Here's how to tailor your jet lag strategy to suit each trip

Here's how to tailor your jet lag strategy to suit each trip

When it comes to jet lag, a proactive approach to managing it is better than a reactive one: there's nothing worse than yawning in the middle of an important business meeting, regardless of how far you've flown to get there.

As somebody who regularly travels long distances for work, over the years, I've developed my own strategies for taking control of jet lag: because without them, jet lag would easily take control of me.

Central to my approach is planning my sleep ahead of time based on the needs of each journey, which by extension, also means mapping out in advance when to work, dine and relax on each flight, or at least having a rough idea.

Here are some of the steps that I personally take to deal with jet lag across a variety of routes, and as you'll see, the approach isn't the same on every flight.

Handling jet lag on flights between Asia and Australia

With a time difference of just 2-3 hours between Australia's east coast and many points in Asia, I find these flights the easiest to manage because night-time abroad is night-time back home, so it's as simple as sleeping at night and staying awake during the day.

That said, when taking overnight flights I do what I can to maximise my rest on board, to keep my schedule as 'normal' as possible.

This generally means eating dinner on the ground – either out and about in the city I'm departing from or in an airport lounge, depending on my schedule and boarding time – and once on board, changing straight into pyjamas and heading to bed, skipping the inflight meal service: I wouldn't eat two dinners at home, and being in a plane doesn't change that.

Whether I wake for breakfast before landing generally depends on how much sleep I need: because hey, I know what an omelette tastes like, and can easily make one after returning home!

Living in Brisbane, I don't routinely fly from Perth to Asia, but if I did, the same logic of sleeping at night would apply.

Tackling jet lag on those Australia-Los Angeles flights

With many flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to LA departing before lunch and reaching California early in the morning after 13-14 hours of flying, this one takes a little more planning, because my strategy here is to make sure I'm tired enough to actually get some sleep on the flight, at what would only be afternoon or early evening back home.

To achieve this, I'll either stay up late the night before I fly or wake up earlier than usual on the day of travel, so that I'll have had some sleep, but not enough to be perfectly-rested.

This allows me to stay awake for the first 3-6 hours of the flight – enjoying lunch, getting some work done or perhaps watching a good movie – after which I'm ready to doze until breakfast, and arrive ready to begin the busy day ahead.

When connecting onward to other places like New York, which tend to be daytime flights, I'll try to plant myself near a window so that I can keep the shutter open for some lovely natural light until reaching the US east coast early in the evening, when it's time for dinner and then bed, at a time when I'm already feeling sleepy.

Taming jet lag on flights between Australia and Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai

If I had to pick a 'favourite' route for managing jet lag effectively, it'd have to be those from Australia to the Middle East, especially on flights departing in the evenings and touching down early in the morning local time.

Rather than having dinner on the ground as I would with an Asian overnight flight, I can still enjoy a full dinner on board, kick back with something to watch and then go to bed: and for me, staying 'up late' like this is much easier than going to bed early, because when I do want to get some rest, I'm already tired enough.

Onward connections to Europe are a breeze when following the same plan, because they'll generally depart in the mornings from Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai and land in the afternoon or early evening in places like London or Paris, so it's easy to stay awake on those shorter flights and rest in a proper bed on the ground.

Returning home from the Middle East is a little trickier, especially on evening departures: here, I'll try and sleep straight after take-off, skipping all onboard service, and taking advantage of dine-on-demand menus where available to have breakfast and other meals when it suits me later in the flight.

Read: How 'dine on demand' inflight meals can help you beat jet lag

And then there's Europe...

There are plenty of ways to reach Europe beyond transiting through one of the 'big three' Gulf hubs, but with flight times and schedules varying greatly between routes and airlines, my strategy here isn't a 'one size fits all' approach.

Instead, I'll consider my departure time from Australia, my arrival time at the other end and the duration of each flight in between, to best-plan when to sleep, and by extension, when to stay awake.

Here are just a few examples from recent travels:

Flying Brisbane-Singapore-Moscow

Being a daytime flight from Australia followed by an overnight service to Russia, planning this journey was simple enough: stay awake during the day, have a late dinner on the second flight and head to bed, waking up for breakfast in the morning local Moscow time, ready to explore the city.

Flying Helsinki-Hong Kong-Brisbane

With two back-to-back overnight flights – the first departing at midnight from Finland, and the second at 9:35pm from Hong Kong – my goal was to get eight hours of sleep across the 24-hour journey, but I knew that staying awake for the entire flight from Helsinki wasn't realistic.

Instead, I deliberately stayed up until around six hours before landing, so that I could get four hours of sleep on the first leg (ahead of the second meal two hours before touchdown), which gave me enough rest to function during my transit time in Hong Kong, and meant I was sleepy – but not too sleepy – on my onward flight, where I had dinner and later dozed off for another 4.5 hours, giving me 8.5 hours all up, and bringing me back to Australian time.

