I travel a lot for business. And its not only the shorter jaunts from Phoenix to San Francisco or Chicago to Boston. I travel from North to South America and Europe to Asia. Sometimes I’m on planes for 15-20 hours. For years now, I’ve suffered from jet-lag. It can be brutal, lasting a week, sometimes with flu symptoms, but I’ve sucked it up and dealt with it because I love my work, enjoy being in different countries, and learning about new cultures.
Last year, after several back-to-back trips to far-away places, I made a deal with myself I would employ some new jet-lag fighting tactics and see if I could find a better way to cope. I asked those executive friends of mine (who travel more than I do), did some internet research, and simply tested out a few strategies. Finally, after almost 25 years of business and personal travel, I think I’ve finally got this jet-lag thing beat.
Here are my six secrets to overcoming jet-lag:
1) Prepare a sleep-kit: Sleeping on planes is difficult enough, make it as comfortable as you can. First, get something to block out the noise; earplugs, headphones, or an extra pillow. Second, make sure you’re warm enough. A lightweight down jacket can bunch up into a headrest, add extra padding to your seat, or simply keep you nice and warm on an over-air conditioned plane. A fleece blanket or poncho and a hat or hood is helpful, too. And don’t forget your eye mask to block out light. If you’re lucky enough to travel business or first class, you’ll get most of these accessories with your seat.
2) Skip the wine: This is a tough one because they serve some nice wines on the European airlines. Singapore Airlines will even make you exotic fruit juice cocktails, like – surprise – the Singapore Sling. Alcohol may put you to sleep quickly but chances are you’ll be up again in an hour or two, wide awake from the sugar content in alcohol. It can also make recovering from jet-lag once you get to where you’re going tougher. It dehydrates you and you can feel even more tired.
3) Medicate if you dare: If you have trouble sleeping on planes it might be well worth taking some medication. Some folks prefer Melatonin or a homeopathic sleep aid, others use Tylenol or Advil PM. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe a sleeping pill for international flights. There’s nothing like being well-rested when you get to your final destination. Experiment with some options and find what’s best for you, but do try to sleep at least half of any trip over eight hours. Especially if its an overnight flight.
4) Eat VERY lightly: Again, this can be difficult. Meals help with the boredom on longer flights and the international airlines can serve up some mean grub. I recently had filet, asparagus grits and mixed sauteed vegetables. It was surprisingly delicious. I paid for it though, couldn’t sleep a wink. Luckily it was a day flight so I took the calculated risk. However, when I eat a salad with lots of raw veggies, no meat or carbs, board my flight, eat very little (if at all) on the plane, I tend to sleep well and feel better when I land.
5) Get some fresh air: I feel like my mother. When I was a kid, she always said, “Let’s get some fresh air, shall we?” What I think she really meant was, “You’re driving me nuts inside bouncing off the walls.” Anyway, I can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference it makes recovering from jet-lag. Rain or shine, when I get to where I’m going, I go out for a stroll. (Assuming its a stroll-able location.) A brisk walk, especially if the air is cool, takes away that slight headache, refreshes you, and it’ll help you sleep better that first night.
6) Exercise, exercise, exercise: Critical to overcoming jet-lag (and to your overall well-being) is getting some exercise everyday – before, during and after your trip. Even a thirty minute workout can do wonders. It gets the blood flowing, your brain working, it builds your immune system to fight colds and viruses, and makes you feel dang good. If you’re staying at a hotel without a good gym facility, ask about a neighborhood gym nearby. Go for a run or join some people playing a sport outdoors. I’ve even downloaded a couple of workout apps and in a pinch, do those in my hotel room.
Of course you have to find what works best for you. I can’t promise you’ll conquer jet-lag entirely but I can promise the above tips will help a lot and you’ll feel more prepared for your next trip abroad. Happy travels!