I’ve had the good fortune to travel both solo and with my family around the world and I’ve learned a couple of things about traveling, jetlag, and sleeping. The following advice is a list of what you can do to ensure that you will adjust to your new time zone, sleep well, and enjoy yourself fully during your next trip.
- Hydrate on the plane! It’s essential to have good “plane hygiene.” As soon as you walk on board, imagine walking into your destination country. Set your phone clock or watch for your new timezone, and act accordingly. If that means sleep right away, do it. If that means it’s noontime, eat the meal they provide you. If it is “daytime” while you’re on board, get up every hour to stretch to avoid stiffness and provide some stimulation. If you’re well-hydrated, limber, and already adjusting to your new timezone it will make it easier to start running once you arrive in your destination.
- Get out into the sun! Nothing will adjust your circadian rhythm into your current time zone like natural light. Even if you feel like a zombie, I encourage you to get out and see the sights on the first day of arrival. Also, try to see the outdoors sights on your day of arrival and save your indoor activities for later in the trip, if possible. Even if the most you can manage is sitting at a cafe a people watching, it will do wonders for your time adjustment. I do admit that this is not always easy to do – whether it was your inability to sleep en route or like when we went to Russia in the Winter and there were only 5 hours of daylight each day, so just do your best.
- Supplements! I always bring melatonin and Zquil (or any sleep aid) with me when I travel, and I take it on the dot every night for the first 3 nights. It’s important that you sleep on a regular schedule and sleep well while you’re adjusting. If you followed step 1 and were out all day you should fall asleep fairly easily, as well.
- Don’t sleep in! Especially traveling west to east, when you wake up your first morning it will feel like the middle of the night. The day after you arrive is the most difficult. You must set an alarm at a reasonable time and do not hit snooze! Again, try to get out (if only for a brief walk) first thing in the morning to give your brain cells the nudge they need to get with the program.
- No napping! Similar to step 4, but worth mentioning in its own right. This only applies for shorter trips or for the first few days after arrival to help get you in the right time zone. After that, if you’re a napper, feel free to resume your normal afternoon nap. However, it is essential to avoid napping for the first 3-5 days of your trip. Naps can sabotage your efforts to establish a normal sleep schedule in your new timezone. If you do nap, keep them “catnap” in length: 30 minutes or less.
- Entrain! There’s an app that I discovered a couple trips ago that is designed to take you from time zone A to time zone B with ease. You enter in the information, and it gives you a light-dark schedule for a couple of days. You can also input your actual light-dark exposure (with adjustments for bright light, cloudy days, and indoor light, if you want to be precise) and it will adjust your schedule as you progress through your trip. I find it useful to help guide when I should sleep on the plane on the way to my destination.
I hope these tips help you with your future travel! Bon voyage and sleep well ✈️💤