Flying Sydney-Kuala Lumpur-London

Almost the reverse approach to the Moscow journey, an overnight flight from Sydney and an entirely daytime flight onward to London saw me maximising my rest on the first leg (skipping all inflight service, including breakfast) while keeping myself awake on the second, ahead of an arrival into Heathrow at 3:30pm, and reaching my hotel around 5pm.

Arriving tired in the evening works well for me, because I can always stay up for a few hours more and then head to bed for a solid night's sleep, waking up in the morning the next day ready for business.

Over to you, AusBT readers: what are some of your tips for smacking down jet lag on long international flights? Share them with others via the comment box below!

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

21 comments

  • PERflyer

    PERflyer

    1 Feb, 2019 07:43 am

    I have found QF10 in business provides the best sleep opportunity and jet lag adjustment ex Europe to Aus. My recent experience is a quality 8 hours of uninterupted sleep a few hours into the flight after the first service and then waking up on my own before the final service and landing.
    The 16 hour flight means no awkward wake up for the final service and landing after only 4 hours or so sleep on the traditional 2 x leg SIN/DXB stops. Travelling to MEL a quick shower in Perth transit lounge and then sleep that night worked extremely well for adjustment. I would not have slept or adjusted that well with the middle stop.

    I will add though I think QF10 is better than other options in Business only. It would be a struggle for economy or premium economy which is just so much less comfortable than the 380 even with the awkward middle stop.
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  • Aidan

    Aidan

    1 Feb, 2019 08:27 am

    Hey Chris,

    What is your strategy for the night flight to LAX ?
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    1 Feb, 2019 10:33 am

    Hi Aidan, I've not done QF95 since being retimed from an afternoon flight, or VA9 (the two that now routinely depart Australia late evening), but if those popped up on my flying calendar I'd probably try to eat dinner on the ground at the airport, hop on board and go straight to bed after take-off, wake after about 6 hours of sleep at what'd be around lunch time local LA time (rested, but not too rested), meaning I'd be functional enough during the day but sleepy enough at night. Would be an interesting one to try!

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  • GB18

    GB18

    1 Feb, 2019 08:11 pm

    In the past on VA9 in PE to LAX then an onward connection to Denver I slept in that morning, ate a normal time dinner then after the first meal service I slept for about 6-7 hours then spent the remained of the flight watching IFE.

    By the time I arrived late evening in Denver it was perfect to get a full nights sleep.
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  • kimshep

    kimshep

    2 Feb, 2019 12:29 pm

    ??? … which is answered succinctly under the paragraph in the article titled "Tackling jet lag on those Australia-Los Angeles flights."
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  • kimshep

    kimshep

    2 Feb, 2019 12:42 pm

    occurring during daytime. I accidentally clicked on POST when scrolling up to also find the Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai strategy for evening flights ex East Coast Australia, which is different ie: a reverse strategy - but in any case, Chris has been kind enough to embellish his commentary here directly.
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  • brettepi

    brettepi

    1 Feb, 2019 10:04 am

    i find if i try stay up late the night before a long flight, i end up feeling worse as i dont sleep well on planes no matter what even in business class.
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  • MHG

    MHG

    1 Feb, 2019 02:17 pm

    My tip is to set your watch to the destination time, especially on long haul. Therefore if landing in LA at 7pm local time, try and stay awake from 10am, and by the time you land and transit, you will be ready for bed in LA. Works for me.
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  • pwl

    pwl

    1 Feb, 2019 02:55 pm

    I have 2 gripes about the ways airlines operate flights these days that impact my ability to "pre-manage" jet lag:

    1. meal times are scheduled around local takeoff/landing times, rather than in sync with the destination. for example my last flight HKG->JFK set off around 1am, and served dinner ~1.5 hours later , skipped "breakfast" halfway through the 15 hour flight, then served "lunch" at the US time equivalent of 9:30am.
    2. the pathological need to keep window shades down & the cabin in total darkness, even when flying north-south within asia during the day. obviously this (like the meal timings) is about keeping the cattle passengers docile , but it really screws up body clocks.
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    glenny g

  • Tristan

    tris06

    1 Feb, 2019 05:22 pm

    I always found sleep or getting more rest for the next day is always far easier going east to west. Maybe it is more of a mental thing I always feel like I don't have enough time to sleep on the east bound flight (stupid I know) where west bound I know the evening will be nice and long.

    A bigger issue is getting comfortable in the flat bed. I tend to sleep on my front or side. Having to keep a belt on does not make that easy.

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  • Ric OSHEA

    holden

    1 Feb, 2019 07:01 pm

    There's QF9 which I'll be traveling on in mid April. It leaves PER at about 7:00 pm local time and lands at LHR at 5:00 am in the morning. I've got 16 hours in the air and it's how I break up the eight hours of sleep and the eight hours awake that I'm interested in. Thanks to a previous post which has told me how to do the return.
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  • Himeno

    Himeno

    1 Feb, 2019 08:33 pm

    I plan based on arrival time and length of flight. Set my watch to the arriving timezone when boarding and plan sleep according to that. Sometimes that means I need to have a short sleep the night before leaving, but that often isn't a problem since I normally have to get up early to get the first flight out of CBR anyway.

