How to beat jet lag

I’ve struggled with insomnia my whole life. Horrible, life-wrecking onset insomnia. Sometimes I would sleep so poorly that I’m barely functional the next day. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen much anymore.

I also travel a lot. Usually two months or so out of the year, but this year it’s up to nine months. Jet lag affects me a lot harder than most people, so I’ve put a lot of work into finding ways to prevent it.

As a fitness coach, I’m also able to see which of these methods are effective for others. Here are the four ways to beat jet lag that I’ve found work for most people.

Time your sleep cycle

This one is pretty intuitive, but takes some planning. What you do is you figure out when you’ll be going to bed, and aim to be awake 16–20 hours before that, so that you’re tired by the time bedtime comes around, but not so tired that 8 hours of sleep won’t be enough to let you wake up refreshed the next morning.

Of course, it’s not always possible to time it exactly like this- depending on your flight, you may have to get up to go to the airport 24 hours or more before bedtime at your destination. In this case, take short naps on the plane every 2–4 hours, but set a silent alarm to limit them to 20–30 minutes.

Take melatonin, but ignore the recommended dosage

There are several sleep aids that can be helpful at home, but melatonin is the only one that seems to be consistently effective when travelling. Which makes sense, because melatonin is the main neurotransmitter responsible for sleep onset.

The only problem is, it’s always dosed way too high. You only need .3 mg of melatonin most nights; taking much more than that on a regular basis just puts you in danger of tolerance and hormonal issues.

That said- you do want to take a higher dosage sometimes when travelling, both to beat jet lag and the first night effect. With that in mind, I’ll take up to 1.5 mg of melatonin if I’m jet lagged or on my first night in any given hotel, but keep it to .3 mg every other night.

Stand on one leg

This unorthodox technique comes courtesy of the late Seth Roberts. What you do is stand on one leg for as long as you can, until you can’t continue and it starts to feel like your leg might collapse.

Do this 2–5 times on each leg, preferably in the evening but not right before bed. This can take a while if you keep your leg straight; by bending the leg slightly, you can exhaust it faster while still getting the full effect.

Control light cues

Your brain uses light and darkness as cues to wake up and fall asleep, respectively. More specifically, it uses blue light, which our brains associate with daytime. There are a few ways you can use this to your advantage.

First off, you can get more light during the day, and keep your bedroom darker at night. Most hotel rooms have blackout curtains, which makes them pretty good environments for this. You can make your sleep environment darker still by wearing a sleep mask.

Second, you can focus on adding and subtracting blue light specifically. Tools like the Phillips Go-Lite provide a strong blue light that can be as mentally energizing as caffeine, without the physical stimulation. Wearing orange goggles like these ones and/or using f.lux to dim and redden your computer at night will achieve the opposite effect, cutting out blue light at night.

Special thanks to Will Owen of TravelStrong for teaching me how to stay healthy when I travel. For more articles like this one, except longer, funnier, and with occasional profanity, follow me on JohnFawkes.com.

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