How to Avoid Jet Lag – Travel Tips for Long-haul Flights

Jet lag is the bane of all multi time zone travelers. How do you deal with jet lag? My first experience with jet lag was during my first trip to Europe. I found out jet lag is annoying! Jet lag can also be quite debilitating for some people.

Symptoms of Jet Lag

  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Sadness/mild depression
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach upset

My sleep patterns were disrupted and occasionally I had the sensation of still being on the plane – a bit like mild turbulence – but I was standing on the ground. It felt very strange.

I have learned how to cope with jet lag and more importantly how to reduce the chances of experiencing jet lag because waking up at 4 am is not my idea of the perfect morning.

Jet lag always seems worse for me when traveling towards the east – so it’s worse when I go to Europe, Middle East, or North Africa than when I travel to Asia. Evidently this is because it’s more difficult for our body clock to adjust. Traveling to the west we need to try to stay awake longer to normalize our body clock and that is an easier adjustment.

Jet lag - Best Travel Tips - How to Avoid Jet Lag

Avoid jet lag on long haul flights – best travel tips

What causes Jet Lag?

Rapid travel in either an east-west or west-east direction which upsets the body’s circadian rhythm causes jet lag. Circadian rhythm is our internal body clock – which tells us when to eat, sleep, etc.

The duration of the flight is not as important as the number of time zone changes. For instance flying south from Dallas Texas to São Paulo Brazil my flight took 9 hours but it was only a 1 hour time change so I did not experience jet lag.

Travel across multiple time zones and the fact that daylight or nighttime are not coinciding with our regular home base brings on the dreaded jet lag.

How to Avoid Jet Lag

Here is what works best for me to avoid jet lag:

Change your watch to the time to your destination time zone

I haven’t worn a watch in over fifteen years but I do change my travel alarm clock to the destination time zone and I keep it in my carry-on bag so I can check the time.

While flying eat meals at destination meal times

Eat according to the destination time zone. For example when flying to Europe from North America on an overnight flight arriving at the destination early in the morning – I have a meal before boarding the plane because the in-flight meal is served at what would be the middle of the night at the destination.

I also bring healthy snack foods so I am not limited to the airline food which can be hideous at times. I like to bring pumpkin seeds, dates, an apple, and crackers.

There is no conclusive evidence that shifting meals to the destination time zone will help to reduce jet lag but I swear it helps! After I added this to my annihilation of jet lag arsenal my jet lag has been minimal.

Sleep during the flight to reduce jet lag

This is especially important if you will be arriving at your destination early in the morning.

To aid in my ability to fall asleep I use the Lewis N Clark comport eye mask, along with my Bose noise cancelling headphones, and an inflatable pillow by Lewis N Clark. I probably look like a bit of a freak with all this gear but I don’t care. A bit of sleep on a long-haul flight is such a blessing. I also pack a pair of socks in my carry-on bag so I can take off my footwear and keep my feet warm.

Your feet will probably swell during the flight so make sure your footwear is either adjustable or big enough for your newly fat feet during the flight.

Avoid alcohol to avoid jet lag

I almost never drink alcohol during a flight anymore. Although when American Airlines upgraded me to business class from coach on a London to Chicago flight I found myself saying yes please to the champagne at 10:00 am!

Avoid caffeine to avoid jet lag

If I’m arriving at my destination in the morning hours when I would normally be drinking caffeine then I will definitely have a cup of tea or coffee in the morning. The rest of the flight I abstain completely.

Drink plenty of water to avoid jet lag

I always order 2 waters with no ice when the flight attendants come around with the beverage service. I also buy a bottle of water at the airport so I have it available before the flight crew serves drinks. I sometimes fall asleep before the first visit from the flight attendants so having my own water supply is important to me. A refillable water bottle by Camelbak is something I recently added to my travel gear because it is great while in transit as well as during day trips at my destination.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Healthy people recover from jet lag quicker and are less affected by jet lag. I do yoga every morning and swim 3 times per week for an hour each session. At home I get 7 to 8 hours sleep each night (when traveling it’s a different story altogether). I eat healthy foods.

