Jet lag is a drag! It can be anything from a mild nuisance to a fairly uncomfortable and painful experience that reduces the time you can enjoy yourself on your European vacation!
My wife’s father lives in Spain. She grew up in England. Needless to say, we fly to Europe a lot.
What I am about to share with you are all super helpful in avoiding a painful jet lag experience whether you are flying across multiple time zones to France or Spain or anywhere in Europe.
I can tell you from experience they work, and work well. They have been proven by the medical community and fellow travelers as well to help your body adjust as quickly as possible to your destination time zone. Use the ones that you think will work best for you. Make sure you read to the end. I have included tips all the way through.
But let’s jump right in and help you avoid jet lag when flying to Europe!
Be intentional before your trip to avoid or minimize jet lag and its effects
The best way to avoid jet lag is to make a plan ahead of time utilizing the tools below and make sure to implement that plan before your trip begins to help transition your body’s circadian rhythms as quickly as possible.
Most people will find selecting a few of the following tips to be much more than adequate in helping them reduce and minimize the effects or avoid jet lag altogether.
Before Your Flight
Carefully select your arrival time
Book your tickets so that you arrive at your destination in the evening.
Traveling can be very tiring, but if you force yourself to stay awake as much as possible, when you arrive in the evening you will be tired enough to go to sleep at your new local time.
I have found this extremely helpful when flying to Europe or anywhere for that matter. It will give you a good jumpstart to your new vacation schedule.
I have also not followed this advice and arrived during the day and then tried to stay awake until bedtime and I was exhausted and tired and miserable.
My wife actually got some fun shots of me on the tube in London asleep with my mouth open shoulder to shoulder with fellow riders.
I have much preferred the trips where I have flown into town in the evenings and then after a quick meal, I’ve been able to go to sleep.
Start shifting your schedule and internal clock before your go
Ideally, you will do this about a week before you leave, but at least do it for a couple of days before you go.
Adjust a couple of your clocks, phone, or watch to your destination’s local time. Then make sure that you look at it/them at least a couple of times a day, reminding yourself what time of day it will be in your new location at that time.
Additionally, adjust the time you retire to bed and the time you wake up by as much as you are comfortable with, in greater increments each day leading up to your trip.
Even if you are not ready to fall asleep, put on some calm soothing music take a long hot shower or bath and sit quietly in your bed without electronics and read a book, think, meditate or ponder on the vacation you have coming up o quiet your body and mind.
Even if your body isn’t tired enough to fall asleep early, if you start to get it into a new rhythm before your trip it will make it easier to adjust when you get there.
Also, waking earlier in the day (closer to your destination’s timezone) will help your body feel more tired in the evening as well. This will make it easier to start going to bed earlier.
If you start changing your clocks and your bed and waking times before your trip there will be less of a difference to adjust to at your vacation destinations.
Apps are another way to start adjusting your schedule.
There will be a range of mobile apps released today to aid travelers in reducing their jet lag.
Enter your airline details in either Timeshifter or Entrain ((links)) for a calendar of when to sleep and get up as well as other suggestions about when to avoid stimulants or when to get sunlight, morning light, an early night’s sleep or take sleeping aids. They’re pretty slick.
Shifting your schedule like this will help a lot more than you may imagine.
Other ways to assist in shifting your internal clock
Also as you get your body used to what will be your new schedule, you may want to look into specific things that will either help you sleep (when you are going to bed earlier) or help you wake up.
Melatonin or Sleep Aids
Melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical in your body that contributes to the maintenance of the nervous system as well as your body’s internal sleep rhythms. Melatonin has been shown to reduce jetlag in studies as well.
One distinct advantage melatonin has over sleeping pills is in addition to helping you sleep, it helps regulate your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Other sleeping medications do help you get some sleep but they are harsher on your body. They may help you sleep but aren’t able to help change your body’s circadian rhythm or internal clock.
Take care. Using any sleep aid including sleeping pills can increase the risk of falling asleep or of injuries due to drowsiness.
It would be good to discuss the advantages and risks of your situation or your use of melatonin and other sleep medicines with your doctor prior to your trip.
I find it useful from time to time to use melatonin from time to time to nudge my body’s internal clock.
For melatonin, there is no recommended daily allowance. For sleep-related problems, some experts recommend taking melatonin supplements in dosages ranging from 0.5 to 5 milligrams. Drowsiness during the day may be experienced at higher doses.
