Top Ways To Prevent And Combat Jet Lag

Prolonged jet lag can ruin a trip, so these are the top ways to prevent it entirely and combat it once you arrive at your new destination.

Things have been pretty hectic for me lately, which is why I’ve been so bad about blogging and for that I apologize! We’ve had some great trips this month and even more in the next two coming up, but after all Australia and the US and back to Germany, then to London and back to the US in the past couple of weeks I’ve felt myself just getting exhausted from all the travel, planes and time changes. Jet lag is no foreign concept to me, but since I travel quite so frequently I’ve learned to combat jet lag and how to avoid it in the first place.

Let’s be honest, jet lag sucks. If you don’t nip it in the bud straight away you could potentially be messed up for weeks. There’s nothing worse than getting up at 3 a.m. only to fall asleep again that same day before dinner. Combatting jet lag is no easy task, but believe it or not there are lots of ways that you can avoid it altogether or at the very least deal with it straight away!

Jet lag starts on the plane.

One thing that many people don’t consider is that jet lag starts on the plane. While it’s tempting to stay up and watch all the movies you’ve been meaning to catch up on, not allowing yourself to sleep on the plane is a huge mistake. Sleeping on the plane is the best way you can adjust to your new time zone, regardless of where you’re going. Of course, it’s hard to fall asleep if you’re departing at 3 in the afternoon but then arriving into your new time zone early in the morning. But, there are a few ways you can try and make yourself tired enough to sleep.

KLM Airplane LAX

Get Up Early

If you wake up early on the morning of your flight you’ll be far more likely to sleep once you actually board the plane. Not only is getting up early good for jet lag, but you can even get some more stuff done before you leave so it’s really a win-win.

This is one of the easiest things you can do to prepare for your redeye flight, so as much as you might wake up and think to yourself, “Nope, turning the alarms off,” your best bet is to just suck it up and know that once you board that plane you can pass the heck out.

Immediately Switch To Destination Time After Boarding

As soon as you board the plane, switch your phone, your watch and all of your devices to the time at your destination. There’s nothing worse than being on a plane and arriving at your destination at 9 a.m. to look at your phone and see that it says 2 a.m. It’ll only make you feel tired.

Sleep, eat and adapt your entire flight routine around this new time zone, forgetting entirely where you started your journey.

A Little Wine Never Hurt

If you don’t drink, then good for you! You can always opt for a melatonin or something instead, but if you do, drinking a bit of wine on the plane will help you sleep a bit better because it will make you tired. Besides, a bit of wine with your onboard meal can feel kind of nice!

If you do this though it’s important to make sure you’re still drinking plenty of water because there’s nothing worse than a wine headache when you’re on a plane.

Invest In An Eye Mask

The best way to get sleep on a plane is to just block it all out. Some airlines will provide you with an eye mask on a longer redeye flight, but most don’t so it’s best to bring your own. Although the cabin crew will dim the lights or turn them off entirely during the hours after the meal and shortly before landing, there’s still going to be some light and some distractions.

Using an eye mask will keep away the extra light and help you block out the distractions of people getting up and moving around you. As I mentioned in this post about what I travel with, I never used to use an eye mask and thought I functioned fine, but once I used one I realized you sleep so much better with one.

Watch A Boring Movie

If you have a super long flight like one from the west coast to Australia, you may benefit from trying to stay awake for the beginning of the flight and then sleeping in the second half instead since the flight time is quite so long. However, once it’s time for you to actually fall asleep, if you’re struggling it can sometimes help to put on a boring movie or one you’ve seen before. If you choose one you actually want to watch you’re never going to drift off to sleep.

Most airlines’ inflight entertainment will include some documentaries and you’d be surprised how quickly a 50-minute show about outer space will put you to sleep.

Once you arrive, it’s a whole different battle.

So you’ve tried all of the above things and you arrive – at this point you’re either feeling very rested (or tired depending which time zone you’re going to and from and what time you arrive) or you feel like crap and just are not adapted at all to the time zone you’ve arrived in. If you didn’t succeed in adapting to your new time zone on the plane, don’t fret, there’s still hope for you yet.

