This post lists what I believe are the most effective strategies to reduce the impact of jet lag. It evolved out of a document I wrote for a friend who sought my advice. A few of these tips are copied from Wiseman (2014); most of the other ones are based on a couple of hours of research using Google and Google Scholar.
Booking your flight
- Timing. Choose the time of the flight by following the simple adage, ‘Fly east, fly early. Fly west, fly late.’
- Seating. If you need to sleep during the trip, (1) pick a window seat to avoid being disturbed by other passengers and (2) do not pick a a seat on the sunny side of the plane.
- For flights in the northern hemisphere, the sun will tend to be on the left side of the plane when you fly west, and on the right side when you go east. Check SeatGuru for more info.
- Airline. Ideally, book your flight with an airline that is rarely delayed.
- The most important consideration is the frequency of long delays (+2 hours) and cancellations, since these are the most disruptive. I couldn’t find statistics for these outside the US, but Silver (2015) notes that overall delay times generally correlate well with both long delay and cancellation frequency, so we can rely on this measure as an adequate proxy.
- Aircraft. Ideally, book your flight on a Dreamliner.
Before you fly
- Insofar as you can, gradually shift your body clock to match your destination’s, by going to bed one hour earlier or later each day, and shifting your wakeup time correspondingly.
- Calculate the time you should go to bed on each of the relevant days preceding your flight. For example, if the time at your destination is five hours later, you should go to bed one hour earlier five days before your departure, two hours earlier four days before, and so on.
- For each of these days, set an alarm on your phone to ring ~2 hours prior to bedtime. When the alarm rings, start wearing orange-tinted glasses, take melatonin, and resolve to go to bed ~2 hours later. (If you have a bedtime routine, shift this routine accordingly.)
- Expose yourself to lots of light soon after waking up, by either going outdoors or using a blue-light lamp.
- The site Jet Lag Rooster can help implement this advice.
During your flight
- As soon as you board the plane, adjust your watch to show the time at your destination, and try to fit into this new time schedule as soon as possible. If it is time to sleep, get your head down. If it is dinner time, eat something. Etc.
- Drink plenty of water, and drink often.
- When it’s time to sleep, wear an eye mask and earplugs, and take melatonin.
- If you still have trouble sleeping, consider taking zolpidem, zaleplon or temazepam (the three main sleep aids used in military aviation).
After you fly
- When you arrive at your destination, continue exposing yourself to light in the morning, and limiting exposure to (blue) light in the evening.
- Above all, don’t nap. If you have trouble staying awake during the day, consider taking modafinil or dextroamphetamine (the two main stimulants used in military aviation).
Note that, unless you are permanently moving to a new location, you should follow some of the steps above twice: first when visiting your destination, and a second time when returning home.
Jedick (2014) Stimulants & sleep aids in military aviation
Silver (2015) A better way to find the best flights and avoid the worst airports
Wikipedia (2018) Jet lag
Wiseman (2014) Night school: wake up to the power of sleep