How to defeat Jet-lag

I have lost count of the number of London Melbourne return flights I have down. Regardless of where one sits in the aircraft, one annoyance remains. Jet Lag. Over the years I have developed a way to defeat jet-lag – in all but one situation. But I’ll get to that later.

It is simple to defeat Jet lag.

So how to defeat this abomination? Firstly you must understand what causes it and then there are a few steps to defeat it which I outline below. Keep reading!

What causes Jet Lag

Jet lag is caused by a break in the body’s circadian rhythm. In short, this is the 24-hour cycle of ‘awake-asleep’ that your body naturally lines up with the ‘dark-light’ patterns of night time and day time. When you fly over a number of time zones it puts your body out of whack as you are awake when it gets dark and want to sleep when it is light. This can be defeated!


The solution to beating jet-lag is to put your body back into alignment with the day-night patterns of your destination as fast as you possibly can. How? First: Avoid the big mistake.

Biggest mistake

The biggest mistake that people make is to try and adjust to the new time zone after they arrive. This is a huge mistake. What one should do is try and adjust to destination time zone while on the plane, or if possible before departure. That way you can use the entire flight time for the adjustment!

So how?

Let me break this into a few easy steps: Actions before departure, actions on the flight, actions in transit and actions on arrival.

In summary, the actions are:

  • Plan your sleep patterns to be awake and asleep on destination time zone not departure time zone.
  • Shower in transit and change your clothes.
  • Only go to sleep on arrival if it is night time (never ever go to sleep in the morning on arrival) and the key point:
  • On the first night sleep with the curtains open so that your body will naturally wake up with the light. Do Not make the second biggest mistake of thinking you’ll need extra sleep and make the room too dark.

So let’s go through this in detail. Let’s assume that you are flying from London to Melbourne with a transit half way in say Singapore. I will use the last flight I did around the time of the Rio Olympics.

  1. Actions before departure.Before you fly there are a couple of simple things to do. Firstly, get a good seat. Use to preselect your best seat if you can. I always take a window seat on long-haul flights. The reason will become clear below.Second is to plan your time zones. Depending on the time of year Melbourne is 10-12 hours in front of London. So when it is daytime in one it is usually night time in the other. If your objective is to adjust to the new time zone as fast as possible, and use the time on the plane for that adjustment, then your sleep-awake patterns must be done on the destination time, not the departure time.This can be a bit of a problem with airline staff. Have you ever noticed that when you fly the food timing, the menus and the lighting on flights are all set for the departure time not destination time? If you get on the plane at 7am in London, and it is 7pm in Melbourne, the airline will still serve you breakfast.When flying from London to Melbourne then, you should set your watch to Melbourne time and do what the watch tells you, not the airline staff.So on my last trip, I knew that I was taking off early London morning which was Melbourne evening. The first leg of the flight to Singapore was around 14 hours and for most of that time it would be Melbourne night time. I therefore should sleep on that flight. The connection of Singapore to Melbourne would be during Melbourn’s day time with me landing early evening. I therefore had to stay awake on this flight.This pre-planning before departure is really important as I knew now when I had to be awake and when I had to be asleep regardless of what the airline staff say.So how to sleep on the first flight?

    The first flight left early morning London time. If I had not done any planning I would have slept at my normal time the night before and arrived on the plane refreshed. I actually wanted to arrive on the plane tired so I could sleep.

    So what did I do? Well, I went to bed the night before at 5pm, tossed and turned a bit, set the alarm for 2am and got up to watch the Olympics right through to sunrise.

    By the time I arrived at the airport I was pretty tired.

    So I went to the Lounge (BA has a good one at Terminal 5) grabbed the free massage, had a shower (I take showers as much as I can while flying) and grabbed a hearty meal in the lounge – low on alcohol and high on water.

    A final note on pre-planning is what to pack for the flight. Here is what I always bring:
    – change of underwear and shirt for transit.
    – comfortable lightweight track pants for sleeping in.
    – comfortable eye-shade.
    – soft expandable earplugs (better than sound cancelling headphones)
    – anti-DVT socks
    – iPad with a detachable keyboard for doing some work, reading or watching videos (I always assume that the movies on the plane are rubbish or that I would have seen them so I bring my own. I can be surprised then if there is one I want to watch).
    – all my electronic gadgets and chargers (I once had my chargers pinched from my hold luggage which was a pain to have to buy new ones wasting the first day on arrival).