We’ll break down your options into what to do if you’re arriving at your destination in the morning or the late afternoon/evening.

LA Venice Beach

If you’re arriving in the morning…

Do. Not. Sleep. I repeat, do not sleep. The temptation is strong, I know, but if you’re arriving in the morning and you go to sleep you’re only going to mess yourself up. If you’re great at taking short power naps then this may benefit you, but for the rest of us going down means we’ll be down for hours and that is the best way to encourage jet lag, not combat it.

Instead, try to keep busy. Go sightseeing, go out with friends, go shopping, go lay down and rest in a park. Do anything that keeps you away from your bed. Honestly, your first night in a new destination it’s ok to go to bed pretty early because your body is worn out from travel so there’s a good chance you’ll still sleep until a decent hour.

Usually, if I can stay awake until 9 p.m. I’m happy. That way, if you wake up at say 6 a.m., you’re already almost fully adjusted and the next day will be a lot easier to stay up until your usual bedtime – for me around 11 p.m.

Also, try to avoid alcohol that first day and evening. Just like how drinking some wine on the plane will help put you to sleep, drinking alcohol is going to only make you more tired. If your goal is to stay awake until an adequate bedtime, alcohol is not the way to do that.

If you arrive in the evening…

Arriving in the evening may be one of the better two for time changes because you don’t have to stay awake for too long. However, you may have the opposite problem. Now you can’t sleep early enough. Both forms of jet lag can mess you up for days, so what are you to do when you arrive at your destination but come bedtime aren’t even remotely tired?

Take a bath. Baths are generally pretty calming and relaxing, but also the drop in body temperature once you get out will usually make you pretty sleepy so it can be a great tool to help get yourself to sleep that first night.

Try to avoid screens, whether it’s your iPad, phone or TV, because the blue and white light given off by these items makes it harder for your body to release melatonin, which is what makes you tired. Instead, try to read a book or the newspaper or even do a crossword. Any of these activities will help you wind down and help make you a bit sleepy.

If all else fails, just like on the plane a glass of wine or cocktail can help you sleep if you’re really struggling. Usually after a glass of wine I’m ready for bed, so if I really can’t fall asleep then one glass of that will knock me right out.

Combatting jet lag is possible.

Jet lag is a hard beast to get a handle on, but with some careful preparation and a good plan and schedule, you will be able to deal with it straight away and be on the right schedule starting day two. When you don’t feel burdened by jet lag, you’ll be able to enjoy your trips to fullest and that’s all we can hope for.

If you have any additional tips on how you personally combat jet lag I’d love to hear about them!

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  • Stephanie Parrell

    Jet lag is such a horrible struggle for me. I often like to take trips to Europe. I live on the most easterly city in North America, BUT in order to get to europe I have to fly from Newfoundland all the way to Montreal or Toronto, that’s 3-5 hours to the west on a plane and then get an overnight to Europe fromt here. By the time I arrive it is usually morning but I have been traveling for up to 24 hours already. It is so hard for me to sleep on a plane, a mix of excitement and the noise I guess. And when I arrive I usually push through and don’t sleep. I have tried everything, I f only I could master falling asleep on the plane i know it would help me out. Maybe I will try the wine!

  • I haven’t been somewhere the time change is huge is a while, but next time I am going to try these tips. We want to go to Thailand next year!

    • That’s so exciting! I love Thailand and these tips should certainly come in handy for a long flight like that 🙂 In fact, Thailand was my first flight that was ever more than 8 hours!

  • Great tips! Jet lag is the worst. I SO wish I could sleep on the plane because it would definitely help, but the excitement + the uncomfortable seats never help. The wine does though, haha!

    • It is SO annoying, but I know what you mean. The seats don’t help at all, that’s for sure.

  • Mostly Simple Life

    It’s crazy how jet lag can sneak up on you and mess you up for a few days! Good tips!

