Don’t Let Jet lag Ruin Your Dream Vacation

January 24, 2015 Updated: January 23, 2015

The other day, I was talking to a colleague of mine about an upcoming business trip we have to Europe. Afterward, she shared with me that her boyfriend will be flying out to meet her for an eight-day vacation when our project ends. However, with concern in her voice, she explained that he copes with jet lag very poorly and missed out on many fun activities years ago on a trip to Belgium. Needless to say she is dreading that this may become a déjà vu experience.

The truth is that every person adjusts to jet lag differently. Some seem to adapt to their new time zone effortlessly within a day or two, while others can take up to a week. I need on average three to five days to feel fully functional. However, with just a bit of pre-trip preparation and a carefully planned out schedule, you can minimize the jet lag adjustment period and enjoy the vacation of your dreams. Let me share a few key ideas for you to consider on the subject:

1. Test your jet-lag response: If it has been a long time since you have traveled across time zones, or maybe your travel companion has never been abroad and isn’t sure how they cope, my advice is to consider taking a “jet lag response” test. Set your alarm during the weekend at least one month before your planned trip to simulate the ideal waking time at your destination city. When the alarm rings, get up and spend the entire day as if you were already on vacation. Make sure you do this both days during the weekend. Track your drowsiest hours and your peak energy times. After the experiment is done, compare notes with any participating travel companions. Use the analysis to find the common hours when you all felt awake and peppy, and plan your sightseeing excursions for the first two or three days around that schedule. Be sure to factor in nap time if needed.

2. Tweak your sleep for a week: A common approach that many use to minimize the effects of jet lag is to begin adjusting sleep and wake times by one hour each day during the week prior to your trip. This can help cut down on your adjustment period. When traveling eastbound (New York to London), you will need to go to bed an hour later and wake an hour earlier, adding an hour each day. Conversely, if you are traveling westbound (New York to Tokyo), you should go to bed an hour earlier and rise an hour later if your work schedule permits.

3. Alternative jet lag therapies: An interesting approach that I am considering for my next time zone adventure is light therapy. I have found a company out of the U.K. that makes compact-sized light box that can easily be transported in my carry-on bag and may even be discreet enough in size to rest on the conference room table at work. Some report that exposing the body to light at key intervals prior to travel to mimic the hours of light at your destination city helps reduce the adjustment period. Also, if you feel dazed and confused at the office during an international business trip, light exposure is also said to boost alertness and help reduce fatigue on the spot. As far as I am concerned, it is worth a try. Stay tuned for a review of this product in a future article.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!

(*Photo of sleeping person via Shutterstock)