Strategies on How to Get Over Jet Lag – Podcast 025

In this episode B and Jack gives an overview of what constitutes jet lag (what is it, causes, symptoms, long term consequences). Also, they prevent two step-by-step strategies on how to get over jet lag in the most effective manner.

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1. Summary

1.1. An overview on jet leg

  • What is it: Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones.
  • Why it sucks: Apart from the obvious fact that you will feel bad both psychologically and physically due to the lack of sleep, also it has other downsides like a decrease in productivity and an inability to enjoy the new city you just arrived at.
  • How long it lasts: In my experience, if you do not implement any prevention strategy against jet lag it takes around 5 days to finish jet leg symptoms after a long trip by air.

1.2. The topic of strategies on how to get over jet lag within the Digital Nomad Life System

  • The Digital Nomad Life System is a 6-step meta-system created by us at Nomad Tactics that aims to explain how someone can go from living a non-nomadic normal life to living an optimized digital nomad life.
  • The fourth step of the system is called the “Arriving Process”. This can be understood as the things the digital nomad needs to do once you arrive in your new base (the city you will stay in) to make sure you will be properly settled there in order to make the most out of the stay. Implementing the right strategies on how to get over jet lag is one of the first things you need to do while you going and once you get to the new base, that is why we place this topic in this step of the system.
  • To have a general overview of the Digital Nomad Life System you should listen to this episode.

1.3. Causes of jet lag

  • A disruption of your body clock (i.e. circadian rhythms): When you cross multiple time zones rapidly you mess up with your internal clock (circadian rhythms), which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. This will happen both due to the sudden change of sleeping pattern as well as the change in the light exposure.
  • Cabin’s pressure and low humidity: The cabin pressure associated with air travel contributes to some of the jet lag of might experience, independent of the number of time zones you crossed. Moreover, the low humidity levels inside planes is also a factor. This can cause dehydration more easily. Some research suggests that dehydration also leads to some symptoms associated with jet lag.

1.4. Symptoms associated with jet lag

  • The symptoms related to jet lag will vary to some extent from person to person. You may experience only one or  many of the symptoms listed below:
    • Disturbed sleep(e.g. insomnia, early waking or excessive sleepiness during the day)
    • General sense of fatigue
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea
    • Mood changes

1.5. Long-term consequences of jet lag

  • Jet lag is usually a problem that goes away in a couple of days once your body clock gets adapted to the new time zone.
  • A chronically out-of-sync body clock can create last longing sleep problems like insomnia. Moreover, chronic jet leg might your chances of disorders like diabetes and depression.

1.6. Risk factors for jet lag

  • Flying east: The feeling of jet lag seems to be much worst when you are flying east. This is because you will be “losing” time, instead of “gaining”  time, such as it would be the case if you were to fly to the west.
  • The number of time zones crossed: The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to feel the jet lag.
  • Being a frequent flyer: Pilots, business travellers and digital nomads are most likely to experience jet lag since they always changing time zones.
  • Being older: Older people tend to experience more jet lag if compared to younger people.

1.7. General tips on how to get over jet lag

  • These are general tips that everyone should follow to avoid jet lag (independent on the more specific strategy you decide to adopt as outlined later on in this post).
  • The general tips are the following:
    • Keep drinking water the whole time you are on the plane to fight dehydration. Also, keep drinking a lot of water in the first 1 or 2 days after you arrive.
    • Set your watch to the destination timezone in your smartphone or watch; it is a psychological trick but it works to prime your brain to the new time from the get-go.
    • Avoid consuming alcohol just before, during and just after the flight since it increases the symptoms of jet lag.
    • If you have a special event you need to attempt, independent of the specific strategy you may choose to adopt, arrive a couple of days before the event if possible. No specific strategy is fail-proof, so having this extra time will be important if something goes wrong.

