write this, but if they wanted to, I probably wouldn’t say no.]
Until teleportation is real (hello scientists, we’re waiting!) there’s no way to avoid jet lag completely. After all, we didn’t evolve to leap half-way around the world in half a day. But, with a little effort, you can beat jet lag, giving you a much better, brighter start to whatever adventure you want to take.
♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane