One of the best things about international travel is just that: it’s international! You’re crossing cultures, you’re crossing paths with new friends, you’re crossing off that bucket list…but unfortunately, you’re also crossing time zones. And the last thing you want while exploring the ancient sun temple of Machu Picchu or absorbing the grandeur of the Taj Mahal is a bout of jet-lagged induced drowsiness dragging down your travel groove. So here are some of my best strategies for overcoming jet lag, gleaned from 35 years of travel to faraway time zones.
1Overcoming jet lag begins in the days (or nights) prior to your departure. Even though it’s hard to be organized enough to be well rested before you depart, you should try hard to get quality sleep before your overnight flight. It’s easier to deal with jet lag if you’re not overcoming several nights of poor sleep before you’ve even begun your trip.
2Try to simulate your new schedule (the one you’ll follow at your destination) starting a couple of days before you depart. If you’re going east, try to have dinner and go to sleep an hour or more earlier than usual. If you’re going west, do the reverse and try to wait until later to have dinner and go to bed.
3Reset your watch as soon as you take off. This is a symbolic move toward your new time zone, and it will help set your perspective toward thinking later (or earlier). It’s a psychological “trick” that helps keep you focused on the time zone at your destination.
4Do not drink alcohol during your flight. Instead, drink water, and lots of it. Staying hydrated is very helpful to your body, which in turn is helpful in coping with jet lag.
5Try to sleep on the flight. Avoid the temptation to eat a heavy meal that is often served at 11 PM or even later, followed by a movie. Put on an eye mask, use your headset to listen to relaxing music and settle into whatever sleep you can manage. Every hour you rest during your flight is an hour you won’t miss when you arrive at your destination.
6When I arrive after an overnight flight and find myself 7 or 8 hours ahead of my normal time zone, I stay awake until it’s time for bed in my new time zone. This is really important, even though it’s hard to do. If you can make it until 8 or 9 PM on that first night, you’ll have taken a big step toward overcoming the jet lag that can spoil your trip for days. The next day, when you awake, you’ll be ready to explore and enjoy your adventure. If you typically have trouble staying asleep the first night or two when you travel, consider taking a mild sleeping pill. While it isn’t a good idea to rely on chemical sleep aides on a regular basis, they can be helpful in getting you through the first night or two without middle-of-the-night pauses.
7Eat lightly the first full day or two in your new time zone. Your body is expending lots of energy accommodating itself to the new time. If you eat unusual or heavy foods on that first day or two, you’ll be stressing yourself, and you’ll be facing middle of the night wakefulness rather than peaceful sleep.
As a long time traveler and travel agency owner for more than 30 years; I can agree with your tips! Some I have not tried, so I will… I will share these tips with our travelers! Thank you. ~ Bernadette
Thanks to you, Bernadette. If you come across any other good tips, please share with us. All of us who travel far and wide can use all the good information we can get.
Remember you don’t have to get to REM. There are several stages of sleep. If you can, as I call it, get totally out of your body –totally relaxed — that is good, too. I was in the airline industry and It works for me.
I have been travelling many long flights in my life and never experienced jet Lag, I guess it is not for me. Last summer I went from Toronto, Canada to Bangkok and back, 33,000km in less than 5 days and got off the plane as fresh as a rose, mind you I am a 70 year old young man. I have been to Thailand from Canada 17 times and travelled around the world and the time change or jet lag never bothered me. I guess everybody is different. I also forget to mention that I never sleep on a plane and I don’t take any particular precautions.
We travel for pleasure a lot, and I am a person who can be very sensitive to jet lag. I have learned a few tricks to help. I always get into destination time as soon as we hit the airport. If it is night at my destination and I have to be in the airport and can’t sleep, I wear dark sun glasses and take melatonin. By the time I board my flight, I am ready for a nap. Also, I use 5 hour energy drinks to get me through the first days at my destination so I don’t waste time and can make it until bedtime without a nap. (No more falling asleep on the tour or the hop-on hop-off bus! Taking melatonin an hour before bed (according to my doctor) is a safe way to quickly adjust your body’s sleep rhythm, both on the trip and once you get home. Hope this helps.
This circadian defeat plan works:
1. A week prior to your trip make sure you keep an exact schedule for sleep:
go to and get up from bed with alarm each day for at least 3-days
2. Determine the destination time difference & your local time.
3. Advance or set back your alarm accordingly
4. On the assigned travel day use the time in step 3 for sleep on plane/train/bus
5. Enjoy same schedule in your destination-stay well
I usually use number 6 method and very useful.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t feel any effects of jetlag. Gerard, you really are amazing. I personally didn’t suffer much from jetlag until I hit my 50’s, and then it hit me, hard. I do very well if I follow my own rules for beating jetlag.