1.8. Specific strategies on how to get over jet lag

A. Soft strategy

  • The basic idea for the soft strategy is that you will gradually change your sleeping schedule in the days previous to your flight. Your aim here is to minimize your symptoms of jet lag due to this gradual change in your sleeping hours.
  • Step 1: The first thing you will need to do is to book your plane ticket a little in advance. Knowing the exact date of your departure is crucial for this strategy.
  • Step 2: What you will do next is to go to the website www.jetlagrooster.com and input the details of your flight (e.g. departure city, destination city, sleep time, etc.). The important thing is to change the “shifting sleep” field to 3 or 4 days. This field basically will inform the website for how long you want the shit in your sleeping schedule to take place. From my experience, if you want a really subtle change then 3 to 4 days work best.
  • Step 3: Once you have filled in all those details the website Jet Lag Rooster will calculate what is the ideal time to go to sleep and wake up in the 3 or 4 days prior to the trip in order for you to avoid jet lag symptoms once you get to the new city. Now what you simply need to do is to follow the plan outlined by the website.
  • Step 4: Once you get to the new city, then you should go to sleep in your usual sleeping hour (which you should have indicated on the Jet Lag Rooster website in the first place). It is ok to take a quick nap during the first day to get some energy, but limit the nap to 20 minutes to prevent any negative impact on your “real sleep”. Also, once you get to the new city in the first couple of nights you should try to optimize sleep to make sure that the new sleeping schedule will stick.
  • Ways to optimize sleep in the first couple of nights (or anytime really):
    • Eat a meal with starchy carbs before bedtime
    • Take melatonin (i.e. which is hormone related to sleep) just before bed in order to help you fall asleep (consult a doctor first to see if that is appropriate to you).
    • Take whatever magazine or book available (not on your smartphone due to the light) lie down in the bed and try to read it feel more sleepy
    • Exercise in the afternoon (not the nighttime) to make yourself more sleepy at night
    • Take a hot bath (not shower) to make you relaxed and sleepy
    • Avoid blue light (from phone and laptop) 3 hours before you go to bed
    • Consider using a facemask and earplugs
    • Close the curtains of the room well. A tip is to use a clothespin to make sure there is no gap between the curtains.
    • Set the room at a cool temperature
  • Step 5: Once you wake up the most important thing is to get exposed to sunlight almost immediately (this will help you regulate your body clock)

B. Hard strategy

  • The basic idea for the hard strategy is that you very deliberately and abruptly changing your sleeping schedule on the day you arrive at the destination. So you will need to power through the first day to avoid feeling the jet lag from the second day onwards.
  • Step 1: The first thing you need to do is to make sure you sleep very well 1 or 2 nights before the flight. Yet don’t worry about changing your sleeping schedule yet. Just sleep in your normal sleeping time. The reason why it is important to sleep well the days before the flight is because you should finish your “sleep debt”, thus allowing you to stay awake for longer once you get to your destination.
  • Step 2: Once you start your journey to the destination you need to make sure you will NOT sleep (both in the plane and in the destination once you arrive) until it is nighttime at your destination.
  • Tips for not sleeping on the plane
    • Drink lots of water. Not only this will help you with the dehydration, it will also force you to stand up to go to the toilet once in a while, thus not permitting you to fall asleep.
    • Turn on the light on top of you in the plane
    • Keep the window of the plane open
    • Put high brightness in the plane screen
    • Hang around the kitchen area and try to strike a conversation with the cabin crew
    • Avoid eating for the entire flight. If you need to eat, get something light (e.g. fruits) and avoid starch carbs at all costs
    • Drink caffeine
    • Get a seat next to the toilet in order for people to always pass around you, thus preventing you falling a sleep
    • Get a tube of essential peppermint oil to smell once in a while and feel awake
  • Step 4: Once you get to the destination you still need to keep yourself awake until a minimum reasonable hour to sleep (which I usually think is around 9 pm). If you sleep before that minimum reasonable hour then you will wake up in the middle of the night and that is obviously not desirable. Keep in mind that on this first day at destination you will be fighting sleepiness, thus you will not be very productive, but that is ok.
  • Tips to keep yourself awake once you get to the destination
    • Drink caffeine
    • Do not nap if you are using the hard strategy (it is very likely that you won’t be able to nap only for 20 minutes, you will be so tired that you will keep sleeping)
    • Do not stay inside the room, this will make you feel more sleepy. Go outside preferably to a place where there is sunlight
    • Do something that interests you outside. When we are doing something of your interest we tend to be less sleepy
    • Get a tube of essential peppermint oil to smell once in a while and feel awake
    • Take a cold shower
    • Try to eat light throughout the day, avoiding starchy carbs
    • Do exercise in the last hours of the day to get a last burst of energy
  • Step 5: When it is a minimum reasonable hour to sleep come back home and go to bed. If for some reason you need help falling asleep then you can use the same tips outlined in the soft strategy to optimize your sleep. I doubt this will be necessary since you will be very tired by that time. Allow yourself to sleep 1 to 3 hours more than usual in this first night. But do not allow more than that since it can break your sleeping cycle again. In order to make sure you will wake up at the right time I would set 2 alarms.
  • Step 6: Just like in the soft strategy, once you wake up the most important thing is to get exposed to sunlight almost immediately (this will help you regulate your body clock), since you want the new sleeping schedule to stick.

1.9. Which strategy on how to get over jet lag to prefer?

  • I would not bother implementing a jet lag prevention strategy if the flight crosses 3 time zones or less.
  • If the flight crosses more than 3 times zones then you should implement one of the specific strategies just outlined. It is a matter of personal preference which strategy to adopt.
    • The hard approach is good for last minute flights and less time consuming
    • The soft approach is more time consuming, but easier on the body
  • For a short trip somewhere (1 to 7 days) I would use the soft strategy when you are going there, and the hard strategy when you are leaving the place.

2. Transcript

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3. Resources