I believe diet, exercise, and adequate sleep are the 3 major factors to a healthy lifestyle. Hereditary of course trumps all.

Other suggestions for avoiding jet lag

These are some suggestions that I have not used (or it hasn’t worked for me) but I have either read about or heard from other travelers who found it beneficial in avoiding jet lag.

Melatonin

In the US melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement. Quality may vary substantially between brands because melatonin is unregulated. The body naturally produces melatonin  and rates normally rise in the evening and decrease in the morning. Some people swear by this stuff but I find it does nothing for me.

Sleep medication

Some people use sleep medication, travel sickness medication, or anti-histamine which causes drowsiness – obviously consult with your doctor and pharmacist especially if you have any medical conditions.

I took some Valium during overnight bus trips in Thailand and it knocked me out but I felt so groggy in the morning it felt as if I had not slept at all. Perhaps I self-medicated with too strong a dosage?

Shift eating/sleeping cycle

Try shifting your bedtime and mealtimes to the time zone you will be traveling to. I have never successfully been able to do this. My internal clock is quite adamant that it doesn’t like being messed with!

Light therapy to avoid getting jet lag

I’ve never tried this but it makes sense to me. Adjusting one’s exposure to light in order to help shift sleep cycles seems logical. I manage jet lag with my current regime but I would try light therapy if I experienced severe jet lag.

Essentially light therapy would start several days before traveling with more light exposure in the morning if traveling eastward – to help induce an earlier bedtime. More exposure to light during evening hours for westward travel should help delay bedtime.

Best ways to deal with jet lag after flying

A good night’s sleep will help immensely – sleep medication or melatonin may help.

Eat at regular meal times

There is some talk of adjusting exposure to sunlight but I would find this way too difficult to follow. It’s just too restrictive for me and my spontaneous plan making self.

What measures do you take to avoid or deal with jet lag?

Please share any tips you have to help avoid jet lag, what works for you?

Looking for more help and advice about solo travel? Click here for more articles from Solo Trips And Tips.

About the Author

Susan Moore's first solo travel experience was traveling around SE Asia for 7 months in 1993. It was life changing and extraordinary. Currently Susan is living a nomadic life, working and roadtripping around the USA and Canada. You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter

13 Comments

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  1. photowannabe says:

    Jet lag can be no fun, that’s for sure.
    I do try to do the things you suggest myself.
    Eating as if I am in the destination time zone really helps.
    Great helpful post.

    • Susan Moore says:

      I’m glad it helps you too! Changing my eating patterns to the destination time zone has been the most helpful for me. I’ve yet to find any studies that give credence to this method of avoiding jet lag, I just know it works for me.

  2. Photo Cache says:

    I got jetlagged so bad when traveling to Asia.

  3. Marcy says:

    You covered it very well!! flying east always kills me.

    • Susan Moore says:

      Thank you Marcy! I’m flying east to Barcelona in May so I hope to keep the jet lag to a minimum. It’s an overnight flight so I think I sould do alright.

  4. Roger Green says:

    A most useful post! Thanks.

  5. Leslie says:

    No matter what I do, I can’t sleep on a plane – I sort of doze, but it’s not the same. When I travel overseas, I stay up as late as possible and then get up at “their” morning time. After a day I’m usually fine. But drinking extra water is really important – both on the plane and for a few days after arrival.

    Leslie

    • Susan Moore says:

      Leslie, that’s got to be tough not being able to sleep on the plane but you have figured out how to cope with the jet lag very well. I agree, hydrating is so important – good point about drinking extra water for a few days after arrival, thanks for the tip!

  6. ellen b says:

    Great tips Susan. We have noticed, too, that flying east is worse than flying west. Our Bose head phones were one of our best investments for airplane travel!

    • Susan Moore says:

      Thank you Ellen! i hesitated to buy the Bose headphones because they are so expensive but I too have found them to be worth it – both for flying and when I am sleeping in a noisy hotel or dorm room. Great for listening to music too!

  7. nabanita says:

    I always sleep so much in flights to reduce the effect of jet lag..Like the tips…thanks for sharing

  8. Shailaja V says:

    Oh this is such a useful list! I am bookmarking it!

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