The Ultimate Guide to Overcoming Jet Lag

Originally published Jul 6, 2017 at Rakbo.com.

Jet lag. It’s easily the worst thing about flying over a few hours away. I am the type of person who cannot function on less than six hours sleep, and most of the trips I have taken abroad have left me uselessly exhausted and grumpy for the first few days. Vacation days from work and school holidays are precious, so use this mega list of Em-Approved tips to get through that long-haul flight.

The best way to get over jet lag is to adjust your circadian rhythm as quickly as possible. By resetting your body clock, you won’t feel the telltale signs of jet lag. Now, if you are traveling from east to west, this means that you will need to stay up later than normal to adjust. If you travel west to east, you must go to sleep earlier and rise earlier to offset jet lag. As it is generally easier to force yourself to stay awake rather than to force yourself to sleep, we will be focusing on ways to fall asleep on an airplane heading west to east. This would be the best-case scenario if you were traveling west to east, such as from the US to Europe, as overnight flights are usually the cheapest and the best for maximizing your time abroad once you land.

BEFORE YOU FLY:

ADJUST YOUR SLEEP SCHEDULE.

Figure out the time difference between where you live and where you are going. Then, a month before you depart, set a schedule for sleeping and waking so you can gradually acclimate to the time zone prior to your flight. I did this before traveling to Iceland last winter, and it really helped! If you are traveling to a time zone more than six hours ahead however, it might be difficult to truly adapt. At the end of my schedule before heading to Europe, I was going to bed right after work at 6 pm and waking up at 4 am, which was still 2 hours off of Iceland time. As I had to work until 5pm every night, this couldn’t be helped.

ORDER A RIDICULOUS NECK PILLOW.

Traditional neck pillows don’t do it for me. My head usually bobs forward, and I naturally sleep on my side or my stomach when I sleep in a bed. This makes sleeping in a plane especially difficult, however, I think I have found the cure! The Face Cradle is a bizarre airplane pillow that resembles the thing you put your face in on a massage table. It attaches to the seat behind you so that you can sleep while leaning forward. I have not used it yet, but I have high hopes! If you have a hard time sleeping with a neck pillow, analyze how you sleep normally and try to find a product that would mimic that. Remember: if it looks stupid, but it actually works – it is not stupid!

INVEST IN COMFY CLOTHES AND OTHER SLEEP AIDS.

An eye maskear plugs and comfy clothes are necessary when you need to get some sleep on a flight. I would recommend loose clothes, and forgo leggings or tight shirts, as your body will swell on a flight. MeUndies have these incredible joggers if you are looking for pants that feel like baby bunnies eating cotton candy, but they are a little pricey for sweatpants. I would also recommend very soft socks to wear after you tuck away your shoes and to dress in layers. I am usually freezing on planes but, once in a while, you get a plane that is sweltering. Plan ahead.

BEFORE YOU BOARD:

DRINK CALMING TEA, OR EAT COMFORTING FOODS.

Chamomile tea (non-caffeinated!) is known to help you rest, and there are a lot of other foods that can help induce sleep. According to some reports, turkey has an amino acid that makes people sleepy, so have a turkey sandwich while you are waiting in the airport. I’ve also noticed carb-heavy meals such as mac and cheese usually put me in a sleepy mood, and there is some evidence that cherries can cause drowsiness. Experiment beforehand and see what works!

IF YOU ARE REALLY WORRIED, TAKE A SLEEPING PILL.

If it is okay with your doctor or your parents, take a sleep aid or melatonin to help you nod off. These usually work for eight hours, and for me they take up to an hour to kick in. Again, plan accordingly. If that means taking a sleeping aid an hour before your flight so that you are dead tired when you finally board, that is the smart thing to do. If you have never taken a sleep aid before and you don’t know how it will affect you, I would recommend trying it on a Friday night when you don’t have plans on Saturday. Then you can gauge how effective it is for you.

READ A BOOK. DON’T LOOK AT A SCREEN!

Bring an actual book with you on the plane and avoid watching movies or reading articles on your phone. The blue light emitted from screens messes with your sleep patterns as your brain thinks this means it’s daytime, so it is best to avoid it all together. I would recommend either a book you have read many times or a book that isn’t a thriller or mystery. Keep that heart rate down!

WHEN YOU LAND:

BASICALLY, DO THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYTHING I JUST TOLD YOU.

Your goal once you land is to stay awake for as long as you possibly can. Start your day off with coffee and don’t stop drinking it. If you are like me and can’t stand the taste, then Awake chocolate bars are going to be your new best friends. They contain as much caffeine as a cup of Joe, but they have none of the stomach symptoms usually associated with coffee. While you are running on caffeine, actually run. Keep moving. Don’t sit down. Keep your heart rate up and don’t let any underlying sleepiness ruin your day. Look at your phone constantly. Watch Netflix in the evening. Eat your way through the day. Remember that time you had to study for exams all night long? Do what you did then. Stay awake and survive!

With these steps, you can beat jet lag in about one day or less! Let me know if you have other tips, and if these have helped you by commenting below or shooting me a message on Instagram at @emalicethomas.

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