I’m a bad sleeper to begin with, so add in all my travel to Asia (sometimes 26+ hours of flying coupled with a 15 hour time difference) and my life can become a sleep-deprived mess. I can’t say I’ve conquered jetlag, but I’ve gotten pretty good at managing it.
Some of the keys for me:
AS YOU TAKE OFF……
1. Don’t get a good night’s sleep before you travel, so that you’re tired when you get on the plane. I find I can adjust my sleeping hour better if I’m a little tired – I can stay up if I’m sleepy, but I find it impossible to put myself down if I’m awake and refreshed from my nine-hour doze the night before.
2. Try to adjust to the timezone of your destination as soon as you get on the plane, including setting your watch. If I’m leaving at midnight on a flight to China, I’ll force myself to stay up as long on the flight as I can (like my last trip, where I watched 5 hours of Homeland straight!).
3. If at all possible (sometimes only an option if you’re flying business class) – make sure the seats on the plane lay fully 180 degrees flat, not just recline. It makes a huge difference in sleep quality on the plane. You can tell this from the plane specs and configuration if you Google it (e.g. Cathay Pacific 777) – but confusingly what are called “lay flat” seats often don’t fully recline. Look for “flat bed,” and ask the airline if there’s any question.
4. Ear plugs and eye shades – critical for plane sleeping. I can’t sleep with headphones on, and foam plugs fall out of my ears, so I use Macks – they are silicone disks that you smooth over your ear rather than push into them and they block sounds well. You can get them at any CVS.
5. Stay hydrated. Any place that is far enough away to give you jetlag involves a long plane ride, and long plane rides are dehydrating, and dehydration makes you drag. Guzzle water!
WHEN YOU’RE THERE….
1. Recognize jet lag works differently depending on which direction you travel – if you’re going West from the US (towards Asia) you’re going to be tired early in the evening, and wake up early in the morning. If you’re going East (towards Europe) you’ll be able to stay up late, but you’ll want to sleep late as well. Plan accordingly! Don’t set up a great dinner with important people for 10 PM the second night you’re in Shanghai, unless you want them to think you’re a drooling idiot.
2. Pick your flight so that you arrive mid-day if possible, and then make sure to have plans the day you arrive. This is a little counter-intuitive, and some people will tell you to get in a day early to “rest.” But for me the worst, worst thing for jet lag is having time to lay around the hotel watching CNN and noticing how tired I feel. If I keep myself busy and power through the first day, I can generally get on schedule.
3. Related to the above, I try not to nap – because I fall into deep sleep and don’t feel refreshed when I wake up.
4. Rule of thumb is that you need a day to recover for every one hour of time zone change. That’s a little exaggerated, but I find that when I’m in Asia (~12 hours time difference) I generally don’t feel 100% for a week.
5. Ambien, a prescription sleep aid. I don’t travel without it. The great thing about Ambien (or its generic counterparts) is it leaves your system fast, so you don’t wake up groggy. I am careful about limiting its use when I’m not travelling, because it’s habit-forming.
6. I make sure to get some exercise outside, generally the second day I’m somewhere. Actually, my 4 AM jetlag runs are one of my favorite times in Asia and one of the best ways to see a new place - it’s cool in a hot climate, you get to see a place at rest, before all the noise of the day, and you can enjoy the magic of a sunrise. They also give me energy, get the blood flowing, and help me sleep better. Some of my favorite early-morning runs in Asia: the botanical gardens in Singapore, Hoan Khiem lake in Hanoi, and the Forbidden City in Beijing.
7. I use jetlag as an excuse to indulge in a massage, which especially in Asia is cheap and varies by country. Another way to get the blood flowing, and the only way I allow myself to nap.
Thank you, Holly! To more fully enjoying our international travels…. zzzzz. xoxo