I have recently returned from a 10-day round-world trip, including 85 hours in airplanes and airports, with a number of speaking engagements and fortunately a little fun fitted in-between the travel.
This brings me to 56 hours of timezone changes within the last two months. I already have another 25 hours of timezone changes scheduled for the next month.
Dealing with jetlag is a required competence for my job, and fortunately I am pretty good at it. I thought I’d share how I approach it in case it is useful for others.
Everyone is different
It is important to recognize that everyone is different, so what works for me may not for others. A recent study showed that 83% of the variance in sleep onset is genetic.
This is particularly important in dealing with jetlag, and I am fortunate that I usually find it relatively easy to sleep. Others find that they simply cannot get to sleep at night in their new timezone, which can require different strategies. Learn what works for you.
1. Time your travel
The key is to be tired when it is time to sleep in your new timezone. This impacts which flights you choose, so you will not be so exhausted you have to sleep in the day when you arrive in your destination, and you will be absolutely ready for a great sleep at the right time. Don’t go to sleep too early; do whatever you need to do to keep awake and don’t drink alcohol during the day.
2. Set a travel sleep strategy
The one time I use sleeping tablets is on flights, which allows me to sleep despite the discomfort. The ideal is to sleep in sync with your new timezone. The reality is that is often not possible, so you have to consider the best point of sleep.
Often it’s a good idea to skip meals, which are usually served quite a while after takeoff and before landing, leaving little time for sleep. Eat before you fly.
3. Use melatonin
Melatonin is our natural sleep hormone and helps to reset our sleep cycle. I take two 3mg tabs at normal sleep time on my first night in my new timezone and one tab on the second night. I avoid taking melatonin three nights in a row as that frequently gives me nightmares. Melatonin definitely changes the quality of your dreams and it gives many people nightmares from extended use.
If I have three successive nights in the one timezone I often do not sleep well on the third night after discontinuing melatonin, but that is hardly surprising.
4. Get sunlight
Get outside during daylight hours in your new timezone as much as you can. It has one of the strongest impacts in resetting your internal clock. Use an eyemask if you are trying to sleep and the sun rises early.
5. Exercise every day
As a general principle I exercise every day that I travel. It is almost essential given my brutal schedules and makes a massive difference to how well I feel. It also helps enormously with jetlag. It doesn’t need to be a big workout, just getting up a little earlier to fit in 15 minutes running or swimming helps a lot.
I hope these tips are helpful to you!