People often ask me about my “last” jet lag protocol. Do I have any new tips, tricks, tools, supplements or devices that I swear to overcome jet lag while flying? No, and here’s why:
My basic jet lag protocol is already working so well that there’s absolutely no point in trying to include cutting-edge hacks, cheats, or pills. It is entirely based on human circadian biology, which has not changed for hundreds of thousands of years. I literally never get jet lag if I stick to my methods. And I put it to the test regularly, traveling quite often on transcontinental flights. Jet lag is supposed to get worse with age, but it got easier and easier for me.
Experts would have you believe that every hour of time zone change requires a full day to adjust. This was certainly true for me in my twenties when I went to Europe knowing nothing about circadian rhythms, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to suffer jet lag. You should not. And I’ll tell you how to avoid it. Let’s cut to the chase.
Preparing to fly east against west
For starters, how you handle flying is going to differ somewhat depending on which direction you’re flying.
Preparing to fly east
- Divide night flights eastbound into two short “days”. If you are making a major flight eastward, over the Atlantic or Pacific to new lands, it will usually be an overnight stay. With this in mind, divide your flight into two short “days”. If the flight lasts eight hours, the first four hours are “night” and the last four are “day”. If it is 4 p.m., the first eight correspond to the night and the last eight to the day.
- sleep at night”. Sleep as much as you can, as early as possible, during the “night” portion of the flight. This will help normalize your circadian biology and get your body into the day/night “mindset”. Do not eat the “night”.
- Stay awake during the “day”. Act like you do in the normal day. Read, work, check your emails, watch movies. Just stay awake. If it was okay to walk the aisles, I would say walk the aisles.
- Get all your calories during the “day”. You are not required to eat, but if you are going to eat, do so during the ‘day’ portion of the flight.
Preparing to fly west
- For long westbound flights, a short nap in the middle is fine. Let your body decide whether to sleep or not. Don’t sleep so long that you’ll end up having trouble sleeping in the new place at night.
- eat or not. But don’t overdo it.
In-flight tips to avoid Jet Lap
Fasting has been shown to help avoid jet lag, so fasting can actually help you adjust to the new time zone.
Set your watch
Setting your watch and clock to the new time zone before you get there helps get you into the “mood” or mindset of the new location. It can happen unconsciously, and I strongly believe that your body will begin to adapt in subtle ways just by setting the clock.
Do not fall asleep with alcohol or sleeping pills
Sleep without pharmacological improvement. It’s the worst thing to use to fall asleep. Your sleep will be disturbed, poorly constructed, and it will not “take”. Your body won’t interpret it as real sleep, which will set you back even further.
Consider the window seat
The downside of the window seat is that you have to climb over people to get to the bathroom. But if you’re trying to sleep during the flight, having the window to brace yourself against is worth it. And you won’t have people climbing on you the whole flight to get to the bathroom. The pros outweigh the cons for me.
Have a tomato juice
Potassium-rich salty tomato juice is incredibly helpful in keeping you hydrated and preventing the amount of urine you need to pass. Something special about a can of tomato juice on an airplane.
What to do when you land to avoid jet lag
Adapt your mindset to the new location
It is not a “new time zone”. This is “your” time zone. You are here, living in this time zone. Treat it like a normal day. Set your watch, forget what happened the day before. It’s your here, it’s your now. Adapt.
Stay awake and active until bedtime in the new location
When you arrive, stay up and active until bedtime in the new location. No siesta. Keep moving.
Be outdoors as much as possible
Natural light is your friend. This will help regulate your circadian rhythm and keep you awake.
Take a long walk
Walk as long as you can. It’s a great way to explore a new city, and it keeps you moving and keeps you from wanting to nap. It also exposes you to sunlight, which, as I explained, will improve your circadian realignment to the new location.
Eat a meal at the right time, but don’t go too heavy
Food is another circadian trainer. Eat your meals respecting the correct meal times on site.
Keep a dark chocolate bar on you
If I land in the morning in the new location, I’ll make sure to eat half a bar of dark chocolate for breakfast with coffee. Dark chocolate has been shown to help stave off jet lag when eaten for breakfast (although in animals).
Getting ready for bedtime in the new location
Take 10 mg of melatonin before bed
45 minutes before bedtime in the new location, take 10 mg of melatonin. It will help you fall asleep faster, of course, but more importantly, it will tell your circadian clock that it’s bedtime and allow you to adjust to the new time zone.
The following night, take 5 mg. The next evening, take 2.5 mg. Then you are done with melatonin.
Follow all normal sleep hygiene rules
Reduce artificial light after dark, wear blue goggles, do the same bedtime routine you follow at home, read fiction in bed. All the sleep hygiene the rules still apply.
What to do the next day
Train outside in the morning sun
Go for a run, do some sprints, or exercise outside in the sun. If you manage to do it at sunrise, great. Intense physical activity combined with morning sun helps establish and train your new circadian rhythm.
Maintain watch strategies
Long walk, lots of light, stay active, no naps, regular meals. Keep doing this to maintain the adaptation.
Common Mistakes People Make With Jet Lag
Take a nap when they arrive. This is supposed to “tone” things down, but all it does is keep your circadian rhythm adjusted to your local time zone and ruin your ability to adjust to the new.
Avoid melatonin. People think taking melatonin is “unnatural”. You know what’s not natural? Flying halfway around the world and expecting your circadian rhythm to adjust on its own. Melatonin is an incredibly useful tool for training a new rhythm. Everyone should use it.
Pigging and excessive drinking. You are tired from the long flight. You are irritable. You are on the alert. It may feel good to eat a giant meal of junk food and open a bottle of wine (or two), but don’t. You are just stepping back.
To take it easy. Relaxing on the first day sounds like a good idea because you’re exhausted, but that’s the last thing you need. Instead of “taking things into your own hands” at the hotel, sketching out the shades, and watching weird foreign TV, you have to be outside and experience the new location and adapt.
And so concludes my jet lag protocol. It’s easy and looks quite natural. After all that, life will seem normal to you and you can just enjoy the trip!