A Real Life Post About Dealing With Jet Lag (AKA: Who Are These People Writing About How To Beat It?)

by joeheg

Because of the increasing interest in international travel, sites are putting up articles about dealing with jet lag. Even drug stores are sharing tips, like this email I received with travel tips mixed in with discounts on deodorant and toothpaste.

If you’re looking for tips, here are some of the ideas for how to beat jet lag:

Before your trip:

  • Go to bed a few hours earlier (if traveling east) or later (if going west) in the days leading up to travel. This can shift your body’s internal clock.
  • Get enough sleep leading up to your trip. Feeling tired before travel can worsen jet lag.
  • Plan ahead. If you need to make important decisions at your destination, plan to arrive a few days early to give yourself time to get used to the new time zone.

During travel:

  • Set your watch to your destination’s local time as soon as you board the plane.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and large meals, which can affect your sleep.
  • Sleep on the plane if it’s nighttime at your destination. But if it’s daytime at your destination, try not to sleep.

After you arrive:

  • Stick to the local schedule. Try not to sleep until nighttime in the new time zone, and eat meals according to local time, too. If you’re very sleepy the first day, nap no longer than a 15–20 minutes so you can sleep at night.
  • Spend time in the sun to reset your circadian rhythm.

In the immortal words of Taylor Swift, “Jet lag is a choice.”  If you want that on a t-shirt or hoodie, there’s already an Etsy page just it.  But how do the rest of us, who can’t fly on a private plane from Japan to Las Vegas to see the Super Bowl, deal with jet lag?

Real Life

For starters, who gets enough sleep before a trip? If you’re like me, you’re working right up until the day of your vacation, trying to tie up any loose ends before you go away. In my case, I can’t just up and change my sleep schedule for days before my travel – I think my employer might have something to say if I changed our operating hours because I needed to adjust to a new time zone before my trip.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol and large meals. Sleep on the plane? Only nap for 15-20 minutes at your destination? Sharon and I have already failed at all of these, and even if we could follow all of them, I’m not sure we’d want to. You don’t want to live like a monk if you’re on vacation.

So what are the rest of us to do?

How Do We Deal With Jet Lag When Flying East

When we travel to Europe from the East Coast, we both know we won’t be able to get a decent night’s sleep on the plane. Even if we have a lie-flat seat and are traveling under perfect conditions, we’re likely going to land in the morning with, at best, a few hours of sleep.

If possible, I try to book a hotel room for the night before we arrive. It means paying for an extra night, but there’s something great about arriving at a hotel at 10 AM and sleeping for 3-4 hours before taking a shower and heading out for the evening. This is how we’re best able to adjust to a new time zone. We tend to be night owls, so staying up until 2 AM in a new time zone isn’t a huge problem for us. It’s better than touring the city like a zombie and not remembering anything you saw, which happened on our first trip to London back in the mid-90s when we tried to push through the day.

Booking an extra night isn’t always possible, and taking a nap at a hotel lounge while waiting for a room is a good substitute. Especially if they arrange the couch pillows into an impromptu bed as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel staff did for Sharon during our stay when we were upgraded to a suite with our Marriott Suite Upgrade certificates.

a spiral staircase in a room

Our last option is to stay awake as long as we can. One way we tricked ourselves into doing that was by scheduling a 12-hour layover in Dubin on the way to London. We took a cab into Dublin and had lunch at one of our favorite spots before heading back to the airport for our hop to London, where we checked into our hotel, went to dinner and then headed to bed.

Differences When Flying Over the Pacific

Flying west to Asia, Australia, or even Hawaii from the east coast is a different experience altogether. Sharon and I plan the first non-travel day of the trip as a throw-away day on these trips. For instance, we arrived 1 day early when we flew to Australia for our Adventures by Disney trip. We arrived at the hotel in the evening and headed for dinner. I was exhausted and ended up putting a spoonful of salt on my pasta dish, thinking it was Parmesan cheese (Note from Sharon: true story! I saw him do it!). After dinner, we went to sleep. The next day, I woke up a 4 AM and walked to the beach to see the sunrise. That didn’t suck.

a sunset over a beach

Then I went to the gym when it opened a 6 AM, after which I went back to the room and slept for a few hours. When we both woke up, we went for lunch and spent the rest of the day sitting by the pool, reading while sipping cocktails. Over the rest of the day, the remainder of our group arrived. By the time of dinner, they were all exhausted from the trip while we could stay up and get to bed close to local time and wake up the next morning, all ready to go.

The same goes for when we travel to Japan, Vietnam or Hawaii. The first day is a wash. No matter how much we try to get adjusted before arriving, we’re still not going to be right.

On the other hand, we have little problems with jet lag when we’re flying a few time zones to the west. No difference if we’re flying to California or coming home from Europe. These feel like long travel days; you typically chase daylight during the entire trip. It’s nice waking up in LA at what feels like noon to you but it is actually only 9 AM local time.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that jet lag affects everyone. Depending on how long of a trip you’re taking, you’ll have a different approach to dealing with it. If you’re only visiting for a few days, adjusting to your new time zone might not be worth trying. If you’re going to be there for a while, you have a decision to make.

Will you try to adjust beforehand, if that’s even possible for you? Adjusting your sleep time at home will help when you reach your destination. At a minimum, try to get a regular amount of sleep before your trip.

If you can’t do all the tips the experts suggest, try not to plan much for your trip’s first day or two. Stay around the hotel and know that you’re going to be tired. You’ll want to sleep during the day and not be able to sleep at night. Even if you follow the suggestion of pushing through when you arrive, know that you’ll be in a fog, so don’t do anything you’ll want to remember.

The same goes for when you get home. It will take some time to get back to normal. If possible, try not to schedule anything important for the first few days.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

Cover Image by Kacper Lawiński from Pixabay


Christian December 17, 2022 - 3:32 pm

Very sensible. Thanks for shredding the pundits and their ridiculous suggestions.

ACinCLT March 10, 2024 - 2:59 pm

Agree completely. I just got back from a trip to Singapore including non-stop JFK-SIN on SQ then back again (which flew all the way around the world which would pretty cool – at least to me). Got to Singapore after an 18 hour flight at 5 AM. Booked a hotel in the airport for 6 hours (around $100 US) so took a 2-3 hour nap, had a shower and changed. It was then around 10:30 AM there and I felt reasonably OK so handled the entire day (did crash at 9 PM though). Was OK in Singapore but went to bed 9-10 and woke up 4-5 AM. Coming back was worse. Took me a week to basically recalibrate myself.

Granted these are the longest flights in the world and around 10,500 miles each leg so about as bad as you could get. I don’t usually have an issue going to Europe but do try to get early check in and crash a couple of hours before heading out in the afternoon


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