  2. Action on the first flight.The order of my actions on the first and second flight is based on morning departure London, afternoon arrival Australia. If it were the reverse being night departure London, morning  arrival Australia, then simply reverse the order of the first flight-second flight activities listed here.After I boarded the plane on the London morning, I checked my watch, which told me it was 8pm Melbourne time. I needed to resist the thinking that it was morning time and had to start thinking ‘destination evening’.I watched one movie, pretty tired, and then put on the eyeshades, popped a sleeping tablet (see below) and went to sleep. It was 10 am London time and most people were wide awake for departure time zone. I was asleep and already part way to adjusting to the new time zone.I don’t like to use sleeping tablets so only do if I really need to shock my sleep patterns, like on these flights. I use Restavit as it works for my body and is non-prescription. You should use what is right for you.I always tell the flight crew what I am doing. It gives you two benefits. They will note wake you for food and they tag you as an experienced flyer and look after you better.I slept right through and woke up just before landing.
  3. Actions in Transit.Most people wander around like a zombie in transit. I don’t. I use the time well. My golden rule is: always have a shower and change your shirt and undies. Almost all airports have showers for transit passenger now. Some are free and some you have to pay for. it is worth every cent if you have to pay.Now if you have a short layover then you may need to rush. If you have a longer layover then you may have the luxury of time.Be careful with time adjustments on transit. You need to know the local transit time zone (so you don’t miss your flight) but also know your destination time zone for planning.When I arrived in Singapore it was early morning Melbourne so I grabbed a shower, breakfast in the lounge and some coffee. I also went for a walk outside to get the sun on me. It helps reset the Circadian rhythms remember. Get natural sunlight whenever possible if your destination time zone is day time! Do the opposite if the destination time zone is night time.
  4. Actions on the second flight.The second flight was day time Melbourne so I needed to stay awake. Even though it was light outside the plane (remember you need sunlight to reset the circadian rhythm) the airline shuts the blinds, turns the lights off and lets people sleep if they want. This is nuts as it is day time in the destination. The worst thing to do is sleep.Do whatever you can to avoid sleep on a flight when the destination time zone is day time. You need to be tired when you land. Walk around the plane, watch a movie, do things.And you must have a window seat.Why is a window seat so important?You need to control the window blind! If you need to block out sunlight (as you need to sleep) shut it. But critically, if you are on a flight leg where you need sunlight (to reset the circadian rhythm) then you need sunlight and the shade open – at least a bit.Now if other people are sleeping then opening the blind all the way will make you know friends. But even opening the blind a couple of centimetres (an inch or so) is enough.Seriously, the crack of light is enough for the light receptors in the eyes to tell the brain it is day time. This is critical. It is helpful to explain to your seat partner and aircrew what you are doing and why.
  5. Actions on arrival.So if you have done this right your body will be a little confused. But you have done your best to sleep and be awake on destination time zone. So what now?Never go to bed on arrival before 8 or 9pm. Push through no matter how crappy you feel. Take another shower instead. If you go to bed too early then you undo all the good work on the plane. Go to bed when it is dark and when you will get 8 hours sleep before sunrise.Exception:  The only exception to this rule is if you land before midnight, go to bed but get up at 7 with the sun. If you land at the horror time of 3am-7am, go to sleep but set multiple alarms to wake up absolutely no later than 10 am. Do not ever sleep through the first day.
  6. Secret Ingredient

    So here is my little secret. If you sleep with the curtains open on the first night then you will naturally wake up with the sun. This is the reset of the circadian rhythm complete.

If you do all of the above, planned the time, slept on destination time, took showers, went to bed at night time on arrival and slept with the curtains open you will defeat jet lag. You might get a little tired the second evening, but that is all.

Now one final comment. It is true that I know fly at the pointy end more often than not so I get a lie flat bed. It does make it easier no doubt. But the above still holds true if you are in cattle. But if you are at the back of the plane it makes it even more important to get a window seat to you can prop up against the wall. it just makes it a hassle when going to the loo. But better to climb over others than have others climb over you.

The one I can’t defeat.

The one flight I can’t defeat is the New York to London night flight. It is just too short a flight to make any of the adjustments. Just sleep as much as you can and do the best on arrival.

Let me know your comments and thoughts below!

2 Replies to “How to defeat Jet-lag”

  1. Yep list looks good, but I never have blinds open regardless – helps me adjust better when I can imagine whatever time I want it to be. Window seats are good because it gives better space for sleeping. Wash your face even if you can’t fit in shower-time. Short international flights like India-Malaysia – haven’t worked out how to manage those ones yet.

  2. I always set my watch to destination time and act accordingly

    Sleeping with curtains open at destination is a good tip. I’ll try that

    Some good and detailed observations

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