I travel a lot, and sometimes that means taking red eye flights. While not my favorite, sometimes they’re unavoidable, especially when headed to Europe. Sleep is critical to our physical and mental health, which is why I take avoiding jet lag seriously. Here are my top tips to avoid jet lag.
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Sleep well before your trip
My body can handle a night or two of poor sleep. Knowing that I won’t get 8 hours of well-rested and deep sleep on a red eye flight, I focus on sleeping well on the nights leading up to a trip. For me, this means turning off my phone an hour before bed, getting into bed early and NOT reading because if the book is good, I can kiss my sleep goodbye.
There’s nothing worse than staying up too late because I procrastinated on packing. I travel often enough that I have a toiletry bag pretty much ready to go. I’m type A (some would say A stands for a word I won’t share), and I keep a packing list with tabs for every destination. This list dates back to 2009 (!!!), and it’s handy because I duplicate the tab that’s closest to the destination, type of trip and weather. Then I modify it to fit the exact trip I’m taking. It sounds like a lot, but it saves me time in the long run, and it certainly keeps me from forgetting my passport.
Do all the things to sleep as much as possible on the airplane
- No caffeine the day of the flight.
- Exercise in the morning the day of the flight.
- Eat a light and healthy dinner before boarding the plane, and skip the plane food.
- Book a lie-flat seat (I hoard my points and upgrades for this very purpose) or if economy is the only option, book the window seat.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable for sleeping (I bring a change of clothes if I want to look more put together on arrival).
- Only drink (lots of) water the whole day and on the plane. No alcohol.
- Once boarded and settled, create a nighttime routine. For me, this looks like doing my nighttime skincare if I haven’t already, brushing my teeth, taking off my shoes and putting on compression socks. This is also when I take sleep-promoting supplements. My favorites are melatonin and CBD. I avoid sleeping pills because I’ve heard too many scary stories, and I travel solo more often than not. I also avoid magnesium, which I usually like, because it may induce bowel movements. Not interested while on an airplane, thank you very much.
- Only watch tv, read or listen to music while taking off. Once we’ve reached cruising altitude and that fasten seat belt sign is off, so are any forms of entertainment that may tempt me to stay awake. Then I get my eye mask and ear plugs, recline as much as possible and refuse to do anything other than rest (unless I have to pee).
The golden rule for the rest of the trip: whatever time it is at my destination, is what time it is
I don’t allow myself to think about what time it is at home. I refuse to say “my body thinks it’s 3am”. No! If it’s 9am in Italy, and I’m in Italy, it’s 9am. Period. End of story. The teeny tiny exception is when I call back home because no one in my family or office wants to be woken up at 3am.
Exercise on arrival day
At whatever point I can, I get in a workout. If this isn’t practical, I walk as much as possible. Ideally, I do both. If I’m at a destination where I would get a massage, this is my preferred day to do it. Yes, there’s a risk of falling asleep, but this is why I go for the deep tissue massage. I’m all about boosting circulation after long plane rides.
No naps or sleep before 9pm
A nap will make it harder to adjust. I push myself until 9pm and then go to sleep as early as possible after 9pm.
Don’t stress about it
I pack enough sleep supplements with me to encourage me to fall asleep and to help me go back to sleep if I wake up in the middle of the night. My general rule of thumb is as long as I have at least 6 hours before having to be somewhere, I’ll take a supplement. If not, I’ll meditate and try to fall back to sleep naturally.
If I don’t, I try not to sweat it. That will just make it harder to fall asleep. Instead, I focus on resting my body and avoid ruminating thoughts (that’s where meditation comes in handy). There are sleep meditations available on apps like Headspace or on YouTube.
If all else fails, I focus on staying hydrated, eating fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens) and exercising to support my health. A good multi-vitamin also helps. I love these Sakara ones (use code XOJEN for 20% off your first order) in particular for traveling.
Feel free to share any your tips to avoid jet lag in the comments!