Frequent travelers will tell you the effects of jet lag can range from mild annoyance to full-on debilitation. We've traveled internationally for decades, and have had more than enough time to learn some natural workarounds (in other words, solutions that don't involve medication) for this phenomenon. Here are several suggestions to minimize the impact of jet lag so you can maximize your time in a new destination.
Build in time
The only fail-safe way to “beat” jet lag is to admit it is going to have an impact on your trip and plan accordingly. Even if you are just hopping across a few time zones, be honest about how the time difference might affect you. When possible, arrive at your destination a day or two ahead of time in order to acclimate to a new schedule. At the very least, try to avoid making solid plans within 24 hours of your arrival. Trust us, we’ve attended dozens of functions looking like extras from The Walking Dead because we didn’t give ourselves enough time to get into a new groove. Planning ahead can make a huge difference.
Front-load the time shift
If you can’t give yourself a day or two in your new destination to get on a new schedule, adjust your plan to get most of the catch-up out of the way first. If you are traveling east to west (and you're not traveling across continents), you might be okay, as most people don’t have a hard time going to bed late and sleeping in. That said, traveling west to east means going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, which is a lot more difficult. To ease this transition, start a few days ahead of time at home and shift your schedule forward by 30 minutes or an hour each day. You almost certainly will have more adjustments to make when you arrive at your destination, but you will have a little jump on the process.
Viewfinder Tip: It sounds simple, but experts say sunlight (or a very bright room) is a powerful way to overcome the desire to sleep.
Get on schedule immediately
Adopting the new schedule cold-turkey always seems to work, too. We call this the brute-force method and it’s the one we almost always embrace. The one caveat: It can be painful.
If, for instance, you’ve been flying all night and didn’t get a restful night’s sleep on the plane (despite those luxurious coach seats), you might have the urge to sleep when you arrive. The brute-force method says you must power through! Grab a cup of coffee and get outside. The best antidote to the crushing desire to go to sleep is daylight. This will trick your brain into believing you’re not tired at all.
Another scenario: If you arrive late and aren’t sleepy but know you need to get to bed, consider some natural sleep aids, such as a cup of chamomile tea or a warm bath. It also helps if you make your room as dark and cold as possible, and if you resist the siren’s call of your tablet or mobile phone. Bright screens will make it difficult to get drowsy.
Finally, if you are in certain European and South American cities (Buenos Aires, we're looking at you) go out to dinner at midnight. You can try to figure out how people who never sleep stay so beautiful. Or you can just join them.
On a whirlwind trip to Spain, fellow Expedia Viewfinder, Tawny Clark, let us in on her secret for vanquishing jet lag: the 20-minute power nap. According to Tawny, napping less than 20 minutes is useless; while snoozing for more than 20 can be dangerous. Stay in the 20-minute zone and you'll feel refreshed and ready to tackle what a destination has to offer. (As an aside, after spending two weeks with Tawny, we are certain she is on to something.)
Don’t worry about it
If your trip is short and you have flexibility in your schedule at your destination, don’t even worry about adjusting to a new time zone. Keep your temporary schedule close to your home schedule. That way, you won’t have any adjustments to make when you get home. You also can kick back and just have fun.
What are your tips for overcoming jet lag?