Jet lag...the truth

I used to think Jet lag wasn't a real thing!  I mean suck it up, right, just catch up on your sleep or deal with being a little tired.  Seemed so easy...that is before taking a trip halfway across the world crossing more time zones than I can even keep straight.

After we started travelling a few years ago I realized that even a short time difference can really make a difference.  Even a 2 hour difference effects our sleeping pattern, keeping us up later in the day and sleeping a bit later in the morning.  But 2 hours doesn't make or break a trip and for a week we just let it go and stay on that pattern.  that way when we return home we will be back on our normal schedule.

What about a long distance trip?

Well we started out in Costa Rica and flew to LA, no problem there!  Then we flew from LA to Taiwan and immediately on to Bangkok.  We even slept quite a bit on the plane, which surprised me.  We landed and got to our hotel around 330am, that was the first mistake!  It felt a bit like a baby that has their sleep cycle reversed.  We tried to sleep at night, even tried forcing ourselves to stay awake during the day but all to no avail.  We would inevitably sleep a bit during the day, and then no matter how tired we were, we just couldn't sleep the whole night through!  I think the toughest part was trying to entertain, and keep quiet, our somewhat rowdy troupe of boys, in the middle of the night.  It wouldn't have bothered us so much had we not been in a hotel where, I am sure, we were heard at all hours!  When all was said and done it took us about 1 week to all switch our gears and get on schedule.  Some of us made the transition earlier than other but it wasn't until we were all on schedule that we were really getting a full nights sleep.

So what can you do to ease the suffering?

It seems that we made a few mistakes before we even left home!  Following a few simple tips would probably have helped so I will list some here in hopes that you can "switch over" quicker then we did!

  • Try switching your schedule little by little the week before you leave.  Go to bed later or earlier and try getting used to either sleeping in or getting up earlier in the morning.  Depending, of course, on which way you are crossing time zones. 
  • Book a flight that lands during the day rather then in the middle of the night, stay awake until a decent sleep hour and hit the hay.  This worked wonders for my friends that landed around noontime.  They seemed to be on track within 2-3 days.
  • During your first few days be sure to get outdoors and get plenty of sunlight.  It will help regulate your internal rhythm. 
  • Be sure to get some sleep on the plane, but not too much so that you are unable to sleep once at your destination.  Neck pillows, eye covers, and earplugs may help!
  • Stay hydrated and walk around often while on board the plane.  Dehydration and lack of movement seem to stifle the "switching over" process.  This also means NO ALCOHOL!  I know it is tempting especially on a long flight but this will only speed up dehydrtaion making the entire process more difficult to overcome.
  • Be prepared mentally!  Part of the jet lag, that I found most difficult, is a really overwhelming feeling of exhaustion at times.  I think being ready for it helps.  
  • If you are jumping 12 time zones, the mother of all overhaul trips, do yourself a favor and stay at least 2 weeks!
  • Some say the natural remedies of yoga stretching or deep breathing also can help by facilitating relaxation and ultimately sleep.

If you follow these tips and accept that you need to take it easy the first couple of days it should be an easier transition.  The more people you have the harder it seems it is to get on track.  Either way it will pass and you'll be enjoying your new destination in no time!

How do you fight jet lag??  Share your tips below.


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  1. Mary,
    I've never had much of a problem with jet lag, but this trip to Malaysia has made up for all that. It has hit me so hard. I think part of the problem is that Malaysians seem to start their days later and stay up later than I'm used to, especially having just come from Costa Rica where everything is get up early and go to bed early. I still feel a bit heavy still most of the time. So strange! I'm thinking maybe I should start drinking more water or something.