Whether you’re only flying coast to coast or across the globe, any time difference can considerably affect your sleep schedule. A bad case of jet lag can be the difference between a great vacation or a terrible one.
As someone that can’t function on less than eight hours of sleep (a fact I learned the hard way after working opening shifts at Starbucks throughout college) and as a frequent traveler between Europe and US, I’ve mastered my anti-jet lag routine. Here are my best tips to help you get those much needed 💤’s . . .
1. Turn on “Vacation Mode” by changing your clock as soon as you step out the door
The first thing I do before I leave the house is set my devices into “vacation mode.” As you pack your devices, make sure they’re ready to go for hassle free travel. Here’s my go-to checklist:
- Are they charged?
- Did you pack the charger? (with adapter?)
- Did you download music, podcasts, audiobooks, movies, etc.?
- Have you updated your Google Maps with your destination spots? (See our Google Maps Lit Trip Tip here!)
- Do you have all the necessary apps (airline app, online ticket, public transportation apps of your destination)
- Is your device in airplane mode?
- Is your clock set to the new timezone?
In a culture where we are constantly connected to our devices, switching into “vacation mode” is a great way to put your brain into the vacation mindset as well. This way I don’t have to worry about last minute hunts for outlets or WiFi at the airport. With the time change, my brain isn’t calculating the missing hours, it’s already thinking in “vacation time.”
2. Don’t stress about sleeping on the plane
If I have learned anything about travel, it’s that you must always stay flexible. A lot of anti-jet lag tips rely on starting your new sleep schedule as early as boarding, I say—throw those dreams and expectations out the window. As with any part of traveling from point A to B, you have to be ready for plans to change.
Sometimes putting pressure on yourself by saying, “I need to sleep at least four hours,” will not only keep you up, but set yourself up for failure.
In the perfect world, you’d get the most beautiful nap, but that almost never happens. I’m not saying not to load up on the lavender oil, sleep masks, and noise reduction headphones, but to instead consider any sleep as bonus 💤’s. Removing this stress will re-frame your second viewing of A Star is Born as a guilty pleasure instead of insomniac defeat. Think “restful travel > anxious napping travel.”
3. Wear compression socks on the plane
I’ve written about compression socks before (read my post about what I always pack in my carry-on here!) but I can’t recommend them enough. I recently switched from slipper socks to compression socks for my long-haul travel and the improved circulation makes a big difference not only keeping my feet happy, but keeping my energy up for when I land!
4. Whatever you do, don’t sit on the bed! (Not even for five minutes!)
You tackled the airport, and the shuttle, and the train, and the drive, and the walk, and the stairs, and now! You’ve made it to your room! Victory! True. But please, for the love of travel, do. not. sit. on. the. bed.
An untimely nap (even if you haven’t gotten any sleep during your travel) can quickly derail your changes of being jet lag free. Even a five minute nap (which, let’s be honest, usually means one hour of snoozin’) can set you up for a dangerous knock out.
(Any Gilmore Girls fans will know that napping as soon as you arrive abroad can lead to dumb decisions, like deciding to marry your ex over 4AM dinner!)
Once you get off the plane is when your true sleep schedule begins, and that means staying up until at least 10PM local time, no matter what!
5. Stay active during the day
To avoid the forbidden snooze, try not to stay stationary. Maybe move your theater plans to another day and instead go out and get a feel for the town. Why not look up an interactive museum or a walking tour? A lot of major cities offer free walking tours, and they are worth your money!
By getting out and moving, you’re not only keeping yourself awake, but you’re being nice to your body after sitting for hours and also tiring yourself out for later!
6. Stay up until 10PM, lights out by 11:30 PM at the latest
As I mentioned earlier, the goal for your first day in the new timezone is to establish a new schedule like the locals, and that means staying up until at least 10PM. This is my tried and true time to ensure that I’m not only tired enough to sleep through the night and that I don’t wake up at 4AM.
Your first night is going to set the tone for the rest of your trip, so make sure you’re mindful of your bedtime. Try to cut festivities and stimulating activities to end around 9:30PM so you can head to bed.
7. Wind down naturally
As tempting as it might be to take a NyQuil and pass out, cold medicine can leave you groggy or restless, especially when you body is already confused.
I usually resort to some natural methods in my bedtime routine, here are some of the highlights:
- Natural sleep aids
- Cut off caffeine at noon local time
- Essential oils (lavender is my go-to!)
- Melatonin or Baldrian
- Sretching or bedtime yoga
- Reading (without blue light)
- A Headspace Sleepcast
A lot of these wind-downs are part of my normal bedtime routine, so including some of them in my bedtime routine abroad sends signals to my body to start tuning in to sleep.
8. Have a snack and water at the ready
This sounds silly, but I always make sure I have a snack and a water bottle by my bed when I travel. Whenever I travel back to the US, I wake up the first couple days at 5AM with a grumbly tummy. My body thinks it’s past noon but the clock says five! Eating a quick snack and then cozying back in bed for some extra 💤’s keeps me from waking up at an absurd hour.
9. Have a hard alarm time
Just like having a set bedtime, you also want to make sure you have a set wake-up time. Plan your day so you have to be out of the house at a certain hour so you avoid sleeping in and switching your schedule.
10. Open the shades and/or get outside as soon as possible
One of the simplest ways to reset your circadian rhythm is to get Vitamin D as soon as you wake up. I usually sleep with the shades drawn so I can get a deep sleep, but when my alarm goes off, I open the shades. Try to go on a morning walk or get coffee down the street to get your brain used to the early light.