Beating jet lag

I'm flying from the west coast at 7pm and arriving in Frankfurt at 1:50pm local time. I thought I would get up a few hours early on my travel day and the day before, go to bed late on both nights, and then take a few melatonin tablets right before I get on the plane so I could get in a good nap. Any other suggestions for beating jet lag and getting my body onto European time? I will be working up to and including the day I travel.

Posted by Roy
Auburn, AL
804 posts

Try the melatonin tabliets a time or two before your trip. I had a terrible headache after taking melatonin. That is not something I would want to endure on a flight.

Posted by Toni
Long Beach, CA, USA
356 posts

everybody has their own little "tricks" that seem to work for them I personally sleep on the plane when possible, it's never a long solid sleep but a little here and there helps and passes the time I try to keep hydrated (with water not alcohol :)) when I arrive I just go with whatever local time is maybe going to bed a little earlier than usual I've never really had too much trouble with jet lag, my body tends to adapt rather quickly. Listen to your body when you are travelling, if you are feeling really tired or run down try to get a nap or go to bed early. I'm a big believer in eating right and excerise (though I don't excerise too hard on Europe trips, just lots of walking) too so that seems to help
my partner swears my Melatonin, takes it every night

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

Roy is right about melatonin. I swear by it, but it is potent stuff, and it affects people differently. So do try it out in advance.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

I take one melatonin or a Tylenol PM when I get on the plane. It's enough to help me doze off and not leave me groggy when I get off the plane. Once I arrive, I stay active (and outside, if possible), and try to stay awake until as close to my normal bedtime as I can. When I get up the next day, I am fine. I find it harder to adjust coming back.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

As others said, many people have their own personalized techniques that they have developed through trial and error. You can follow my exact routine, and it may or may not work for you. Realize, too, that jet lag isn't just a lack of sleep, but it's also a disruption of your normal circadian sleep/wake cycle. Your body uses the sun as a cue to set your cycle, so getting ample sun can help speed up the re-adjustment a bit. That's why it usually takes longer to adjust in the winter than in the summer. My strategy? One and half tablets of ambien as the flight takes off. The sleep I get isn't so much to be fresh when I arrive (although it helps me slog through the first morning), but to doze away a long flight. I either take a brief nap or go to bed early the first night and sleep late the next day. By day two, I'm usually more or less adjusted. Rather than taking stranger's advice who don't know your medical history, ask your doctor about a sleep aid. Make sure you know how it will effect you before you travel. You will want to balance the conflicting goals of taking enough to help you sleep through the flight versus not being zonked when you land. Bottom line- most people can't completely avoid the effects of jet lag. It's a fact of life, but it can be managed.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Tom makes a good point, there is a difference between travel fatique and jet lag, people often lump them together or confuse them. Obviously I am in same boat as you for flying to Europe,, complicated by flying out of Vancouver sometimes ,,meaning a long day just getting to airport, drive, ferry, drive to airport,, so yeah, our 10-12 hour flights equal 20 or more hours of travel sometimes with layovers etc, and we can only sleep for the last 9-10 hours on the plane,, ha! I find best to do what most have suggested, sleep on plane, I take various stuff, melatonin works for some but its not strong enough for me,, my doctor was the one who originally suggested it for one of my teens, you can get it anywhere, Safeways, Thriftys etc,, in health supplements and vitamin section. Its not a narcotic, so will not leave you groggy,, but it only helps to put a person to sleep, it does not help one maintain sleep,, and on a plane that can be tough.
I also make a point of living on local time when I arrive,, so no naps,, and I try to stay up till at least 9 pm,, hard to do when your body is telling you to go to bed hours before that. Truth is,, most of adjust after 2 or so days( as I age I find it take longer) so I try not to plan to busy of a first and second day, try to stay out in sunshine, and drink lots of water on plane( but hey, then one has to go to washroom alot, not good for sleep, so its just tough) Sorry to let you in on this downer,, I find it harder coming home then going,, lol so try not to have to work for day or two after returning.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I experienced horrible jet lag on my flight over here. I think the problems were twofold: 1) I was completely exhausted to begin with - had been getting 3-5 hours a sleep for several nights. 2) Being so tired when I got here, I went to sleep at about 6pm (normally a nightowl who never goes to bed before 11pm at the earliest). The result was a week of being wide awake in bed at 2am, and fitfully trying to get a few more hours of sleep before finally getting up much earlier than needed, and then of course being exhausted and wanting to sleep by 3pm each day. So I would not try to skip out on sleep hoping it will make you sleep on the plane. Because if you can't sleep on the plane - and who really can sleep well on one? - you will just be adding to your overall exhaustion. Since you're on the west coast, it's not probably practical for you to try to shift your sleep schedule to going to bed earlier and getting up earlier like it might be for someone on the east coast with less of a time difference. My best advice is just to be well rested when you depart, try to sleep on the plane if possible but don't worry if you can't (and maybe a sleep aid?), and when you get here try to stay up at least to a 'normal-ish' bedtime, with no napping. We forced 3 different sets of visitors into this plan this year and they all suffered minimally from jet lag and felt pretty "normal" by day 2. If you attempt to nap once you get here, you risk confusing your body rhymns more (and just falling into a real deep sleep) and if you go to bed too early you won't be adjusting and will be waking up in the very early AM even if you're tired.

