Minimising Transatlantic Jet Lag

Minimising Transatlantic Jet Lag

Earlier this week I met up with some American friends on their first evening in London. The adults were doing great, and the children did a stellar job of managing not to fall asleep in their dinner, but they were all feeling the effects of the dreaded Transatlantic jet lag. In a former life, I was back and forth across the Atlantic a lot and developed a system that really works for me in terms of avoiding the worst effects of jet lag. I tried it out again on a recent trip to the US and it still works, so here are my top tips on minimizing the effects of Transatlantic Jet Lag.

UK to US

Plan your flights to arrive at your destination during the evening. This normally means leaving the UK sometime between 11am – 2 pm depending on which time zone you are flying into and whether you have a connecting flight. If you possibly can, avoid having to get up too early that morning to catch your flight. You will just be making a long day even longer.

I find arriving between 5pm and 7.30pm is ideal. In the summer there is still plenty of daylight around, so your brain knows it’s daytime, even though your body is screaming its the middle of the night. You have time to relax after your flight, ideally eat some dinner and have a wander around to stretch your legs.

Don’t go to bed until 10pm at the earliest, even if you are exhausted. You will only wake up in the early hours of the morning.

I find this normally works out great for me. I rarely wake before 6am and provided any thoughts of napping are banished the next day, I feel fine through until a normal bedtime. I have then established a night sleep pattern in the new time zone.

Top Tip – if you are travelling with someone who is a real lark (or you are one and your travel partner is an owl), make sure you have laid out sufficient clothes etc so they can quietly leave the room and go and grab a coffee without disturbing anyone still sleeping. My husband invariably wakes before I do, so we either try and rent a room with a separate sitting area for our first night in the US, or put his clothes and kindle somewhere he can grab them quietly and creep out. He is good at taking a brief nap in the afternoon to make up for his lost sleep. I am not. Our system saves a lot of tried grumpiness.


US to UK

I have two different options here, depending on whether you are someone who can sleep on planes or not.

If you are not good at sleeping on planes.

Book your flight to land as early as possible UK time. This will still be firmly nighttime US time when you land. Get yourself somewhere you can go to bed asap.

If you are a returning Brit who lives a long journey from the airport, consider booking a day room at an airport hotel. I have done this a lot. It means you can crawl straight into bed and worry about the rest of the day once you have had some much needed sleep. Well worth the cash in my opinion.

If you are an arriving American booking into a hotel at the start of your trip, request early check in when you book your hotel and call them the day before to request it again. You will probably not have a guarantee, but it is your best shot. If you are travelling a long way to your hotel, consider booking a day room at an airport hotel too. This is an especially good idea if you intend to drive anywhere!

Set an alarm so that you get no more than 4 hours sleep, and never sleep beyond 1.30pm. You may well feel a little groggy when you wake up, but if you sleep for as long as you want, your body clock will still be firmly in a US time zone. Have lunch when you wake up rather than breakfast and work on convincing yourself it is the middle of the day.

I find the short sleep means that I am awake enough to feel good for the rest of the day, and tired enough to go to sleep sometime between 10-11pm UK time. I can then sleep through until a normal waking time in the morning. The next day I generally feel fine and am back into a UK timeframe.

If you can sleep on planes

If you are one of these people who manages to crash out as soon as the wheels lift, I am very jealous, and have some different advice. Book a flight leaving the US as late as possible. This gives you your best chance of a decent sleep as you are likely to be trying to sleep at your normal time and the cabin tends to be quieter on later flights.

Once you have landed in the UK, get on with enjoying your day. If you are checking into a hotel, I would still request early check in so that you can shower and change as this always feels good after a long flight.

My best advice for the rest of the day is avoid napping and push on through until at least 10pm. The more active you can be the better. Eat meals according to local, rather than body clock time. You will feel tired come early evening, having had a short night’s sleep, but provided you stick it out you will be great the next day.


General Tips

A lot of the effects of jet lag are what is in your head

– set your watch to the time at your destination when you board the plane and start thinking about that as being the time

– avoid thinking about whatever the time is in the place you have just come from

– eat meals according to local rather then body clock time

– blackout blinds / curtains / drapes are invaluable if you are trying to sleep during daylight hours