Seven expert tips to help you avoid jetlag

It's frustrating being wide awake at 3am and sleepy at midday when you're travelling. Here are our seven tips to combat jetlag.

By John Walton, April 30 2014
Seven expert tips to help you avoid jetlag

Jetlag is the bane of every business traveller. It saps your productivity, turns meetings into stay-awake marathons and, perversely, means you'll see a lot more of that bedside clock displaying "3:30AM" than at any other time in your life.

Here are seven time-proven tips to help you get the jump on jetlag.

1. Eat light in flight, and protein upon landing

Eating the right food at the right time makes a major difference in how your body copes with jetlag. That's because meals act as ‘time cues’ for your body -- so adjusting the amount and type of food you eat can make a big difference.

If you get to the lounge early enough, top up with a decent meal so you're not famished on the plane.

During your flight, choose a light meal that's relatively easy to digest and won't sit heavy on your stomach. Follow this with some green tea to help aid digestion. Avoid white carbs and fatty foods, salty snacks and fizzy drinks.

When you land, hit up a high protein meal (but again, avoid the fast and easy carb route) to help you keep active in a bid to switch to the new time zone.

2. Pop a pill – if it works for you

Don't be afraid to add the miracles of modern medicine to your arsenal and get your body clock in the right timezone by encourage some snoozing on the flight and when you arrive.

Executive Traveller editor David Flynn is a fan of the dietary supplement melatonin while journalist John Walton prefers diphenhydramine, an antihistamine that makes you drowsy and which is usually found in those "PM" medications.

There's also no shortage of 'natural' remedies on the shelves.

Whatever you take, it's a good idea to check with a medical professional beware taking anything, and a bad idea to try a new pill for the first time if you've a big meeting on the other end of the flight. Sample it a few nights before you fly to check your tolerance and be sure you fine-tune the dosage to suit your own body.

And if drugs don't work for you, try a nice cup of hot milk or calming camomile tea. It's amazing how the old remedies still work.

3. Build in a 'light duty' day

If your schedule permits, avoid hurtling yourself straight into meetings on your first day.

Instead, allow some time to get yourself on the right timezone. Try flying out a day or two early if you're crossing many timezones so that you have time to avoid jetlag.

Don't just sit in the hotel room sleeping, though -- start your mornings at business o'clock, and spend as much of the daylight hours soaking up natural light as you can.

A vigorous walk outdoors, especially when the sun is shining, is a much better way to get yourself adjusted than being a treadmill monkey in the windowless hotel gym.

But if exercise is your thing then hit the gym or even better, take a plunge in the pool.

If you have to catch up on work in the hotel, head for the business lounge rather than stay in your room -- it's too tempting to have a quick snooze which wrecks your body clock, and the busier buzz of a club lounge can also help get you into the zone.

4. Stopovers are over-rated

The corollary to the rest days on arrival advice is that stopovers aren't particularly useful. While a Sydney-London trip straight through is long, we tend to find that the length of the journey means you get more sleep in the air, which is key to avoiding jetlag.

Stopping in Asia on your way home is equally ill-advised: we're always up at 3am and exhausted at 8am, both in Asia and back in Australia.

5. Wean yourself off the caffeine

If you're a caffeine hound, we feel for you. Try to cut back your consumption the days before you fly so that you're not being kept awake at inappropriate times of day (and, more importantly, so you don't have to rely on too much awful hotel coffee to get you going on arrival).

Figure out how long caffeine keeps you awake -- its effects peter out usually around eight hours after your last cup, but some people are different. Take that into account if you're going to need to sleep on an overnight flight, and at your destination. Our usual rule is "no coffee after lunch" when travelling to avoid being kept up.

6. Avoid napping or early bed travelling eastbound

Eastbound flights are usually the worst for jetlag, especially redeyes like Perth-Sydney or overnight flights to Australia from Asia. You feel like death warmed up the first day, and the second night you just can't get to sleep.

(If you're one of those odd people who finds eastbound flights easier to deal with than westbound, sound off in a comment on how you deal with them!)

We find the trick is not to get in bed for a nap at any point in the first few days. If you need a snooze, try a chair so you won't get too comfortable, and set an alarm for about 20 or 30 minutes into your nap so you don't enter REM sleep.

7. Know that the second night's always the worst

The second night of jetlag is the one that's the real awake-in-bed-at-stupid-o'clock killer. Maintain a disciplined anti-jetlag routine the first and second days, get natural sunlight wherever you can, avoid the caffeine late on day 2, and you should escape the worst of it...and if not, drug it into somnolence!

Bonus tip: BYO Berocca

Those orange tablets are manna from heaven for the frequent flyer. The zinc and B/C vitamins in the fizz are tops for brain power and taking the edge off that "I've been travelling forever" feeling. (They also boost the immune system, a welcome side benefit when you're on the road.)

Pop a Berocca each morning during your trip, and then when you get back home, and you'll be amazed at the difference they make.

How do you avoid jetlag? What's your top tip? Share your expert advice in a comment below! 

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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19 Feb 2014

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You can always have a long (or very long 20hr+) day, not a short day!

Berroca very high in sugar. Consider alternative solutions.

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