There is research available that shows these nine foods have beneficial effects on either melatonin or your body’s ability to sleep:
Toast – one of my favorites
Cherries – actually have melatonin in them
A good whole grain oatmeal (not instant)
Additionally, you can use light stimulation or bright light exposure to assist your body and waking up early. This can be done either naturally with the morning or evening light (which is ideal) or in artificial ways.
As soon as the sun rises in the morning sit in a sunny window or go for a walk and get as much of your bare skin in the sun as possible as your body will react to it and wake up. It is especially helpful to reduce jet lag symptoms get your face in the sun.
If you are up before the sun or if it is a time of year that the sun rises later, artificial lights can assist. Try turning on all of the lights in your home in the room or two surrounding you so you can get as much bright light as possible. Or you can get light therapy glasses or a light that is typically used for seasonal affective disorder.
Another trick is to exercise right when you wake up to get the body going. As you get your respiratory circulatory and other systems in your body going it will wake up and assist in shifting your internal clock for the better.
Shift the baby’s schedule too
No, the kids don’t need to be doing exercise with you, but if you have little ones, help them start adjusting their wake and bedtimes. You can make a bit of a game of it, or go have a little adventure like going to McDonald’s drive-through for ice cream at 4 in the morning. You’ll create some fun memories doing it as well.
One note with children, don’t start them a week out. Just do this one or two days before your trip.
And if you have little babies make sure to adjust their nap times in advance as well.
What foods prevent jet lag?
There are a number of simple things you can adjust in your diet as well that will help you adjust your body clock to a new timezone quickly and easily whether it is before or during your trip.
Try to avoid fatty proteins since they will drain your energy and make you drowsy. Stick to leaner meats like fish or chicken. One of the most substantial things you can do to counter jet lag is hydrate yourself, so foods like cucumbers, celery, strawberries and watermelon are great for their water content.
Eat less salty or heavy foods, or foods you know weigh you down or make you feel rundown before traveling. Keep hydrated with more fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating light foods and not rich foods are the best to beat jet lag.
Eating smaller meals before you go and bringing snacks for the plane ride can help keep your stomach feeling good. Complex carbs and other low glycemic index foods are preferred.
Doses of caffeine can be helpful to stay awake and adjust to your new schedule but it also messes with your body’s internal rhythms. It also depletes your body’s hydration levels. Use it sparingly.
Drinking alcohol is used by some as a sleep aid because it makes you feel drowsy but this also negatively impacts your sleep quality. I would suggest you avoid alcohol as much as possible.
Jet lag is also complicated by side effects caused by alcohol, including fatigue, headaches, nausea, and other conditions.
Drink herbal tea
Herbal teas can be wonderful for you, however, instead of drinking other hot teas or coffee. You could drink a mint tea in the morning to wake up or a drinking chamomile tea in the evening to help relax and slow your body down as it gets closer to your bedtime.
Plan some extra days if possible
If you have the ability, to make up for the days that jet lag takes from you at the beginning and the end of your vacation, plan a couple of extra days into your itinerary so you don’t overbook yourself or get stressed and grumpy.
Confession – I find it hard not to be grumpy when I’m tired. Jet lag can be a real buzzkill around our home. Planning a rest day at the beginning of the vacation and an extra day to re-enter is really helpful for me and my family.
So, before you go
I think the best things to do before your flight are to
1 – change a few clocks in your daily routine so that you can start to get used to what time it will be when you land.
2 – start to adjust your sleep schedule and
3 – make sure your flights are booked so that you land towards the evening.
Everything else is supplementary to those three things.
During Your Flight
Use the flight to rest and reset.
When the pilot announces the European time, reset your mind along with your wristwatch.
As soon as you step on that plane start going by your new timezone’s time. you can go into your settings on your phone and manually change the time to your final destinations time. Don’t exacerbate jet lag by reminding yourself of what time it is back home. Be in Europe.
If you can, stay awake till you land. If it is just too long, allow yourself to close your eyes for a bit. You’ll be capable of functioning the day you land if you get a few hours of sleep during the transatlantic trip. But do try your best to stay awake as much as possible till you land.
This is so you will have the best chance of going to sleep in the evening when you arrive.
Keep using whatever tools you have decided to use to stay awake on the flight. Could be sheer willpower (that’s my tool of choice) or a light aid (they work wonders) or a stimulant of some kind (my least favorite)
One common homeopathic remedy is the no-jet-lag.
