Beating Jetlag


  • ear plugs
  • sleeping mask
  • travel neck pillow
  • Melatonin, Ambien, or Tylenol PM
  • lots of water
  • loose fitting – comfy clothes

Try to stay up all night before you leave. If you have to, take a nap in the afternoon.

Eat a big meal before you leave for the airport: preferably more than 2 hours before you board the airplane. After eating, you are now beginning your fast.

Change your watch to destination time as soon as you get on the airplane and start “thinking” in the new time zone.

Wear soft and comfy clothes for the flight. I wear a shirt that I do not have to tuck in.

As soon as you get on the plane, ask the flight attendant for a sleep mask, and ear plugs. In fact, I use ear plugs every time I get on an airplane. You will be much less tired from the omnipresent white noise of an airplane. Also, get it in to your head that you are not eating. Before take-off, tell the flight attendant that you will be skipping all meals. Drink as much water as you can stand throughout the flight. You can keep asking the flight attendants for water or walk back to the galley and ask. Remember, you can lose about 8 percent of your bodily water on a 10 hour flight. The Aerospace Medical Association recommends drinking about 8 ounces of water every hour you are up in the air. With so much liquid intake, you will go to the bathroom 5 or 6 times.

Take off your shoes during the flight.

Each time you go to the bathroom area, stretch. While sitting in your seat, occasionally stretch your legs, roll your ankles and shoulders.

Before you get on the plane, even though you will already be dead tired, take some medication to help you sleep longer on the flight. 10mg of Ambien or 2 Tylenol PM tablets works great.

Place your carry-on bag at your feet and use it as a foot rest. Elevating your feet will help.

Buy a good (not cheap inflatable) travel pillow to support your head while sleeping

After boarding, ask the flight attendant for an extra pillow. This will be in addition to the one with your blanket on your seat. As needed, use one for your lower back and one to sit on. If there are no extra pillows on board, you can occasionally sit on your travel pillow. Tail bone pain can be awful during long flights.

Do not drink any soft drinks, coffee, or alcohol. If you get sick of water, ask for green tea.

Usually toward the end of the flight, they will serve a light meal. Depending on what time you are landing, you can eat very lightly – maybe a yogurt and some tea or a piece of fruit. Better yet, keep fasting. You want to get in to your destination meal time routine right away. If you are landing at 6pm, eat as though it is dinner. If you are landing at 5am, try to continue fasting, wait until you have arrived at the hotel, shower, unpack, then go down for the breakfast buffet just as if you had slept at the hotel all night. Eat as much as you wish.

On the first day at your destination, continue to hydrate as much as you can and get outside as much as possible. Try to take a long walk or go jogging and run with your face to the sun. Do not stay indoors in the afternoon! Go to the gym, schedule meetings, drink coffee, anything to avoid napping. The key is to be VERY active, get a lot of sunlight, and fool your body in to thinking you have already adjusted to the new time zone. Go to bed as late as you can. If you wake up in the middle of the night, take 3 or 6 mgs of melatonin and go back to sleep. A basic rule of thumb is to get lots of sunlight in Asia earlier in the day and lots of sun later in the day when you return to the US.

This method is not perfect but is still very effective. I have used it for the past few years, especially when traveling to and from Asia. I am almost always energetic and in good shape within a day. Jetlag is caused just as much by a disruption of your meal times as it is your sleep cycles. Dehydration is also a hidden factor.

No matter what you do, the first day at destination is difficult, especially when returning to the United States. The journey itself is very tiring. But with my program, you will have a fighting chance against the debilitating affects of jetlag. Also, when you step off the airplane you will feel light on your feet and lucid. I developed this program based on several jetlag studies, speaking to international business travelers, and by reading airline pilot blogs. I also had a recent conversation with a head flight attendant on JAL who said that she and her colleagues employ similar techniques when they travel overseas.

Good luck!

A disclaimer: this program cannot prevent jetlag: there is no getting around the fact that our bodies need a few days to adjust when traveling across multiple time zones. What my program does (hopefully) is to shorten the adjustment period.