Posted by Mme Eli
XXX
1170 posts

We try to eat right, continue exercising up to the day before our flight, and try to sleep at home. Once on the plane, sleep is generally out except for a few naps in between. Neither my husband, children nor myself can stay up all day wherever it is we landed without a couple hours shut eye at the hotel. We have tried and were so miserable that it was worth sleeping for 2 hours (deep sleep) and distressing ourselves to get up, shower, get something light to eat and then walk around until we couldn't stand it anymore, and bedtime around 9 p.m. for the latest. In December, we arrived at CDG around 7:30 a.m. and got to our hotel before 11:00 a.m. No way I could spend all day sightseeing. Don't know how other folks can take the tour bus, we can't.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

My first couple of trips to Europe I had terrible jetlag that lasted for several days. I've tried all the pills and suggestions. Now I usually stay at an airport hotel the night before, so I'm not exhausted already by my trip to the airport. From where I live, it takes a couple of hours to get to SFO. On the plane I avoid caffeine and alcohol. As soon as dinner service is over I take a prescription sleeping pill and attempt to sleep for a few hours. Usually I get some sleep. The first day on the ground in London, I head for my hotel and attempt to get into my reserved room. Usually I just leave my luggage there and wander the St Pancras/KingsCross area and train stations. St Pancras is full of cafes, shops, grocery stores, etc. I eat, read papers, visit the public library nearby to check my email, top up my Oyster at a local store, and generally kill time until noon or so. Once in my room, I nap some, spend the rest of the day doing not much, then turn the lights out at around 10 pm after taking a sleeping pill. By day 2, I am ready to take the Eurostar to Paris. From then on, jetlag is not a problem

Posted by Elaine
Mission Viejo, Calif., USA
783 posts

My husband and I always carry "No Jet Lag" pills. You can get them at the Magellan Travel Stores (California) or on-line. They are not a medicine, just a supplement. We have used them for the past seven years and think they are great. You can go to Magellan.com and see the pills. You chew one on take-off, one every two hours and one as you land. If you fall asleep, as on a long European flight, you can go up to four hours without taking a pill. They are super tiny and melt in your mouth.

Posted by Richard
Raton
44 posts

I agree with most the others: Don't overeat day before and eat even lighter day of your flight. Sleep on the plane (preferably without pills! You don't want to be surprised by unwanted side effects after you land!) Drink lots of water on the plane (no alcohol!); besides, it will force you to get up and stretch your legs on the way to the restroom! When you land, hit the ground running and don't look back! I landed at 5:00am in Frankfurt after only 3 or 4 hours of sleep on plane; jumped in a rental car, and didn't hit the pillow until 10:00pm (this was in late May, so sun didn't go down til after 9:00) The excitement of the trip will keep you awake. I agree with whoever said to keep active and walking. Get good night's sleep that first night, and get up again early next day. Having said all that . . . my worst jetlag is always coming BACK to the U.S. I'm dragging for three days getting re-acclimated!

