How to Beat Jet Lag: My Westbound Solution

I’m not a big flier, I’ll admit that.  I hate flying.  I’m not scared of planes, or crashing.  I just don’t like flying.  In fact, I love people watching at airports.  It’s just that airplanes are cramped and loud, it’s incredibly uncomfortable, and then you are usually stuck with a massive bout with jet lag at the end.  Hating flying is one of the main reasons I almost always travel overland, or at least stick to short flights.  In fact, between February 2012 and August 2013 I visited about 35 countries while only taking 4 flights.  However, once I got to Johannesburg, South Africa, it was completely necessary to fly across about 9 time zones to get back home.  Luckily, westbound travel is usually easier.  Even more lucky, I’ve sorted out how to beat jet lag.  Well, at least west bound.

Follow these steps, and beating jet lag is easier than you think.

Preparation

I generally start my jet lag preparation 3 days before flying.  Preparation is simple when heading west, you just stay up a bit longer each night.  The main reason travelling west is easier is because the body naturally has a slightly longer biological clock than 24 hours.  Some say it’s actually 25.  That means that staying up later than usual is easy.  It’s also the reason that if you try to go to bed a couple hours early, you might have a hard time falling asleep.  Remember back to when you were in college, or summer vacation as a kid, and you got yourself in a bad trend of staying up later, and sleeping in later, each day until it got out of control?  That’s what you’re going to do here.  Of course, this is easier done if you have a good travel partner who can keep you entertained at 3am on a Sunday night when everyone else is sleeping.  Preparation isn’t completely necessary, but it will ease the transition.

Beating Jet Lag

I did my jet lag preparation in Durban, South Africa.

Sleep on your Arrival Time

One of the biggest mistakes that airlines make in dealing with jet lag, is that they have you sleep on the departure time.  They do this so they don’t get 500 grumpy passengers. However, it’s going to hurt you in the long run because it kills all preparation you’ve made.  Don’t sleep when they tell you to, sleep at your arrival time, or as close to it as possible.  It used to be harder than it is now.  They used to kill the lights and you’d have nothing to do to keep you awake.  However, now with the personal screens on planes, it’s actually quite easy to stay entertained.  Again, don’t sleep because its sleep time in England, sleep because it’s sleep time in California.

If all else Fails, don’t Sleep

Sleeping on flights messes up your bodies clock, so if you can’t sleep on your arrival time, don’t sleep at all.  Stay awake.  It might mean you have to stay up 24 consecutive hours, but don’t sleep until you’re tired and its time to sleep on their time.  Have you ever gone to an all night party then stayed up during the day?  The next night you fall asleep at 5pm and wake up at 4am?  That’s essentially how you beat jet lag.  Stay awake so long that you sleep at a strange hour.  When you wake up though, you’ll actually be on the right clock.

Eat Small Meals

Like sleep, your eating patterns mesh with your biological clock.  If you eat full meals at the time of your departure city, your clock will stay screwed up.  If you instead just eat small meals, closer to the arrival city meal times, you’ll help out a lot.  If you can, you should also try to adjust your meal times in your preparation stage.

Upon Arrival, don’t Force yourself to Sleep

I’d say the biggest mistake people make when they arrive is they force themselves to sleep because it’s time to sleep at your destination.  If you’re not tired, don’t sleep.  You’ll only lay in bed and actually make things worse.  If you’re not tired, stay awake until you’re exhausted, then take a short sleep and set an alarm for a respectable wake up time in your arrival city.  If you only sleep 3 hours that night, 5am-8am, then by 10pm that night you should be tired again.  You’ll likely crash that night and have zero jet lag effects from then on.

Beating Jet Lag

My arrival was New York. Not only did I arrive to a time zone 8 hours west, but I went from Winter to Summer

My Sleep Schedule for when I beat Jet Lag Westbound: South Africa to USA

Prep day 1: sleep at 12am
Prep day 2: wake at 7am sleep at 2am
Prep day 3: wake at 9am sleep at 4am
Travel day 1: wake at 8am.  Flight leaves at 4pm (8am NYC).  Arrival in Qatar at 1130pm SA (4pm NYC).  Force myself to stay up, even though it’s night in Qatar.  Work on computer in airport.
Travel day 2: board plane at 8am (12am NYC time).  Sleep immediately on plane (was exhausted).  Sleep 5 hours (off and on), wake time is 5am NYC.  Stay awake until NYC.  Arrive at 12pm NYC.  Stay awake until 9pm (5am SA), then sleep.
Recovery day 1: Wake up at 530am.  No feeling of jetlag at all.  Sleep at 11pm.  Jet lag beat.

How do you Beat Jet Lag?

Do you have a secret on how to beat jet lag?  Let me know in the comments!  I want to hear it.  Oh, and my solution for how to beat jet lag heading east is coming soon!


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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4 Comments

  1. I normally just take the flight and “suck it up” although I once, when leaving Germany back to Australia took the advice to just “drink alcohol and knock myself out” …. NEVER do that! biggest flight regret!

    Some great tips – your pretty dedicated to the preparation 🙂

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  2. Hi Brendan,
    What a great post! My wife and I (living in Toronto at the time) had to fly to Norway for a wedding. Given that we were arriving only the day before the big day we decided to acclimate our time to Oslo a week ahead of time, getting up an hour earlier each day. It worked like a charm!
    Shortly, I will be taking a VERY long travel day with 3 flights from Thailand to Florida. Not being able to acclimate ahead of time this time around due to work, I have decided to take your advice about sleeping on the plane only when people in my arrival time zone are sleeping. Brilliant!
    Thanks so much for the tips! Ligeia 🙂

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    • For westbound trips I have found that I do not have any noticeable jet lag if I stay up for about 24 hours straight. This has now worked for me twice when I have had early morning departures. Definitely did not work for the eastbound trip! I didn’t think to acclimatize by getting up an hour earlier each day over the week before – I will try that next time for sure. Thank you.

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  3. Awesome and useful tips Brendan, tis’ unfortunate that I have slight anxiety when flying though and usually attempt to sleep through the flight. But when I do arrive, I try and stay up until a normal hour when to fall asleep, and I try to reset my jetlag that way. Eating light is also important, tricks your body back into a normal state if you eat meals like you would at home at the right times.

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