    The only times I have problems after arriving is when it's been a short ~6 hour or less overnight flight changing 1-2 timezones (eg SIN-TYO) or when I don't have a good seat and can't get comfortable on the flight.

    I haven't had anything that could be considered "jet lag" for around 8 years. At most it's just been a lack of sleep, such as only getting 4 hours sleep in 2 days, which a short nap normally fixes.
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  • Andrew Lowe

    Zippy

    1 Feb, 2019 08:45 pm

    Terrific advice Chris when you have the luxury of Business or even Premium Economy, but there are plenty of us doing vast mileage as start-up founders in cattle class on the cheapest fare type we can manage. As a Platinum VA flyer- I’ve never once been offered an upgrade (probably due to my cheap fare type), so how about some tips for how to ‘cope in cattle’ with jet lag?
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  • David Flynn

    David

    2 Feb, 2019 01:20 am

    Pills. Take all the pills.
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  • Spy

    Spy

    1 Feb, 2019 09:58 pm

    One word: zolpidem.
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  • Trevor Smith

    trevorsmith1966

    1 Feb, 2019 10:14 pm

    I fly MEL-HKG-ORD or MEL-HKG-CDG or MAD. As Chris said it is all about the planning. I try to fly MEL to HKG overnight, spend a day and night in HKG then the onward leg. Whilst HKG-ORD departs near midday and the HKG departs near midnight, I plan to be awake doing work or movies for the first 6 hours. It is hard for the MAD flights but it is very rewarding to get a great 7 hours sleep. You need it arriving into MAD at around 7am. Flying to ORD is a little different as you arrive in the afternoon do if i get 5 hours on the plan I can push through and have a 10pm bedtime the first night in ORD.
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  • Russjking

    Russjking

    2 Feb, 2019 02:09 am

    I try and fly night flights as it’s not wasting time: I’d be asleep anyway.
    I set my watch to arrival time and act accordingly. Seems to work for me.
    SQ seem to serve the second meal SIN to LHR galf way through which doesn’t help biorhythms.
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  • Fraser007

    Fraser007

    2 Feb, 2019 08:48 am

    Flew QF9 recently. Annoyed with stop over on a number of occasions (Dubai fog and consequent delays etc) so it was bizarre to experience leaving Aus and arriving destination with no stop. We connected via Mel to pick up the QF9, so we were tired upon leaving Perth. Plenty of time to settle in, eat, watch a movie, 8 hours sleep, and wake with 4 hours or so left, another movie, breakfast and you're there. For me, it's a no brainer, particularly with flight times, Y seats, and with the departure port originally home, it's like just starting another domestic flight...
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  • IAN ASSUMPTION

    ian62

    2 Feb, 2019 05:00 pm

    Another "z" solution - zopiclone (although you are left with a bitter Campari-like taste for a few hours on waking); this can fit in neatly with Chris's ideas if you need to sleep but the brain says no!


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  • tony walker

    tonyw

    2 Feb, 2019 06:00 pm

    tris06 is correct.
    The reason that east to west is easier is biological. The human body clock likes a 25 hr day (roughly, and varies with lunar cycles). If you fly west, say 2 time zones, and stop, your watch says your day has been 24 hours +2 hours. Your body says your day has been "1 day" + 1 hour. No problem, it has to deal with a 1 hour shift every day!
    Fly east, say 2 time zones and stop, your watch says your day has been 24 hours - 2 hours. Your body says "1 "day" MINUS 3 hours! WHOA! 3 times the normal problem!
    Consider RTW? especially if you need / want to go via America anyway
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  • John Goss

    Travelwell

    3 Feb, 2019 10:42 pm

    Wish I could flick the sleep switch on and off like Chris. Like others here I don't particularly sleep well in any class on planes nor do east west vs west east flights make much difference to me. I personally find the little bit of excitement/adrenaline abroad makes it better for me as opposed to returning home normality. Bad sleeper that I am, I prefer either late flight where the tiredness means I will eventually drop off rather than a morning flight where I am normally awake for the next 16 hours. Favourite time of arrival is late afternoon as clearing customs/luggage hotel transfer/check in means straight away ready for dinner shower and bed as opposed to having to stay up zombie like all day. Of course it doesn't always work out that way. Prescription grade Melatonin I found helps. Wish my flights were to Asia where there's negligible. Ive also found were all a little bit different to handling jetlag so trail and error. One things for sure, totally agree with Chris on meal times and alcohol does one no favours even though there's some nice drops on planes these days.
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Guest

25 Jun, 2019 12:14 pm

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