Whether it’s for work, fun, or visiting family, flying long haul can be a magical experience. You hop on a plane, watch a few films, and before you know it you’re on the other side of the world. While the miracle of travel is amazing, what it does to your body clock isn’t.
Unfortunately, there’s no over-the-counter cure to fight jet lag, but with our tips you can ‘hack’ your body to snap back to normal a bit quicker.
1. Choose your arrival time wisely
When trying to fight jet lag, prepping begins when you book your flight. If you find it hard to sleep on planes, it’s better to arrive in the evening so you can head to bed soon after checking into your hotel. If you are a plane-snoozer, look for flights that arrive around lunchtime. You’ll want to make the most of your extra half-day at your destination and moving about will send your body the message that it’s time to be up and about, even if it’s 3 am back home.
2. Split up the trip
The more time zones you cross at once, the more likely you are to suffer from jet lag when you land. Look for flights with layover options in a destination halfway between there and home. For example, if you’re going to Vietnam (seven hours ahead), try to stop in the United Arab Emirates (four hours ahead) for a day or two. This gives your body time to adjust and ease into its new schedule.
3. Move your bed and meal times
Moving your bedtime forward or backward by a few hours in the days before you fly has a similar effect to splitting your trip and can really help you fight jet lag. You don’t have to do the full eight-hour shift, but if you usually go to bed at 11 pm try going at 9 pm or 1 am. Adjusting your meal times will also go some way to combating any middle-of-the-night hunger pangs.
4. Set your clocks as soon as you board your flight
Don’t wait until you land. Once you’re settled in your seat, that’s the time to switch to your new timezone. If it’s bedtime there, try your best to go to sleep. Most airlines provide amenity kits on long-haul flights with eye masks and earplugs, and these can help to drown out distractions. A sling for your legs that hangs down from your tray table can make you feel comfier, too. If it’s daytime at your destination, try not to sleep. Short 20-minute naps are okay, but it’s best to stay awake so you can go to bed on arrival.
5. Stay up until 10 o’clock
It’s so tempting to sink straight into bed after a long-haul flight, especially if you don’t sleep well on planes. This can be a huge mistake. Your body will stick to its old rhythm and you’ll end up lying awake all night, and feeling fatigued the next day. If you really have to snooze, keep it short – a two-hour nap is enough of a boost without destroying your chances of a good night’s sleep.
6. Get some sunlight
Our bodies are designed to respond to daylight – we want to be awake when the sun’s out, and asleep when it’s dark. That’s why so many people find it harder flying west to east – it shortens the days and gives you less time to recover. No matter how tired you feel during the day, do your best to get out into the sun for a stroll around to fight jet lag.
7. Avoid coffee and alcohol
You might be tempted to knock back the caffeine to wake yourself up, or have a few glasses of wine to make you dozy – but both will disturb your sleep even more. Sure, grab a coffee when you land, but switch to water at least four hours before bed. Another reason to avoid booze is that morning-after fuzzy head. If you thought jet lag was bad, wait until you combine it with a hangover.
8. Create a ‘sleep-friendly’ environment
When it’s finally bedtime, you might find that you don’t fall asleep right away – even if you’ve been on the verge of dropping off all day. If that’s the case, try to make your sleep area as relaxing as possible. Keep hold of the earplugs and eye mask from your amenity kit, and put your electronics away. Give yourself a 30- to 60-minute wind-down period with no electronics, turn on the fan for a bit of white noise, and draw the curtains so it’s pitch dark.
9. Get up early and go explore
Even if you only managed to grab a few hours of sleep, resist the urge to have a lie-in. Don’t just set an alarm, give yourself a good reason to get up on that all-important first day. Book in for a morning food tour, make a reservation at a popular brunch place, or schedule a sunrise hike. Your body clock will fight jet lag and get back on track faster once you’re up and about in the sunshine and chatting with other people.
10. If your trip is short, try to stick to ‘home’ time
It can take days to recover from jet lag, so if you’re being sent to your company’s Singapore or Seattle office for less than a week it’s really not worth changing your circadian rhythms. Try to keep as close to your bedtime at home as possible, even if that means waking up at 4 am and going to bed straight after work. You’ll feel much better when you get home, as your body won’t have to adjust so much.
Jet lag can be pretty bad. But with a bit of sunshine, forward-thinking, and resisting the urge to sleep you’ll be able to get over it quickly and enjoy your trip.
Want to read more?
- Coronavirus travel advice: everything you need to know about travel during the pandemic
- How to find cheap last-minute flights: how to find the best routes and prices, year-round
- Five jet lag cures that actually work: from which foods to eat to the Queen’s personal remedy.