Try to google ‘how to avoid jet lag’ and you will get more than a billion results… There is so much advice out there, thousands of articles, suggestions, even apps that can help you deal with jet lag by telling you when to sleep, what and when to eat, when to go outside and when to avoid daylight… So why write another article? Good question…
Because, in my opinion, jet lag is overrated, over-worried (is this even a right word?) and too theoretical.
During all the years of extensive traveling through many different time zones we never really paid much attention to jet lag. We just followed our bodies, slept when we felt like, ate at strange hours, went to sleep in the morning and went out in the evening… It never took us more than 2-3 days to adjust to a new time zone, even with a 9 hour time difference.
Listening to our body rather than following general advice has proven to be the very best method to overcome jet lag quickly.
When I told my husband that I’m gonna write a post about the best ways to avoid jet lag, he said it was easy – ‘don’t fly’. Or fly South or North only. That’s the most effective way, of course, but you don’t get to see the whole world that way. So no matter how annoying, frustrating or tiring it is, you just have to learn to deal with flying and jet lag if you want to travel.
How we deal with jet lag when flying Eastwards
We don’t have a jet lag plan, no apps, no specific rules or tricks. As I said, we follow what our body tells us. Let me share a few examples, a rather usual routine for us actually.
That’s more than 12 hours before we are ‘allowed’ to sleep! No way can our kids handle that, and, honestly, neither can weWe travel Eastwards to the destination that is 3 to 9 hours ahead of us. It just so happens that most of the Eastwards heading long-haul flights arrive at their destination early in the morning, which is in the middle of the night back home. We always try to sleep on the plane and some succeed at it better than others, yet we are always exhausted when we land…
The sun is shining and, according to the jet lag specialists, we should stay outside the whole morning, go and have breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, and only go to bed in the evening. That’s more than 12 hours before we are allowed to sleep! No way can our kids handle that, and, honestly, neither can we.
So what do we do?
We go to our hotel and hope to get a room as soon as possible. Usually the room isn’t ready and somehow they never seem to have any vacancies… So we wait, get a drink (no food – who can eat in the middle of the night!), walk around a bit, and make sure we stay in the neighbourhood of the reception so that we can get the room the moment it becomes available. Once we paid to upgrade to a bigger room, just to be able to go to bed sooner.
The moment the room becomes available we all go to sleep. But not before setting an alarm clock to wake us up in the afternoon (around 3-4-5pm, depending on the time difference). When the alarm clock rings, everyone is usually still tired, but we make an effort to get up and quickly feel better after a shower. By the time we leave our hotel it’s usually about dinner time, we are all starving, and so we look for a nice restaurant. After dinner we walk around a bit, explore the new place, and go to bed at around 11pm. We try to find a grocery store and buy some snacks and drinks before heading back to the hotel (this one is important – later you’ll see why).
Usually none of us have any trouble falling asleep after such a long day and we sleep pretty much through the night. So when we wake up next morning we are already partially adapted to the new time zone. Sometimes it’s too early for breakfast yet we are hungry. That’s why it’s handy to have some fruit or cookies in your hotel room.
Now look at our day if we would have followed the rules (I had a couple of those jet lag plans calculated for me, as an example)… We arrive at 7 am, force ourselves to eat breakfast at 9am and go for a walk outside (seek daylight). By 11am the kids are grumpy and impossible to handle, and we try to find a place for lunch. Which none of us finishes as nobody is hungry. We have trouble staying awake. We do our best and stretch the day as long as we possibly can, get angry at the kids for being impossible, and eventually give up the fight and head to bed at 6pm without dinner. This is not according to the plan, but no way can we stay awake till 11pm, and there is a big chance that the kids don’t even make it to 6pm… We wake up at 2-3am hungry and all awake in the middle of the night. Needless to say we would all be exhausted the next morning…
Here is how our second day looks like now: we wake up early but well rested. We do nothing special with regards to the jet lag and have a regular vacation day doing regular activities. We try to eat at regular times, do some sightseeing and don’t go to bed before the evening. The second day can sometimes get a bit tiring, especially towards the evening and even more so for the children, so we might have an early dinner and go to bed a bit earlier, but we try to make sure it’s not before 7pm for the kids and 9pm for us. We can stretch the time a bit by taking a long bath or reading stories to the kids before going to bed…
This would be a big no-no according to any jet lag plan, but try telling that to a childIf we don’t have any snacks left, we make sure to buy some more to have in the hotel room for the next couple of days. It often happens that one (or all) of us wake up after having slept a few hours feeling hungry. We once ate sandwiches with chocolate spread at midnight in Australia… And then we went back to bed. This would be a big no-no according to the jet lag plan, but try telling that to a child.
Forget about the rules – eat when you’re hungry.
How much time does it take to adjust to the new time zone
Two days (including the day of arrival), that’s what it usually takes us to adjust to a new time zone completely. In Australia it took us two days and some melatonin, but then 9 hours is not nothing. That was also the only trip where we took melatonin pills. It was the perfect way to make sure that our three kids would go to sleep at the same time and we could get some rest too. The last thing you want after a 28-hour trip and 9 hours of time difference is having to deal with three toddlers who wake up and sleep at different times…
Avoiding jet lag when traveling Westwards
It’s supposedly easier to avoid jet lag if you are traveling Westwards and in my experience it certainly is. We never had any significant problems when we came back from our trips in this direction. I still remember that everyone was surprised to see our kids at school the day after we were back from Australia. They felt just fine…
When we fly Westwards, we do the same as going Eastwards – try to sleep on the plane if it’s night time at our destination, go to bed during the day (and get up in the afternoon) if we arrive early in the morning or stay up till the evening if we arrive later during the day.
All this being said, let me summarise.
Our 9 practical tips for dealing with jet lag
- Don’t be proactive by trying to change your schedule before leaving home. Make sure you travel well rested.
- Try to get some sleep on the plane, but only at the time when it’s night at your destination.
- Drink lots of water during the flight. You may want to take it easy on alcoholic drinks and caffeine.
- Don’t try to stay awake the whole day if you arrive early in the morning. Better get some sleep, get up in the afternoon and make it a long evening than try to stay awake, exhaust yourself, and end up in bed much too early.
- Don’t eat when you don’t feel like it. Eat when you are hungry. So what if you only have two meals during the day, eat lunch at 3pm or dinner at 5pm or 11pm, or treat yourself to some snacks at midnight? We won’t tell anybody!
- If you are traveling through multiple time zones and have certain commitments (business meeting or three kids that need your attention), then melatonin is something to consider. Ask your doctor for advice, of course.
- For those of you who want something more specific, here is some information I found in a book today. By the way, the book is called ‘Why don’t spiders stick to their webs?’ and is full of all kinds of interesting and trivial (scientific) facts, including this one in regards to avoiding jet lag. If you have the choice, try to book a flight that leaves between 8am and noon and arrives between 6pm and 10pm. According to this book, flights that leave late at night (10pm-1am) and arrive in the morning (8am to noon) give a much bigger risk for jet lag.
- If you are traveling with kids, try to sleep when they sleep.
- Don’t worry, follow what your body tells you, and enjoy your vacation!
How do you deal with the jet lag? Do you follow a strict plan, have some secret advice, or just go with the flow? Feel free to share your experience.
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