It’s happened to you. You know the pain. You travel a long distance for an installation or project you’re working on. You try to get to the job site or you’re waiting for dinner and BAM! You lose all your energy. You just want to lie down for a few minutes. You feel like it’s 3am regardless of what time it actually is. You’re suffering from jet lag.
Jet lag is sleeping disorder that you get when you travel across many time zones in a short amount of time. Your circadian rhythm gets thrown off and your body thinks you need to go to sleep for the night even though it might only be 5pm.
Over the years of extensive traveling I’ve been quite fortunate to find a bunch of strategies for minimizing the effects of jet lag. Let’s dive in.
Get daylight cues
The sun is a natural cue to your body to wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night. If your body receives a lot of sunlight near the early morning, it will start to realize when morning is. In reverse, reducing the amount of light in the environment will cue your body that it is time to sleep at night time. Simple things like waking up in the morning and have a quick walk in the sun or turning off all the lights and not using your computer before bed time in your new time zone can really help your mind reconfigure your circadian rhythm.
Eat on time
Food is a huge source of energy. Food is fuel, simple as that. The best thing you can do when you arrive in a new time zone is eat at proper meal times. If you get off the airplane at 11pm and you’re hungry, tough luck. Go to sleep and don’t eat anything. If you eat a big meal at 11pm, guess who’s going to be full of energy at 1am! That’s right, you. The same applies if you get hungry at 3pm or 9pm. Avoid eating at strange times to avoid spiking your energy when you don’t want it to spike (close to bed time).
Do not nap
The number one rule: Absolutely do not give in to the desire to nap. If you can resist it, you should be able to get over the jet lag in a few days. If you give in on the first or second day, prepare for days and days (or even a whole week) of misery. Do whatever you have to do. If you’re working with friends and colleagues, make sure you all look out for each other and don’t let someone go back to their hotel room “just for a little bit” if they’re looking really tired. Go for a walk, have a healthy snack (fruit is good), hit the gym, do anything to not sleep when you shouldn’t be sleeping.
Treat the airplane like destination
One thing I hate about airplanes and airlines is that they don’t care about jet lag. They turn the airplane lights on and off at random times. They start peddling drinks and food randomly (even if it’s technically 3am wherever you’re going!). It’s out of control. One of the best things you can do is get on the airplane and plan your schedule and activities with your destination time zone in mind. Are you getting on the airplane at what is 11pm in the destination? Try to sleep right as soon as you can and try to stay out for 8 hours. Is it 11am in the destination when you take off? Stay awake for most of the flight watching movies and read books and do some work. You can save yourself a lot of headache upon arriving if you’re already trying to lie yourself up with the destination time zone.
Arrive ahead of time
The last tip is less of an avoidance and more of a strategy. Arrive a few days early wherever you’re going to give yourself time to recover a bit. Most of the time if you find jet lag to be really bad on you, then it’s worth the few extra hotel days to get there early and start to get acclimatized.
These days I’m constantly traveling. Every week or every other week and I’m on another flight going somewhere. If I didn’t have these different methods for beating jet lag, I’d be a total disaster. These things may seem simple but they add up their benefits quickly and you’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be able to adjust to new time zones. Happy travels!