Travel: Guide to Traveling in Changing Time Zones

Approaching Key West
Timothy Valentine / / CC BY-NC-SA


We’ve all been there: you jet abroad for a much-needed holiday only to find yourself spending the first day or so wiped out and sleepy. Or maybe you head off to an important client meeting a continent away and have to spend the day fighting off a feeling of all-pervasive weariness.

Yes, we’re talking about that great curse of the frequent flier: jetlag.

Caused by your body’s difficulty in making a snap readjustment to a new time zone it can leave you feeling tired and cantankerous when you should be enjoying yourself, or operating at less than your best. There are said to be about a thousand remedies, but most of them are nothing more than old wives’ tales for the 21st century. However, there are a few things you can do to ward off that dreary feeling of exhaustion, as we’ve outlined below:

The Gradual Method

The gradual method probably won’t work for hard-pressed business travellers, but those leaving on holiday or making a ‘big move’ abroad may find it useful. Starting a few days before take-off, simply start slowly adjusting your sleep-patterns to your destination time zone. For example, if you’re flying from England to Vietnam, Hanoi is 7 hours ahead – so you should start gradually pulling your bedtime back earlier and earlier (midnight in Hanoi being 5pm in London). If you’re going to America, on the other hand, you’ll want to start turning in later (10pm in New York is 3am GMT). Keep this going for around 5 days, and by the time you land your body should be used to the local time scheme, saving you the hassle of readjusting.

The ‘In-Flight’ Method

On the other hand, not everyone can spare 5 days to play around with sleep patterns. If you’re a frequent business flyer or are heading off in the middle of a hectic week, it’s not really practical to try the gradual method. Instead, you could attempt to make the switch inflight – a method that’s especially useful if you’re going to land while the sun is still high.

First thing to remember is not to drink: although a glass of wine during take-off may seem relaxing it will dehydrate you and exacerbate the symptoms of jetlag. Instead, try and get to sleep as soon as possible and recharge your internal batteries inflight. Alternatively, if flying the opposite direction (i.e., it will be evening when you land), an in-flight nap is best avoided so you can easily readjust on landing. Try staying awake and reading or watching TV, even if others are sleeping. Your goal is to either be fully recharged for an early landing or ready for bed after a late one. The closer you are to operating on local time, the better you’ll soon feel.

On the Ground

Luckily, it’s not just before and during the flight that you can work to reset your body clock. There’s plenty you can do after landing too:

Sunlight – Have you ever woken tired and cranky on a summer morning, only to find you felt amazing the moment you stepped outside? Well, that’s because sunlight (or a lack of it) is a vital factor in setting our internal body clock. If you’re feeling jetlagged in the mornings, the best cure may well be to take a half-hour stroll around town (longer if possible). This will ensure your body knows you’re meant to be awake and working.

Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine – Obviously, going completely cold turkey is probably a bit too much to ask. But if you limit your intake of depressants and stimulants, your body will find it much easier to adjust. There’s also less chance of your sleep being disrupted too.

Sleep Well – Try and keep the hours you would at home; going to bed at 11pm and rising at 7.30am (or whatever is applicable to you). The more-rigid your routine is, the quicker your jetlag will vanish.

Author: Daniel Kendal loves to travel and after a memorable trip to see the northern lights, he wrote this guide based on his experience.



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