How I avoid jet lag while travelling

March 11, 2017

A common question I get asked is how I manage jet lag given a demanding travel schedule. I recently found myself in New York, London, Toronto, Sydney and Shanghai and wanted to share 5 practices that help me travel jet lag free.

1. Awareness

Like most things in life, taking a moment to think (with a calm mind) about what is about to happen is helpful. With jet lag, this means anticipating and planning (versus “dealing with it” once I’ve landed). Knowing where I’ll be and the time zone difference in advance is the first step. This awareness influences both deliberate steps I take (the rest of the tips below) but also unconscious decisions I’m probably making along the way.

2. Sleep

The most important part of an anti jet lag plan is sleeping based on where I’ll be. Here are a few examples:

  • While on a 15 hour flight to Sydney that landed in the morning (Sydney time), I forced myself (with the help of movies) to stay awake for the first 7-8 hours and then slept most of the final 7-8 hours. When I landed in the morning, I felt rested and then stayed awake the entire day.
  • While on a 13 hour flight from Shanghai to Toronto that both departed in the evening (Shanghai time) and landed in the evening (Toronto time), I slept for the first 2-3 hours and then forced myself to stay awake for the remaining 10 hours. And after landing, stayed awake a few more hours and slept a full night.
  • While on a daytime 8 hour flight from London to Toronto, I stayed awake the entire flight, making for a longer day (i.e. an extra 5 hours in the day) but leading to a well-deserved sleep that night.

It takes planning (as you can see) and determination to stay awake at certain times or sleep at certain times. My meditation practice helps me with all of this.

Pro tip: I avoid mid-day naps once I’ve landed at all costs. This risks starting a perpetual jet lag cycle that is painful to break.

3. Melatonin

Melatonin is a chemical that is produced naturally by a region in the brain and serves a critical purpose in the process of falling asleep. Once produced and released in the brain, it signals each region of the brain that it’s time to shut down and go to sleep (I read 5 books on the science of sleep a few years ago and that is when I started to understand how we actually fall asleep).

Melatonin is available as a health supplement and is a natural sleep aid. It is not a sleeping pill and it does not keep you asleep. It is a natural supplement and I do use it while traveling to influence my body’s sleep cycle. Note: like any health supplement, take time to be informed before deciding if it’s right for you.

4. Eat

Like sleep, food is a key source of energy for the body and having a plan helps. My best practice is to eat based on where I am. Even if I’m not hungry. That means eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the appropriate times. It also means not eating in the middle of the night (if I wake up, even if I’m hungry).

5. Acceptance

If all of the above fails for me (which it has on occasion), that is when I accept whatever my body is feeling, wanting or needing. Even if my body is jet lagged, my mind does not have to be. I get to choose how to feel about any jet lag my body may be experiencing, which is empowering.

And finally, understanding that everything changes and that nothing is permanent (including the way I feel while jet lagged) reduces any anxiety, stress or discomfort associated with travel.

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