Strategies for Coping With Jetlag

Sleeping Hawaiian Monk Seal
Credit: Flickr / Jared Wong

Arrive and go to bed

I like to time my (long) flights so that I get off the plane, get to where I’m staying, and immediately go to sleep, “early” (yes, I am a wonderful, social houseguest, ha). Hopefully, this has me waking up at 5 or 6am, having had at least 7 hours of sleep, ready to take on the day. I think this helps reset my body clock, and if I’ve got a good amount of sleep I won’t want to nap until at least mid-afternoon.

If I can’t, especially when I take a redeye, my goal is to stay awake until 7pm. 7pm feels manageable, and knowing that bed is not an option until then I’ll find things to do, and sometimes I’ll even make it a little later. Experimentation has led me to the discovery that for me a 7pm bedtime can help me lead some pretence of a normal life, rather than that of a weird, nocturnal creature that wakes up at 2am. That one was great for a couple of days of productivity and then started to get really lonely!

Daylight. Daylight. Daylight.

Jetlag is your body clock being at a different time than whenever you happen to be. Daylight is a strong message to your body clock that no, this is not actually nighttime.

No naps

Napping on planes is encouraged, it passes the time, and I find it makes it slightly easier to function on landing, and no worse to sleep at bedtime. However once I’m off the plane, I have a very strict no-napping rule. It is so easy for a nap to turn into too much sleep, and derail my days. If I lie down for a nap, I know that I’m unlikely to have the willpower to get up again.

Be hungry

Being hungry helps reset your body clock; are some examples of fasting to help reset jetlag. I find eating an early dinner (more of a late lunch) and then going to bed slightly hungry works well. By morning, I’m really hungry, I sleep a little longer because of it, and I’m motivated to get up and go to breakfast.

Eat lots of breakfast

Not eating and sleeping slows down your metabolism, but the morning is when I want to jump start it again, so breakfast is even more important than it is usually. Also, if it’s a complete day-night switch, it can be the only meal I really get hungry for and enjoy.

Move

After one horrible flight, the long Vancouver-Sydney one, in economy, where we were delayed to look for a boat lost at sea (yes, really) I felt so terrible, I knew if I even sat down I would pass out. Any kind of work was out of the question, and I was too spaced out to wonder around. I went to the gym (with my iPad and a favourite TV show) and pretty much propped myself up on the cross trainer, and somehow kept moving for a few hours. I made it to 7pm, and was able to function the next day.

Same as eating breakfast, moving gets my metabolism going, letting my body clock know that it’s not actually sleeping time! A bit more animated than that particular example will get endorphins going. It’s hard to sleep immediately after working out, and when I’m trying to stay awake that can work to my advantage.

Rehydrate

Everyone knows, planes are super dehydrating, and being dehydrated is bad for basically everything. So I drink lots of water, and tea.

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