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1590 posts

Not sure what Elaine means when she says No Jet Lag is a supplement, not a medicine. It is a homeopathic medicine, and contains five plant extracts, including ipecac ( yes, the stuff used to induce vomiting in poison victims). The good news is the extracts are diluted 30X, which in homeopathy terms means the extracts are diluted 1:100 , thirty times. In other words, there is nothing left. You are paying $10 to $15 for some sorbitol, silicon dioxide, and magnesium stearate. If that does the trick for you, great. Call it the placebo effect.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11274 posts

You have two problems with flying from here to Europe. One is travel fatigue, which is the result of not getting enough sleep and of dehydration, etc. The other is called dis-synchronization, which is the result of your circadian clock not being in synch with the new time zone. All the "remedies" suggested have addressed travel fatigue, not dis-synchronization. But travel fatigue is a real problem, too. I know of only two real remedies for dis-synchronization - time and daylight. It's going to take a few day for your circadian rhythms to synchronize to the new time, but getting out into the sunshine, when your body thinks it should be dark, will help. A walk in the morning helps; by afternoon it's daylight back home, so a walk doesn't help. Getting some sleep on the plane helps. I find a few glasses of wine (not hard stuff - don't get drunk) helps me relax and get that sleep. I also find that taking a short nap (~1½ hrs) before dinner helps me stay awake until bedtime. I took melatonin with me on one trip, but no one seemed to know if I was to take it when I got on the plane, to sleep, or when I got there, to stay awake, so I didn't use it. I have no idea if it will help. It might be more useful for combating travel fatigue than for adjusting circadian rhythms.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

Lee makes an important distinction. However, melatonin, which is discussed in this thread, can reset your circadian clock and be a true remedy for jet lag, not just travel fatigue.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Ipecac? Yikes. I'm with Lee, have a couple of glasses of wine on the plane, and I sleep. No pills for me. We generally fly to Zürich and arrive around 5:00 pm, so we go for a walk, have a light dinner, and go to bed around 10 pm local time (1 pm at home). We generally wake up pretty early the next morning, but otherwise change our internal clocks pretty quickly.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Meletonin is something our bodies naturally produce,, its helps induce sleep because it stimulates our body clocks into thinking time to sleep now. It is naturally occuring in TURKEY meat as well as some other foods, ( think of how tired everyone feels after a big turkey dinner, its not just being "full") . Sources from food are minimal though, and eating alot before a trip where you are sitting for hours is a bad idea(hard to digest) so taking a melatonin in pill form helps. Although it is a naturally occurring substance it is now mostly sold in a lab created form, they used to use meletonin derived from animal sources, but thats hard to regulate, so now what you will get is sythasized( sorry about spelling) . As i said, it is not a narcotic, so has not been known to leave any after groggy feel, and will only help you get to sleep, not stay asleep, but thats enough for many people. And, as I said, its not strong enough for me,, the noise and distraction on a plane makes sleep very difficult for me,, so being a bit sleepy isn't enough! Everyone is different though, so best advice is to : a) talk to your doctor b) try whatever he suggests or gives you AHEAD of trip,,even regular medicines affect some people differently c) avoid alcohol , drink water d) get out in sunlight and walk around And i especially like some of the other posters points about not letting yourself get exhausted before the trip, ( remember how when little kids get too tired they have a hard time falling asleep some times) . Its often not as easy as it sounds, those last few days at home can run a person ragged, many sure all last details are settled( mail pick up, house clean, work in order etc) as many days in advance as possilbe so last day at home is not really stressful( no waiting to pick up new passport or shoes at last minute, lol )
good luck.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8756 posts