Always consult your doctor before trying any remedies as some herbs may interact with prescription medication.
The name of the game is to stay awake as much as you can till you get there!
And stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. It helps lubricate dry eyes and many of the other internal systems of your body while it’s dealing with all the changes of altitude, pressure, time changes, lack of sleep and mild stress etc.
After Your Flight
You’ve landed, Now what?
If you do nothing else, not one of the other suggestions I have given to you, stay awake at least until the late afternoon or evening of your first day.
This is why I suggested you plan your tickets so your land at that time. It makes it much much easier to do this.
Get as much sunlight as possible when you land. The sun is your friend and will help keep you awake. Not only that but direct sunlight during the day reduces the production of melatonin in your body, helping you stay awake.
You should also be very attentive in keeping hydrated for several days. The best way to stay asleep is to rest up until the night.
You may feel tired, worn out, achy or have a bit of a sick stomach after being on the plane for so long, but if you’ll take the time to go for a walk, rent a bike and pedal around or do some other form of exercise your body will thank you. You will sleep better and recoup from the time change much faster as well.
Ok, so you’ve decided what time you wanna wake up on your vacation prior to leaving and now you just need to make yourself wake up at that time the very next day.
By doing this, in combination with some of the other things we’ve talked about here, you will feel much better by day three.
And you’ve made it! For the first couple of nights a couple of mornings, it will seem a little hard but if you stick to it you’ll barely even notice the jet lag after a couple days, and if you do, take confidence knowing it would have been much worse and lasted a lot longer if you hadn’t taken care to implement these tips as you have.
Why Does Jet Lag…?
If you haven’t ever felt jet lag before, the symptoms of jet lag include feeling tired, irritable, inability to sleep, trouble concentrating and sometimes an upset stomach. Some people experience headaches and nausea, too.
It’s a physiological condition that makes you feel tired and out of sync with the world around you.
Jet lag occurs when you travel across multiple time zones. This may happen on a long haul flight to a European country or anywhere really.
The farther you travel the worse you feel
The symptoms of jet lag can last from one day to several depending on how many timezones you cross. The bigger the time difference, the larger the impact on your body.
The farther you travel the more intense the feelings are. It depends also on how you prepare and how diligent you are in shifting to your daily schedule once you get to your destination.
If you consciously stay dedicated to waking and sleeping with your new timezone you will get over it faster. If you don’t and just sleep when you want and wake when you feel like it, it will be harder on your body and take you longer to adjust.
It might seem like a pain to prepare beforehand and really stick to your new schedule, but you will be grate full you did.
Can Jet Lag have long-term effects?
Worse yet, researchers have discovered that for some individuals, constant jet lag induces long-term brain modifications that result in memory and learning difficulties for at least up to a month after returning home.
Typically, jet lag is usually a short-term problem which disappears once the body’s natural clock and circadian rhythm have adjusted to the local time.
Dehydration can lead to symptoms that resemble jet lag. If passengers don’t drink enough water during a flight, they might get dizzy and parched. Even if you feel slightly dehydrated, make sure you get on it quickly and drink water.
In addition to following the suggestions here, if you feel that you have unique circumstances that warrant a trip to your doctor, please make an appointment with them and discuss your concerns.
How do you get rid of jet lag fast?
- Adjust your schedule to the new time zone as soon as possible.
- Stop comparing to your old time zone.
- Sleep and wake at your new local time
- Use natural light first and other lights as needed
- Drink lots of water
- Try melatonin and sleep aids as needed
- Try caffeinated beverages as needed
What is the best time to fly to avoid jet lag?
The best time to fly to avoid jet lag is in the late afternoon or evening. It’s best to arrive and have enough time to get comfortable where you will be staying and then go to bed near 10 pm in your new local time zone.
Doing this and then making yourself wake up at a reasonable time on your first day will help you get over jet lag much more quickly!
Make sure your sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible. Have a look around and see whether anything may wake you up during your sleep and do your best to eliminate them.
How long does it take for jet lag to go away?
It takes different amounts of time for jet lag to go away. The biggest factor being how many time zones you have crossed and how quick you are to adapt to your new local one.
Many travelers to a new location experience an improvement in their symptoms within the first few days after arrival. For some individuals, it might take up to one week before they feel like themselves again, especially if they have a long flight.