We’ve endured enough nine and 10-hour flights to know: Time changes can wreak havoc on your system. Fortunately, though, we’ve pieced together some advice on how to navigate the upside-down schedules that travel often necessitates. Start with these and we (almost) guarantee a smoother trek — wherever in the world you’re headed.
1: Retool your schedule on the ground.
Preparation for a new time zone begins before you even leave your house. If possible, rework your schedule slowly so that it more closely aligns with the time zone of your destination. For example, if you’re heading to Europe from the U.S. (approximately an eight-hour difference), head to bed an hour later and wake up an hour later each day for three to four days. This may be a challenge given work requirements, but whatever you can do to slowly adjust to a new schedule will be helpful. (Also, you don’t have to shift over to new time zone schedule completely; acclimating to even a few hours’ difference will help once you land.)
2: Reset your watch (and/or clocks) early.
It’s hard to over-emphasize our dependence on time. We’re constantly checking our watches, phones, and clocks — even when we’re not aware of it. To help adjust to a new time zone, then, make a point to change at least one of your time pieces to the hour you’ll be on at your destination. This will help you get used to the time difference and mentally prepare for the shift.
3: Avoid caffeine or alcohol 24 hours before (and during) your flight.
We strongly encourage you to avoid caffeine and alcohol for the 24-hour-period before your flight — and, for that matter, during your flight. Caffeine artificially boosts your energy, but also causes “crashes”; while you’ve likely learned to navigate these in everyday life, they could make travel to a new time zone difficult. Similarly, alcohol messes with your nervous system, “depressing” you when you want to relax. As with caffeine, however, this makes it that much more difficult for your body to naturally adapt to a new schedule. The biggest caution here, though: Downing a cocktail or three on the flight may seem like a great way to knock you out and help you rest up for your vacation, but it won’t. It will actually dehydrate you and make sleep more difficult.
4: Bring a familiar pillow, blanket, or set of PJs with you.
Our sleep cues are, in large part, tied to both our routines and sleep accessories. If we lay down in bed, our body thinks it’s time to sleep and we start to doze off. It’s no surprise, then, that our favorite sleep gear — pillows, blankets, and PJs — can help us get into the sleep zone regardless of our body’s perception of the time. Give yourself the cue to sleep when night falls at your vacation destination, then, by cozying up with your favorite pillow or blanket. The natural “sleepy time” association you have already created will guide you into pleasant ZZZZZs.
5: Stick to a routine.
Routines are notoriously difficult to maintain on a trip. You can be intentional about certain elements of your routine, however. For example, if you traditionally read a spell before tucking in for the night, do the same abroad. Or, if you like to watch an episode of your favorite TV show as bedtime nears, download a few of them on your phone or tablet and enjoy them just before bed. Whatever your sleep routine at home, try to duplicate this on the road. (Note: This also applies to waking up. Keep your routines as close to what you’re used to as possible and your body will more easily adapt to the time zone change.)
6: Carry some melatonin with you.
We’re not ones for suggesting drugs to help induce restful nights, but melatonin is a natural supplement you can take to help you transition into a state of regular, restful slumber. As always, be sure to check the directions on the package you buy and follow dosing to the letter. Also, be sure you know any interactions it might have with your current medication. (Pro tip: There are melatonin supplements available in gummy form for kids, too, so consider getting some of these if you’re traveling with the fam.)
7: Wear a sleep mask and earplugs.
We wear these at home, so it was kind of a no-brainer to add them to our travel routine. If dealing with time zone change is a hassle for you (or you think it will be), buy a sleep mask and a pair (or bag) of earplugs to help you mimic a quiet, dark environment for sleep. Use them on the plane and in your hotel room/accommodation — even if it’s already dark outside. To help ensure this helps with sleep, begin wearing them during your regular sleep schedule at home; the association created will aid your slumber during travel.
8: Once you land, stay awake until it’s nighttime.
We’ve all been there: arriving as zombies at our destination, desperately tired, wanting nothing more than to curl up in our hotel and fall asleep. The problem is, it’s often still daytime when we land, and this deep-sleeping napping midday makes our transition to a new time zone painfully difficult. We know it’s hard, but do what you can to stay awake when you land until bedtime hits. This will help ensure that your acclimation to the time zone change will happen within 24 hours — instead of over the course of several groggy days.