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How to Avoid (or Lessen the Effects of) Jet Lag in Eight Easy Steps

Qatar hong kong to stockholm (74)
Flying Business Class on Qatar Airways. Phot Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Airlines + Aviation

Jet lag is the bane of travelers flying long distances across zones, causing frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, and a disruption in sleep patterns. Is there anything that can be done to lessen the effects?

Definition: jet lag is a physiological condition that results when travelers journey from one time zone to another. It happens because of the time difference between the two places.

Jet lag only happens when flying from to east to west or west to east. It does not occur when flying north to  south or south to north.

When flying across time zones at high speeds, your body doesn't have time to adjust the way it would if you were traveling by boat or by train.

Your body simply doesn't realize it has left home. Because it remains stuck in the old time zone, you have got to send it multiple subliminal messages to "bring it up to date".

Jet lag should not be confused with being tired. Traveling can be tiring, and there is not much you can do about that. I am speaking about the disruption in sleep patterns that jet lag causes - and how to avoid it.

Cold Turkey

Following an exhausting trip from Hong Kong to Sweden, I faced an even more exhausting trip from the airport to the flat I had rented on Airbnb. More on that later.

While I used to experience horrendous jet lag, which took about two weeks to get over, I now never do. Through the years, I’ve developed a few simple strategies that ease the transition between time zones, and most of them are free.

I call the approach “Cold Turkey”.

As the name suggests, this approach is a temporary “unpleasant experience” rather than “gradually easing the process” - similar to kicking a drug addiction in one fell swoop.

But a few hours of unpleasantness avoids several days of jet lag. And it isn’t really all THAT unpleasant. It just requires a little discipline

  1. Re-set your watch! Many people leave their watch set at their place of departure, because they want to know what time it is at home, but this is the worst thing you can do. Instead, re-set your watch to the time at your destination soon AFTER boarding your plane.
  2. If you will be making intermediate stops, set your watch to the next stop rather than the final destination. Not only will this allow your body to make the transition more gradually, external factors (such as daylight or the lack of it) will reinforce the transition.
  3. After re-setting your watch, put it away. As the saying goes, a watched pot never boils. Likewise, checking your watch every few minutes only makes the time go by slower. Try not to check what time it until you are nearing arrival.
  4. Maybe an hour before your arrival at your final destination (if you will be arriving in the morning or afternoon), go into the washroom and freshen up. Brush your teeth. Apply deodorant. If you are a man, shave. If you are a woman, do whatever you do. This sends an important signal to your brain that it is time to get up.
  5. If you are arriving later in the day or in the evening you might want to move this procedure forward a couple of hours.
  6. Upon your arrival, whatever you do, do NOT lie down or take a nap. Throw yourself into the new time zone – no matter how tired you may feel. Force yourself not to think about what time it “really” is. Focus on what time it is at your destination.
  7. If it is daylight, try to get outdoors and into the sun.
  8. Flying Business Class definitely helps! Premium Economy is a good substitute. On long flights, I would rather travel less often and fly Premium Economy or Business Class. When it comes to flying Cattle Class, I would rather stay home!

Before I developed these strategies, I suffered horrendous jet lag, going to bed hours too early (because I was exhausted) and waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep.

Even a "short nap" before dinner would do me in!

The symptoms would last for up to two weeks. And now I'm raring to go early the next morning.

I DO allow myself to go to bed earlier than usual (as long as it’s past 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening). As a bonus, I always wake up earlier than usual (I'm a late-riser), adding hours to my day.

Please note: if you absolutely need to know what time it back home for business or other reasons, it is okay to check. But the time on you watch should always be set at the local time.

Disclaimer: these steps work brilliantly for me. I can’t guarantee they will work for you. We all have a different constitution.

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