I recently got a promotion and my new role involves a lot of travel between different time zones, so as a result I often have terrible jet lag. I feel that I am constantly tired, and I'm also getting ill much more. I never feel alert or fresh, especially the day after I arrive, which is when I need to be. I am getting so much conflicting advice: sleep on the plane, never sleep on the plane, have a drink, don't touch alcohol in the air... I don't know what to try, all I know is I am fast turning into a zombie. As a frequent flyer, what do you do?
As an aviation journalist, John Walton clocks up air mile after air mile every month and writes regularly on travel for Lonely Planet:
Dear Flying Dead,
I hear you! As someone who flies frequently, crossing time zone after time zone, jet lag can get exhausting and deplete your energy levels (not to mention your immune system).
There are lots of different strategies and tactics you can use to avoid jet lag. I find that I’m especially sensitive to caffeine when I’m away from the comforts of home, so my last coffee of the day is a little espresso after lunch. I also make sure I drink a lot of water as it’s very easy to get dehydrated, which does weird things to your tiredness. I like bringing a refillable bottle and some of those water flavouring drops that are widely available now to vary things up a bit. Regarding alcohol, only you know whether your body reacts well or poorly to it when you’re tired.
To reduce jet lag try to avoid red-eye flights (those that leave late at night and fly east, giving you a short night in an uncomfortable plane seat), or ask if your bosses will compromise with either an upgrade (for a more restful flight) or a 'recovery day' on arrival. If you’re only crossing a few time zones, try to adjust to your destination time zone by an hour per day before departure (ie. go to bed, wake up and eat an hour closer to your destination's time zone each day until your in sync with it by the time you take off).
If you're travelling five to seven time zones to the east, such as between North America and Europe, or between Europe and southeast Asia, check if there’s a day flight. If not, consider whether it makes more sense to fly a slightly longer first leg if you’re connecting. For example, taking a New York–Munich–Hamburg route will give you an extra hour of sleep compared to a New York–London–Hamburg option.
And lastly, I am not a doctor, so you should consider talking to yours, not least to make sure you’re up on all your vaccinations but also to check that you’re otherwise in good health. Medical science is great, and while I swear by a regime of daily vitamins when I travel, there are also times when after lying in bed awake for an hour I am glad to have a mild over-the-counter sleeping aid tablet available as needed.