We’ve all heard the horrible statistic: it takes one day for every time zone that you move to recover from jet lag. If you’re traveling from New York to L.A. across three time zones, that is not too bad: three days and you’re all set. But if you’re traveling from New York to Beijing or Auckland, crossing thirteen or fourteen time zones, that stat can be quite disconcerting, especially if you only have a week or ten days for your vacation.
We’ve also all heard about the various remedies available: light therapy, changing your meal times or focusing on specific food, trying to slowly adjust to the new time zone in advance, and so on. I even recently read an article about a cold chamber that can zap jet lag in just a few minutes. You simply have to spend those few minutes in freezing cold chambers set to -76 and -116 degrees Fahrenheit (and pay the $60 fee). The article doesn’t say if the treatment actually worked, but I’m not going to count on it.
All is not lost. Over the last decade I have made several long-haul trips overseas, and I’ve found that only one thing really works to get you over that jet lag and onto your new time zone in short order: perseverance.
Its not flashy and you can’t buy it, but it works. In the last nine months I’ve made three trips between the United States and South Korea, crossing thirteen or fourteen time zones (depending on whether daylight savings time is in effect), and each time I have fully adjusted to my new time zone in just five days. Here are a few keys to help you achieve this as well.
Enlist a buddy to keep you awake. This may sound a bit silly, but it really helps to have someone there to keep you awake and keep you stimulated. If you’re alone it is too easy to talk yourself into going to sleep. This tip also fits nicely with tip number two, and if you don’t have a buddy you can attempt this yourself by staying active as noted below.
Stay active. When you arrive at your destination make sure you have plans and keep yourself busy. Don’t just go to your hotel and rest (no matter how much you may want to), unless you actually arrive at your destination right at the local bedtime, so to speak. If you go sit at your hotel it will be far too tempting to fall asleep when you shouldn’t. You need to stay up as late as you can to adjust to your new time zone. Some nights this may mean 1am, some nights it may mean 8pm. You do what you can, but your goal is always to stay up as late as possible so that you can get a full night’s sleep on your new time zone.
Take SHORT naps. Some people think naps will completely derail your adjustment, and that is true if you don’t time them right. But well-timed naps can actually be very helpful. I’ve found that naps of no more than 2 hours can really help with the adjustment, but there are some rules to keep in mind. First, never nap for more than two hours. If you sleep too long during the day you will be unable to stay asleep for a long stretch of time at night, which is your goal. Second, don’t nap too late in the day. This will cause you to stay up too late and will not help you adjust to the new time zone. My rule of thumb is to never nap if it means I will wake up later than 6pm in my new time zone. It is better to just stay awake as long as you can and then try to get a solid 8 hours of sleep, even if that means waking up at 3am. You will simply repeat the next day, and it will get easier.
These simple tips, while certainly not easy, really can help you make the tough adjustment to a new long-distance time zone. Give them a try on your next long-haul trip. I hope it works for you as it has for me!
Note that I am not a medical professional, and the tips and information in this post are solely based on my personal experience.