How to Avoid Jet Lag | Some of My Tested Tips

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Updated on: 25 July, 2021

Do you know this situation: You have arrived at your destination and the sun is smiling. But do you feel exhausted, dull and your concentration leaves something to be desired? We call this phenomenon “jet lag” and it causes a lot of problems for most travellers and long-haul pilots during the first few days in the “new country” and after crossing several time zones.

Due to the time difference, your usual sleep-wake rhythm gets mixed up. This leads to symptoms such as insomnia (hell yeah, I am always wide awake at night around 3 – 4 o’clock), severe fatigue and poor concentration.

With a few tricks and tips, however, you can prevent jet lag or at least reduce the symptoms. You will also find tips here on what to do when jetlag is under control.

It is said that your body can cope with time differences of up to two hours without any unpleasant side effects. On some days, a time difference of two hours brings me completely out of the rhythm. But if there is a time difference of more than two hours, almost everyone will experience the typical symptoms of jetlag (I will reveal what these are later).

Table of Contents

Causes: Why you have jet lag
Typical symptoms and effects of jet lag
Are you prone to jet lag?
Jet lag when traveling by air to the west
Jet lag when traveling by air to the east
The best tips against jet lag

Causes: Why you have jet lag

Jet lag is mainly caused on long-haul flights. Due to the time difference, your biorhythm no longer corresponds to external conditions such as day and night. When you cross several time zones, day and night often shift significantly for you compared to the country of origin. Your biorhythm, such as bedtime and meal times, get mixed up.

Incidentally, the direction of flight plays an important role in the development of jet lag. In general, the body tolerates flights to the west better than to the east. This has to do with the fact that your body does not run exactly in a 24-hour rhythm, but in somewhat longer phases.

Journeys to the west, which lengthen your day, better accommodate your internal clock than journeys to the east, which make the day shorter.

Did you know that…

… jet lag is a recognized sleep disorder? No? Neither do I until my doctor tells me about it!

Typical symptoms and effects of jet lag

I’m sure you know the symptoms: in the middle of the day you are suddenly dog-tired, in the middle of the night you are wide awake. Only you don’t eat at meal times, as your appetite sets in at some point later. The changed day-night rhythm leads to a state of exhaustion and nocturnal insomnia or nocturnal awakening. Your internal clock, i.e. your sleeping and waking rhythm, continues to run after the usual “old” time.

One is often moody and cannot concentrate. For many, digestion is also messed up – bad enough when the body has to adjust to other food. Fortunately, I hardly ever have any problems with the latter.

Other body functions such as blood pressure, body temperature and hormone release also have to adapt to the new rhythm.

Are you prone to jet lag?

If you always manage your days according to a strict schedule, you are probably one of those people who suffer more from the time difference. Children are often less susceptible than adults. Jet lag is a particular problem for seniors.

It can take between two and fourteen days for your body to adjust to the new day-night rhythm. It also depends on your health, your age and the number of time zones you have flown over.

There are two types of jetlag:

First the jetlag if you are flying west (USA, Canada, Cuba, …) and the jetlag east (Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, …).

Jet lag when traveling by air to the west

Air travel to the west is easier: We get hours for free. If you fly from Frankfurt to New York (approx. 6 hours flight time) and arrive there in the morning, it is already afternoon in Germany. If you stay awake until 9 p.m. on the first day (this shouldn’t be difficult for you), you will be up early the next day, but you will get used to the new local time relatively quickly.

Jet lag when traveling by air to the east

Jet lag when traveling by air to Asia and Oceania hits you harder. Because the long-haul flight to the east will shorten your day and you will lose hours during the flight. This messes up your biorhythm.

But since I am always curious when I arrive on my travels and immediately start exploring, a shower and a coffee often help me. Then I try to stay awake as long as possible.

In contrast to the outbound flights to Asia, the jet lag on return flights from the USA, Canada, Cuba or, most recently, Mexico and Guatemala always hits me quite hard. I always try to get night flights. That worked out very well last time. But when you arrive back in Germany in the freezing, gray winter, it is really difficult for me to stay awake.

If your return flight does not arrive in Germany until the evening, it will be more difficult for you to get into the normal rhythm. Because if you land at 8 p.m., it’s 2 p.m. in Chicago. You will probably not think about sleeping for many hours.

The best tips against jet lag

I no longer have jet lag, or only rarely. How do I prevent jet lag? Here are my tips. Pay attention to this, then the fight with the time can no longer blow your mind so quickly.

Prior to travel:

  • You can slowly get used to the other rhythm before your trip by going to bed a little later a few days before the trip to the west and getting up a little earlier if you are traveling east.
  • Make sure you get a balanced amount of sleep and, if possible, book the flight so that it doesn’t shorten your sleep before the trip.
  • Light meal before the flight! I underestimated this fact for a long time. But it’s true!
  • Exercise yourself properly! Before long flights and the time change, I usually go jogging or mountain biking. After that I’m really knocked out. But until now it always helped when fighting jetlag!

During the flight:

  • No alcohol, coffee or black tea. Drink a lot of water or fruit juices during the flight (I only drink water) and preferably no alcohol to prevent your body from dehydrating on long-haul flights. I still drink red wine on night flights so I can fall asleep. Nevertheless, before switching off the lights on the plane, I always get a small water bottle.
  • Set all your clocks to the time at your travel destination! Very few people pay attention to this tip because they always want to know what time it is at home with the family. This is stupid. Because you automatically calculate back / forward and the body remembers that it should actually be sleeping.
  • Try to adjust to the time of day at the travel destination. This is especially true for sleeping and eating times.
  • Try booking a night flight, that helps me a lot. Even if I hardly ever sleep on the plane and just doze off.
  • Try to sleep on the plane already adjusted to the new local time.
  • I now rarely eat on the plane (on night flights). The food is always so heavy in the stomach and comes very late. I eat before that at the airport.

At the arrival:

  • Don’t give in to the urge of tiredness to take an afternoon nap.
  • Since your endocrine system is also sensitive to the clock change, it helps to do physical activities outdoors in daylight and to go to sleep after sunset.
  • Take it easy. Do not overdo yourself on the first few days and avoid exertion. Give your body time to get used to the time change.
  • If the journey is only very short (48 hours), it is not worth getting used to a different rhythm.
  • You can also influence your sleep-wake cycle through your diet by only consuming small snacks when you feel hungry at unusual times.
  • Don’t eat anything heavy on the first day. Avoid greasy dishes.

Special tips against jet lag when traveling westwards:

I haven’t tested this yet, but my Hausatzt gave me the following tip:

  • Drink a lot and get around on the plane. You should also make sure that you consume a lot of protein. For example meat, fish or dairy products. Why? That keeps you awake longer. Avoid foods with carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes, rice). These foods make you tired.
  • Stay awake as long as it is light outside and try to sleep when it gets dark.

What are your tips and tricks to overcome jet lag as quickly as possible after long flights?

If you’re not in the mood for jet lag when traveling long-distance, I’ll give you a tip: Travel to Africa. Why? The time difference from South Africa to Germany is only one hour, to Morocco or Uganda as well. Rwanda has two hours to Germany

By the way, the best tip to avoid jet lag when traveling long-distance: don’t fly west or east, but south. For example to South Africa or Namibia. The time difference to Germany is only one hour there (in summer time it is two hours).

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