A Seasoned Travellers Guide to Jet Lag

As a seasoned traveller I’ve mastered the art of avoiding jet lag, and will share it in this blog post. The solution is simple – no need for sleeping pills. I will try and catch some sleep on the plane if it’s night time at my destination, but usually this is sporadic, and I arrive tired, so this isn’t necessary.

The real secret is just to push on until night time in the new time zone, no matter how tired I’m feeling, and, exhausted after the long day, get a good night’s sleep, waking up refreshed in the morning of the new time zone.

Travelling east is usually more difficult than travelling west, and so it was I began the long journey home from New York to Cape Town, via Brussels and Doha. Leaving the hotel in New York in the afternoon, an hour on the subway, the JFK Air Train, a meal at the airport, before catching the 7.30pm flight (0.30am Brussels time, 1.30am Cape Town time). I had an aisle seat, but usually don’t manage to sleep unless I have a window seat and free space next to me. I tried to nap on and off during the flight, rather unsuccessfully.

The plane arrived in Brussels 9am (10am Cape Town time), and I was already pretty tired. I had a long wait at the airport before the 3.40pm flight (4.40pm Cape Town) to Doha, barely functional, nodding off a few times in the airport.

A late flight should be the perfect time to sleep. Except it arrived at 11.55pm Doha time (10.55pm Cape Town), and the connecting flight was 1.45am (0.45am Cape Town), boarding at 0.45am (11.45pm Cape Town). With only 50 minutes between arrival and boarding, and the need at Doha airport to scan one’s luggage in-between, the changeover gets the adrenaline pumping, not ideal for sleeping the rest of the way.

Finally I’m boarded – exhausted, ready to sleep for most of the final leg – a 10 hour 20 minute flight to Cape Town.

Except, besides the Doha-airport induced adrenaline, I’m in the middle seat, squashed between two men, legs cramped up against the seat, and little prospect of sleep. A movie it will have to be, but since it’s the 8th flight in a month, I’m all airplane movied out.

I land in Cape Town 11h05, and get back to my house, about 37 hours after leaving New York. Right, all I need to do is push on till 20h00 or so and get a good 12 hours sleep…

No chance, I fall asleep at 2pm, waking up 9pm. Waking up refreshed at 9pm is not the recommended way to avoid jet lag. From then on, my body didn’t know what was happening.

Day 2: Sleep 2.30pm to 5.30pm. I needed to be somewhere by 6, so used the dreaded alarm.

Day 3: Sleep 3.15am to 2.30pm. A long, much-needed sleep, and it looks like the times are improving, right?

Day 4: Sleep 7.45am to sometime late afternoon. Considering drugs right now.

Day 5: Sleep 3am to 10am. Woohoo! Back to normal. 5 days of hell, but all worth it.

Day 6: Sleep 11pm to 2.30am. Awake till 7am, sleep till 2.30pm. Hmm, maybe not…

Day 7: Sleep 8.40am till 3.40pm. Aaargh!! I have a party in the evening, but don’t feel up to it, so head to bed early.

Day 8: And fall asleep 1.30am, waking up 6.30am. Have I cracked it yet?

Day 9: Sleep 11.30pm to 6am.

Six and a half hours is not usually enough, and I was nodding off in the day. As I write this it’s 11.35pm, and I feel alarmingly awake. Time to finish this off and find a boring book…

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Images from Wikimedia Commons 1 2

One Reply to “A Seasoned Travellers Guide to Jet Lag”

  1. The trick for me is simple, stick to meal times in your destination country, and scale bed time gradually if you can. Eat huge meals and stay hydrated.

    For example, if you’re going to fly for 8 hours or more, and you’re used to going to bed at 9pm, try to board at 6pm local time. You’ll get dinner on the plane at around 7pm, and you’ll fall asleep your normal time, and then a good sleep. If you have a connecting flight that’s going to also be more than 8 hours, try to get out of the airport and visit a local market or sightseeing place, even if it’s just for 2 hours… and then board another 6pm flight, but this time in your new local timezone.

    We took a trip to New Zealand, East for us, which is 5 flights spanning 3 days. I took a lot of time to book the flights (using Hipmunk) so that we would take only the “rush hour” flights in the big planes (Airbus A380s, with good meals) where possible, and so that we would board a plane such that we would get dinner, and sleep soon after boarding.

    We managed to book it so that every evening was 6 hours later, so by the time we arrived 3 days later, it was a complete 24hours later on the 4th night.

    We had no jet lag. Everyone was surprised.

    On the way back we didn’t manage to do this, because it really took half a day just to find the right connecting flights on the way there, turned out the “default” routes back we got off-peak flights with tiny sandwich meals. We both got sick and was jet lagged for 2 days back home. So we found East/West the other way around. So I’m sure it comes down to the meals, and bedtimes.

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