  • Ali Mageehon

    Great ideas! I really struggle traveling from west coast to east coast – particularly with the time change and sleep patterns. I probably need to be better about trying to stay on a normal schedule no matter what. Great tips on how to sleep on an international flight!

    • Oh gosh, west coast to east coast is the WORST. It’s like the world’s worst redeye except for Maybe Melbourne or Sydney to New Zealand. It’s so hard to sleep on the plane like that, but if you can it really makes a huge difference!

  • Katie Karambelas

    I write a travel blog so I looooove reading stuff like this! Thanks for the tips!

  • Solid tips. I tire myself out purposefully and take Sominex before I fly since I’m an anxious flyer. I make sure to keep busy when I land so that when it’s finally the evening, I can go to sleep. I adjusted to European time quite easily when I went this summer.

    • That’s a great idea! I know a few people who take stuff like Sominex before flying and it helps so much. The key is really being able to adjust your sleep schedule as much as possible while in the air.

  • Justine Y

    I think the longest flight I’ve ever taken is 5 or 6 hours since I’ve never flown anywhere international, but these seem like great tips. I really agree with switching your clocks on all your devices right away, I feel like no matter how far away you go that can really mess you up.

    • Oh yeah totally, Justine! I’ve made the mistake of not doing that before and we’ll be landing at our new destination like 9am local time and I’ll look at my phone and it’ll say 2am and I just feel SO TIRED because it messes with my psychologically!

  • Jet lag is the worst! These are all great tips and I’ll definitely give a few a try next time.

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  • I will be using these tips when I fly to Phoenix next year! Not so much for me – I don’t have a problem with flying. But for my husband – it’s his first time.

    • Oh how exciting! I hope they help him adjust. I have another post about tips for first time flyers, maybe that would help him 🙂

  • Sheila Jo Spencer

    Sleeping while sitting up is not a skill I’ve been able to master so far. I’ve had the combination of jet lag plus motion sickness – it is NOT cool…

    • Oh I know how you feel, Shelia. It’s so hard to be able to sleep on a plane because it’s just uncomfortable by nature. I try to make sure I give myself as much room under the seat in front of me as possible for my legs and not worry about reclining my seat – they recline for a reason!

  • These are good tips, but like other commenters, I struggle to sleep upright, no matter what I do. I’ve just learned to plan an extra day so that I can be really tired but not miss out on anything!

    • That’s a great idea, Valerie! Knowing that you will feel too wiped out on day one and planning accordingly is excellent. I know how you feel though, it took ages before I was able to sleep moderately soundly on a plane.

  • Jet lag when I moved from Columbus to Sydney was all too real. Such great tips to combat the suffering!

    • Oh man, Australia flights are so hard! Especially because they’re just so darn long. I hope these help you in the future!

  • These are great tips! When we go on our honeymoon we will be in a different timezone by an hour. I’ve never traveled so I have no idea if that’ll be a big difference or not.

    • That’s so exciting, Lexi! I hope you have a great trip 🙂 I wouldn’t worry too much about an hour, you probably won’t even notice it. It’s like if you need to get up an hour early in the morning to get work done or go to bed an hour later than normal because of a party – you’re unlikely to notice a huge difference!

  • Vaishnavi @ Dentmaker

    Awesome tips to beat the moron. I’ve always found it hard to beat jetlag. Love that you have covered the morning and evening arrivals.

    • I’m glad you like it! Adjusting to jet lag is hard and you really need to be strategic about it depending on when you arrive. There’s nothing worse than sleeping tons of a flight that lands late in the evening haha.

  • Thanks, so much good advice. I’d add eat a decent meal to that. One mistake that I have made was to be too hectic to eat after landing which in my opinion makes it all worse.

    • That’s a great idea, Eva, excellent point. That’s so true, if you don’t eat you’re only going to feel like crap no matter what you do. I’m always slightly messed up after a flight though, normally I just want something small or not really anything at all, but I have to force myself to eat so I don’t feel sick with an empty stomach!

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