I think you will find (parenthetically) that it is not Melatonin in turkey that sleeps you ... it is a little chappie called "l-tryptophan"

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Tryptophan, an amino acid, is a precurser to melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. Tryptophan itself used to be prescribed as a sleep aid (my mom used to take it), but it was banned in the US in 1991 after an outbreak of eosinophilia caused by a contaminated batch. Now you can buy melatonin in pill form instead (but not in Europe, or at least in Switzerland.) It apparently is good for inducing sleep. But using it to adjust your body clock requires proper timing, skill and advice from your doctor, not advice read on a travel board. I'll just stick with the glass of wine.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Well I think saying taking Melatonin needs "skill timing and advice from your doctor" is a bit of over kill,, I just got the suggestion from our family doctor years ago, he said, " just get some melatonin and take it",, no blah blah about it needing skill and timing, lol Here it is available anywhere, like grocers and stuff. I am pretty sure most doctors would however recommend against using alcohol when flying to induce sleep though. Its a drug too you know,, and here you can't get that anywhere!!!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Pat, I meant that it takes skill and timing if you want to use melatonin to adjust your body clock to a new time zone. You can't just take it willy-nilly and hope it will work. If you just want to take it to help you sleep on the plane then no, you don't need special advice. But keep in mind that it is a hormone, potentially a powerful one. It affects many body systems besides sleep. As for the wine, as long as one counteracts the dehydrating effect of the alcohol, and keeps it to moderation, I think it's fine (speaking for myself and my husband, as well as just about everyone we know). Wine with dinner is part of our vacation routine, and since we board a flight here in Seattle around 6 pm, and then have dinner, it would be contrary to our routine to skip it. I'm not going to do that just because some people on a travel board say "avoid alcohol" in the same breath as "How to avoid jet lag". My jetlag avoidance plan actually has more to do with the timing of the flights than anything else. Going to Europe and back we have that pretty well figured out. The only time I have ever experienced serious jetlag was on returning from Japan, which was a loooong flight at the wrong time of day (left there mid-morning.)

Posted by Kelly
Vancouver
10 posts

I do the same try to stay up really late the night before I travel and then I have one glass of red wine on the plane which knocks me out completely . Everyone says no alcohol but it works for me!

Posted by trudy
San Antonio, Texas, USA
20 posts

WORST headache in my life after taking melatonin!! Will never take it again!!

Posted by Tammie
Portland, OR
17 posts

Since you're leaving in the evening, it will be easier for you to get a little nap in on the plane (if you can sleep on planes, I can't). If you can, get a window seat and once you start heading into the sunrise, open the shade. The natural light will trigger your brain to wake up in a natural way. On the plane, drink as much water or juice as possible to stay hydrated. Most of the crappy feeling from jet lag is simple dehydration. Have a drink or two, but limit it to that. Regardless of what most people say, I take a nap soon after I arrive to the hotel room. Not a long nap! Set the alarm or get a wake up call. Sleep maybe an hour to freshen your brain and take a shower to freshen your body. You'll feel pretty normal until bedtime. After this nap, do not succumb to the temptation to nap any more (unless lounging on a beach - haha). Stick to your normal schedule on Frankfurt time (if you go to bed at 11pm at home, go to bed at 11 pm in Frankfurt time). It's the best way to force your body to adapt to the time difference. I find I always wake up about 2am local time the first night when I go to Europe and am awake for a couple hours. It's annoying, but tends to only happen that first night. As other people say, within 24 to 48 hours your brain will sort it all out whether you take supplements or not. (I also am on the west coast so I have that 8-9 hour time difference to deal with)

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1414 posts

You know what makes the jet lag from a flight to Europe easy to take? A few flights to southeast Asia. Having now lived through some excruciatingly long flights (Seattle to remote eastern Indonesia - by way of Tokyo, Bangkok and Jakarta), I'm now looking at a mere 8 hours to Europe this spring as a piece of cake. It's all about how much suffering you're used to...