Friends, I did it.
I found the cure for jet lag.
In the past, I would fly from the East Coast to Europe, or from the West Coast to Australia, and resign myself to feeling exhausted the next day. I would force myself to stay awake and walk, walk, walk outside in the sunshine until I basically collapsed into bed, usually around 6pm local time. Then I would sleep for at least 12 hours, and wake up still feeling tired.
I was an exhausted, useless mess for a solid 24 hours, if not more.
On my last trip, I did a little research about sleep. I learned that we need to sleep in 90 minute increments in order to get the full cycle of sleep. If you sleep less than 90 minutes, you wake up too soon, groggy, cranky, and no better than had you never slept at all. If you just sleep until your body is ready to wake up, the result is nearly as bad.
My most recent trip involved traveling from the mid-Atlantic region to Italy. That involved an overnight flight of about 8 hours. Which means that after the in-flight meal service after you take off, plus breakfast about an hour before you land, you really only have about 6 hours to try to sleep, if you’re lucky.
I was flying in economy, which usually isn’t the worst thing on overnight flights, but this time I was on Alitalia and I swear they must have done research on how to design an airplane seat that is the least likely shape possible to support the human body in any sort of recline. They even had non-removable headrests that forced your head into an unnatural position if you were of average height. Or, of any height, quite possibly.
As an added bonus, there always seemed to be a bright light hitting my face no matter which I way I shifted.
In short, this was the least comfortable overnight flight I have experienced yet. I got the least amount sleep I have ever gotten on a plane, despite my noise cancelling headphones, melatonin, blanket, and pillow.
But, while the overnight portion of the trip was a frustrating, sleepless mess, I tried a few
new things upon landing that made all the difference in helping me conquer jet lag.
This is my new overnight routine to beat jet lag:
- Wear noise-cancelling headphones. Mine are Bose over-the-ear wireless headphones. They are comfortable and the sound quality is great. They weren’t cheap but were worth every penny.
- Wear compression socks. I don’t know how I ever traveled before compression socks. They feel like normal socks while you wear them, except your feet don’t swell up like balloons by the time you get to where you’re going.
- Drink water. Buy a metal water bottle (less likely to break than plastic, plus, you know, the environment) and a metal carabiner. Fill that bad boy up at a water fountain in the airport before you board. Hang it to the magazine pocket on the seat back in front of you the minute you sit down. Drink from it liberally. Make it your goal to drink every drop of water in that bottle before you step off the plane. Do this for every leg of your flight. Don’t worry if you have to pee. Dehydration is worse than needing to go to the bathroom. Just drink the water. Plus, getting up to go to the bathroom frequently is good for your circulation.
- Check with your doctor first, but if you can, take some melatonin before you try to sleep. It’s a natural supplement that will help trigger that sleepy feeling you need to fall asleep. It’s not a sleeping pill, though, so you won’t wake up groggy. But again, I’m not a medical doctor and I have no idea if melatonin can interact with medications, so do your research before you put anything in your mouth.
- Set your watch to the local time of your destination the minute you board the plane. Don’t do the mental math of what time is it really, just accept that you are on the time of your destination already and that’s it.
When you get to where you’re going, do the following. These steps are really key:
- Fill your water bottle with fresh water and drop in an airborne tablet. You can get the cheaper generic kind at CVS or Costco (and probably lots of other places), if you like. Let it fizz, and drink it down. All of it. You’ll get the full benefits of hydration plus electrolytes.
- Take a nap. That’s right. Do it. Sleep right in the middle of the day. But, and this is the key, only nap for an amount of time divided by 90 minutes. I set my alarm for exactly 90 minutes, but you could also do 180 minutes or 270 minutes. You get the picture. When your alarm goes off after that period of time, get up.
- Go outside. If you flew overnight, it should still be daylight when you wake up from your nap. Walk around. Drink more water. Keep walking. Walk walk walk. Drink drink drink. (just water – no caffeine or alcohol)
- Go to dinner at the local dinnertime. You will be tired, but you won’t be the kind of tired where you feel like you were hit by a truck and want to die, face down in your plate.
- Go to bed at a normal bedtime. You’ll wake up the next morning after sleeping for about 8-10 hours feeling like you can conquer the world. Just like that, jet lag is gone.
While I was tired when my alarm went off at the end of my nap, it wasn’t terrible. I definitely felt energized and ready to go outside. The hydration and the electrolytes made a huge difference. Thanks to the nap, hydration, and electrolytes, I was able to both enjoy a nice dinner in polite company of others the day of arrival AND wake up the next day feeling great – without any trace of jet lag.