In honor of summer and peak travel season, I'm sharing with you my best tips and tricks for beating jet lag! Quite by accident, when Theo and I went to Zurich last fall, I cracked the jet lag code and it totally worked! If you're traveling with kids, or you're a person who can't sleep on planes, you need a strategy. Here is my step-by-step plan to stop jet lag before it happens!
Skip the coffee
This seems completely obvious, but somehow, I always went straight for the coffee on travel days. Having coffee when you're leaving at 5 am is such an obvious choice because how else are you going to be alive and get through security? But, when Theo and I went to Zurich, we got a Lyft to the airport at 4:40 am and I didn't leave myself enough time to get him ready and shower and make coffee, so the coffee wound up being skipped. When I got to the airport, the lines for security were longer than we had expected and I couldn't get coffee then! Finally, on the flight to Denver, they were out of coffee or something. I can't remember what it was exactly, but I couldn't have coffee then either. Then it dawned on me. It was already late afternoon/evening in Switzerland. I realized I shouldn't be having coffee just then. So I didn't. And I got the most massive headache of all time. So, whether your flight leaves at 5 am or 4 pm, skip the coffee on your travel day and bring several doses of Advil with you!
Set your watch ahead
If you wear a watch, switch it to local time at your destination. If you don't wear a watch (I don't!), then just start thinking on local time or add your destination city to your world clock. It does help to be thinking about which part of the day's rhythm you should be on at each transition.
Throughout your journey, make sure you eat well and drink tons and tons and tons of water! It also helps to have a revitalizing hydration mist to keep your skin supple and to avoid that shriveling up feeling. Dehydration makes fatigue worse, so I aim for 3 liters over the course of 24 hours.
Get some rest
If you can sleep on the plane, go ahead and have a nap or a sleep whenever the mood strikes you. If you have no one to care for in flight and you can take a sleeping pill or similar, and that's what you like to do, go for it! I would recommend doing that after dinner on your transatlantic red eye, keeping local time at your destination in mind for a big sleep like that. The idea is not to avoid sleep and stay up until bedtime at your destination the day of your arrival. That's just crazy. You want to rest at times that aren't at odds with local time at your destination.
Bring back the coffee
Most flights to Europe from the US are red eyes. The overwhelming majority. Typically, breakfast is served right before you begin your descent. Drink as much coffee as you want at that breakfast because it is morning and breakfast time at your destination! That coffee will get you through customs, baggage claim and transport to your hotel or accommodation.
Drink more coffee and then take a nap
So, when you arrive at your hotel or accommodation, take a shower, drink a big glass of water, and then drink as much coffee as you would normally drink on a normal morning at home. You can factor in, or ignore, the coffee you had on the plane at breakfast, depending on how tired you are and how much sleep you got on the plane. When Theo and I went to Zurich last fall, I didn't sleep a ton on the plane and I had one cup of coffee at breakfast on the plane. So, when we got to my friends' apartment, I had two big mugs of coffee! YUM. :)
Apparently, Japanese businessmen take "caffeine naps" in which they drink an espresso and then go to sleep for 20 or 30 minutes. When they wake up, the caffeine is kicking in and the nap has revived them, so they're doubly ready to go having the effects of both the coffee and the nap kick in simultaneously. Smart, right?
Set an alarm for 1 1/2 hours, or one sleep cycle for this nap. You'll wake up feeling pretty refreshed and good.
Now it's time to get outside! If it's sunny, perfect. Get sun on your face, walk, move, breathe fresh air and reset your circadian rhythm. If it's not sunny, do all the same stuff anyway. Getting outside is key!
Stay awake until bedtime
Don't sleep again until it's bedtime. For the little people, make sure that all baby or toddler naps are over by 2 or 3 pm. Chances are with the nap you had after your arrival, children will be doing okay. In my experience, they sleep like little champs on the plane. Go to bed nice and early if you're really tired, but try to make it at least until 9 pm.
Spend time with people who are on local time
One pitfall is spending time with other jet lagged people in those first few days. Obviously, when you're traveling, your travel mates are also jet lagged and they're the only people you're spending time with if you don't know anyone else! But, go out to a restaurant for dinner, or go out walking after dinner to reinforce the local rhythms with your biological clock. The city will naturally go from day to night, shops will close, the sun will set, restaurants will close. On the other hand, if you stay in and none of you is tired and you've got the lights on and you're playing cards or chatting away, you'll look up and see that it's 1 am and be totally shocked because it doesn't feel like it's 1 am. Watch the clock, participate in local rhythms and go to bed on time.
Set your alarm for the following day
If you do the whole sleeping pill thing and you're going to bed at least 8 hours from when you want to wake up, take one! If you tend to wake too early, bring along some Melatonin (not always available in Europe, FYI) and take one in order to get back to sleep in the wee hours. Then, set your alarm for the next morning and get up and drink tons of coffee! Throughout those crucial first few days, limit naps to 20 minutes in order to avoid REM sleep and eat at the appropriate times. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. If you manage to make it through the first few days, you should be out of the woods. Hooray!
Do you suffer terrible jet lag? What has worked for you? If you're a non coffee drinker, what other tips would you share with your fellow
PS - In case you missed it, my awesome Zurich Summer Travel Guide. Also, How To Pack Light When Traveling With A Baby. Plus Travel Tips For International Flights With Kids. And, Tips & Tricks: Road Trips With Kids. xo
(Photo from a stopover in Toronto on the way home to Zurich in 2013)