When it comes to jet lag, a proactive approach to managing it is better than a reactive one: there's nothing worse than yawning in the middle of an important business meeting, regardless of how far you've flown to get there.
As somebody who regularly travels long distances for work, over the years, I've developed my own strategies for taking control of jet lag: because without them, jet lag would easily take control of me.
Central to my approach is planning my sleep ahead of time based on the needs of each journey, which by extension, also means mapping out in advance when to work, dine and relax on each flight, or at least having a rough idea.
Here are some of the steps that I personally take to deal with jet lag across a variety of routes, and as you'll see, the approach isn't the same on every flight.
Handling jet lag on flights between Asia and Australia
With a time difference of just 2-3 hours between Australia's east coast and many points in Asia, I find these flights the easiest to manage because night-time abroad is night-time back home, so it's as simple as sleeping at night and staying awake during the day.
That said, when taking overnight flights I do what I can to maximise my rest on board, to keep my schedule as 'normal' as possible.
This generally means eating dinner on the ground – either out and about in the city I'm departing from or in an airport lounge, depending on my schedule and boarding time – and once on board, changing straight into pyjamas and heading to bed, skipping the inflight meal service: I wouldn't eat two dinners at home, and being in a plane doesn't change that.
Whether I wake for breakfast before landing generally depends on how much sleep I need: because hey, I know what an omelette tastes like, and can easily make one after returning home!
Living in Brisbane, I don't routinely fly from Perth to Asia, but if I did, the same logic of sleeping at night would apply.
Tackling jet lag on those Australia-Los Angeles flights
With many flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to LA departing before lunch and reaching California early in the morning after 13-14 hours of flying, this one takes a little more planning, because my strategy here is to make sure I'm tired enough to actually get some sleep on the flight, at what would only be afternoon or early evening back home.
To achieve this, I'll either stay up late the night before I fly or wake up earlier than usual on the day of travel, so that I'll have had some sleep, but not enough to be perfectly-rested.
This allows me to stay awake for the first 3-6 hours of the flight – enjoying lunch, getting some work done or perhaps watching a good movie – after which I'm ready to doze until breakfast, and arrive ready to begin the busy day ahead.
When connecting onward to other places like New York, which tend to be daytime flights, I'll try to plant myself near a window so that I can keep the shutter open for some lovely natural light until reaching the US east coast early in the evening, when it's time for dinner and then bed, at a time when I'm already feeling sleepy.
Taming jet lag on flights between Australia and Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai
If I had to pick a 'favourite' route for managing jet lag effectively, it'd have to be those from Australia to the Middle East, especially on flights departing in the evenings and touching down early in the morning local time.
Rather than having dinner on the ground as I would with an Asian overnight flight, I can still enjoy a full dinner on board, kick back with something to watch and then go to bed: and for me, staying 'up late' like this is much easier than going to bed early, because when I do want to get some rest, I'm already tired enough.
Onward connections to Europe are a breeze when following the same plan, because they'll generally depart in the mornings from Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai and land in the afternoon or early evening in places like London or Paris, so it's easy to stay awake on those shorter flights and rest in a proper bed on the ground.
Returning home from the Middle East is a little trickier, especially on evening departures: here, I'll try and sleep straight after take-off, skipping all onboard service, and taking advantage of dine-on-demand menus where available to have breakfast and other meals when it suits me later in the flight.
And then there's Europe...
There are plenty of ways to reach Europe beyond transiting through one of the 'big three' Gulf hubs, but with flight times and schedules varying greatly between routes and airlines, my strategy here isn't a 'one size fits all' approach.
Instead, I'll consider my departure time from Australia, my arrival time at the other end and the duration of each flight in between, to best-plan when to sleep, and by extension, when to stay awake.
Here are just a few examples from recent travels:
Being a daytime flight from Australia followed by an overnight service to Russia, planning this journey was simple enough: stay awake during the day, have a late dinner on the second flight and head to bed, waking up for breakfast in the morning local Moscow time, ready to explore the city.
Flying Helsinki-Hong Kong-Brisbane
With two back-to-back overnight flights – the first departing at midnight from Finland, and the second at 9:35pm from Hong Kong – my goal was to get eight hours of sleep across the 24-hour journey, but I knew that staying awake for the entire flight from Helsinki wasn't realistic.
Instead, I deliberately stayed up until around six hours before landing, so that I could get four hours of sleep on the first leg (ahead of the second meal two hours before touchdown), which gave me enough rest to function during my transit time in Hong Kong, and meant I was sleepy – but not too sleepy – on my onward flight, where I had dinner and later dozed off for another 4.5 hours, giving me 8.5 hours all up, and bringing me back to Australian time.
Flying Sydney-Kuala Lumpur-London
Almost the reverse approach to the Moscow journey, an overnight flight from Sydney and an entirely daytime flight onward to London saw me maximising my rest on the first leg (skipping all inflight service, including breakfast) while keeping myself awake on the second, ahead of an arrival into Heathrow at 3:30pm, and reaching my hotel around 5pm.
Arriving tired in the evening works well for me, because I can always stay up for a few hours more and then head to bed for a solid night's sleep, waking up in the morning the next day ready for business.