»Jet lag […] is a physiological condition which results from alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms resulting from rapid long-distance transmeridian […] travel on a […] aircraft.«
(Wikipedia, License CC-BY-SA)
Jet lag after flights suck. A jet lag makes you lack your usual performance an wellbeing for a couple of days. This argues for not simply accepting this phenomenon and trying to cope with the consequences, but to actively prevent. Meanwhile I found a way to fly transatlantic without jet lag. This post introduces my protocol.
This is the translation of an older post in German called 12 Schritte zum Fliegen ohne Jetlag, which I created due to multiple inquiries from colleagues after our recent US journey.
For me the critical route is from the US in direction of Europe, meaning negative time offset, shortening the day. From Germany to USA classically is without much problems for me, because the day just gets longer. All following tips relate to a flight from USA to Germany, which usually starts in the afternoon or evening for me.
There are a lot of tips like moving into the other time zone before you leave, drinking coffee or similar. But if you work until your day of departure and have evening appointments, this does not help much. And coffee not being the healthiest way of staying awake is well known. So what practices do make for my good experiences?
The Executive Summary: Sleep, No Eat.
During the flight eat nothing, watch nothing, nothing at all. Just sleep, using an eye mask and noise cancellation headphones. After the flight at your target destination take a walk in sunshine, the longer the better. Go to bed matching the target time zone.
Maybe you object that you still have to work and cannot afford to sleep. Will it really serve you to work now, but then more vegetate than shine the following two days? Getting-Things-Done is as well a matter of insight on when to work and when better rest.
Full version: Well prepared, executed at ease.
- Preparation. Jet lag free travelling is based on sleeping as much as possible while in plane. Two things must go away: Light and Noise, both preventing restful sleep. Get yourself an eye mask. The cheapest not twitching is sufficient. Many airlines provide such a mask complimentary. Buy some »Noise Canceling Headphones«. This are headphones that sense noise near your ear and play it back with a half phase offset. The ear thus hears almost nothing of that noise any more. I use the Sennheiser PXC 250 (ca. 160€, at Amazon or directly at Sennheiser), a semi covering model. Top notch model with fully covered ears are the Bose QuietComfort 15, (ca. 280€), creating almost absolute silence.
- Book a window or a middle seat, one where you do not need to get up for anybody. The choice of meals does not matter, you won’t eat anything during flight.
- Pre boarding. Eat a light lunch. Vegetables and meat are okay, but leave away sides like potatoes, noodles and such. Second serving is okay, it will be your last meal today.
- Before going through security, drink plenty of still water. Jet lag is also a consequence of dehydration. No worries, you still have enough time before boarding to leave some of the water at the airport.
- Wear something that covers your neck. I go for a thin turtle neck with cardigan above. Believe me: You are not so important that you need to a transatlantic flight in your suit.
- Take a walk in the boarding zone instead of sitting in the waiting chairs. Walk close to the windows to get a load of sunlight. No sun shining? A cloudy sky is still better than artificial light. And since you will be sitting for the next hours, no need to sit now.
- Half an hour before boarding, go into a bar and drink a glass of white wine (1/8 l). I prefer semi dry white wine or Merlot. Then stop working, because by definition it is evening now, regardless of time.
- No panic on boarding. Jet lag is a consequence of stress. You will get your seat, and you will find space for your luggage. When the line queues up, keep calm and see the bathroom for the last time, remember you drank lots of water. Smile, the nice part starts now. Before you queue up, unpack your eye mask and your noise cancellation headphones, to prevent you having to do this in the tight plane. If you did practice this ritual already a couple of times like I did, you will feel a bit tired now.
- In the aircraft. If booking a window or middle seat did not work out, you should notify your neighbour that he or she should do necessary errands now, because you will remain seated until your destination. Ask the flight attendant to not bother you with meals or anything else, just to provide you with half a glass of water at all times into the halter. Flight attendants usually love to remember that, because you will not cause any other work for them.
- Put off your shoes and wrap your blanket around your feet and legs such that you have it under your feet. Power tip: be equipped with thick winter socks or barefoot shoes. The seat belt must be over the blanket so that flight attendants see without asking that your seat belt is fastened. Put on your eye mask, but keep it on your front head for now, and the headphones. Do not plug in your headphones into the airplane, to prevent hearing the loud announcements. If you normally get to sleep with music, use your smartphone. With the iPhone you can set the clock to »Timer« and action »iPod sleep«.
- Switch on the active noise cancellation of your Sennheiser or Bose and put on your mask. Do some autogenic training or another relaxation exercise. Recline your seat a bit, but just a bit so flight attendants won’t ask you to switch it upright for the start.
If you did everything to this point, you will be comfortable enough to fall asleep, and with a bit of practice before the plane actually takes off. Leave your mask covering your eyes the whole night, even when waking up briefly. Sip on you water and fall back asleep. Enjoy the ride when the plane swings a bit. Usually I only wake up with the announcement »Cabin crew prepare for landing« or just at the touch down. This way I did sleep between six and nine hours, even if it was no deep sleep.
- At your destination. Take a long walk in the sun. The sun light activates the right hormones and keeps you awake. This brings you to normal time. Go to bed at the time you would in a normal situation, neither early nor late.
Each of the steps was mentioned previously in other places. I like the entirety of means, and maybe they help you, too.
Jet lag is nothing that just happens. It is something that you let happen or that you prevent.
Bonus tip: If your final destination is another place in Germany than the airport, use the train for travelling. Relaxing.
What is your 13th tip to prevent jet lag while flying?