By Joel Centano
Senior Editor, Virtuoso Traveler
It’s midday in the destination of your dreams. The sun is shining. Sites you’ve waited years to see are calling.
But after a full night spent staring at your hotel room’s ceiling, your body is dragging. Your internal clock is signaling that it’s time to sleep.
The modern miracle of air travel makes it possible to soar to the other side of the world in a matter of hours. But the swift traversing of time zones can take a serious toll, resulting in everything from insomnia and exhaustion to headaches, nausea, and disorientation.
No doubt: Jet lag, aka “circadian desynchrony” in medical circles, can be a beast. But it’s one that can – and should – be tamed for the sake of your vacation. How? Follow these 10 simple steps, with sage advice from Virtuoso travel advisors.
1. Rest Assured
To deal with jet lag, preemptive strikes are often the most potent. “Getting a good night’s sleep before the trip will dramatically help your body maintain its energy levels while traveling,” says Paôla Mansur, a Virtuoso travel advisor based in São Paulo.
Also de-stress, exercise, and get your affairs in order before flying. All of those will help you sleep on the plane and in your hotel room when the time is right (read on).
2. Synchronize from the Start
Jet lag rule of thumb Number 1: For each time zone you cross, it can take your body up to one day to adjust to the local time. The cure?
“Set your watch to your destination time when you board the plane and act as if you’re already in that time zone,” says Long Beach, California-based advisor John Oberacker. “If it’s night there, try to sleep. If it’s day, do your best to stay awake.”
Sleep experts also recommend rising and going to bed earlier several days prior to a trip heading east and later when traveling west. To deal with jet lag, you can also shift meal times to sync with dining hours in your future destination.
3. Fly Well to Deal with Jet Lag
For any long-distance flight, comfort is key. The more R&R you get in flight, the better you’ll deal with jet lag. “Flying business or first class will help you rest and be ready for your travels,” notes advisor Mary Ann Ramsey of Naples, Florida.
Remember, too, that sleep aids such as eye masks, earplugs, neck pillows, and noise-reducing headphones are your friends. Need more help? “Consult your doctor about a light drowsy medication like Benadryl for an overnight flight,” recommends New York City-based advisor Jack Ezon. Natural remedies such as melatonin are also purported to induce sleep and speed up the resynchronization process in your new time zone.
4. Break up Your Itinerary
Lisa Leavitt, a Boston-based advisor and mother of two teenagers, also recommends (if it’s feasible) an overnight layover en route to your ultimate destination. “During my recent family vacation to Hawaii,” she notes, “I arranged flights with an overnight hotel stay in San Francisco, which significantly lessened our jet lag.”
5. Just Say No
You may love your coffee after dinner. Or your glass of wine with dinner to take the edge off flying. But for 12 hours before, as well as during, your flight, “stay away from caffeine and alcohol,” says Phoenix-based advisor Judi Glass. “Both dehydrate you, which makes jet lag worse.”
Instead, she advises, drink lots of water to deal with jet lag. Experts recommend at least eight ounces for every hour in flight. Other tips for staying hydrated? Carry on moisturizing lotion, lip balm, and a hydrating spray with essential oils. In TSA-approved sizes, of course.
6. Quit Kidding Around
“For younger children, bring pajamas on every overnight flight,” says Ezon, a father of four. “Not only will it help get kids into sleep mode, but it also helps them feel fresh when they wake and change clothes.”
When it’s time for bed, he adds, “collect their iPads and shut off the personal TVs. And on shorter overnight flights, don’t even look at the movie list. Go right to sleep!”
7. Stick Your Landing
For daytime arrivals, stay active and, at all costs, wait until nighttime to sleep. Be sure to spend time in the sunlight as well. This will help you deal with jet lag by adjusting your internal clock to your new surroundings. “If you land in the morning,” adds Ramsey, “schedule a private car and driver so you can sightsee at your own pace.”
To ward off potential meltdowns in little ones? “If you have access to a pool, hop in the water, or do a family hike or run,” says Ezon. “And though I normally forbid soda, I always keep a few Cokes on hand for a caffeine rush when my kids get tired and cranky the first few days. It’s a life saver.”
8. Hit the Spa …
Massages and spa treatments – especially during (think airport massages) and at the beginning of your trip – are essential to deal with jet lag, advises Mansur. Many hotels also offer special jet-lag-centric treatments that promote circulation, detoxification, and relaxation. Consider the spa at Bulgari Hotel Milan. It provides a Jet Lag Recovery experience that includes a detoxifying salt scrub, Balinese hot-stone massage, hydrating eye treatment, and refining clay body wrap.
At Park Hyatt New York, Spa Nalai’s new Jet Lag Therapy remedies swelling, bloating, and body water retention, along with shoulder and back pain built up over long flights. Light therapy can also be a savior to deal with jet lag. The Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa in Bath, England helps banish it with Haslauer Reflective Sunlight Therapy. The treatment offers the benefits of natural sunlight and vitamin D.
9. … Then Sleep on It
When it’s time to sleep, sleep with abandon. Ask your Virtuoso travel advisor to book hotels that are committed to helping you catch some Z’s, such as Las Vegas’ The Signature at MGM Grand. The hotel offers Stay Well rooms with dawn simulator alarm clocks, lighting that resets wake-sleep cycles, and aromatherapy diffusers.
In Abu Dhabi, butlers at Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara prepare candlelit evening baths infused with calming essential oils. The hotel also provides guests with eye masks, earplugs, and special beds that relieve pressure points.
10. Stay Strong
There’s no sure-fire way to deal with jet lag. But taking the above steps should help lessen its effects. If all else fails, however, think mind over matter. Will yourself awake and remember: This may be the last time you’re in your dream destination. There will be plenty of time to sleep during your return flight home.