LONDON, UK: Gilbert Ott (God Save The Points) on the inaugural British Airways A350 flight to Madrid from London Heathrow on 06 August 2019 (Picture by Nick Morrish/British Airways)

From the start, let me be clear: you’re not going to like this. But, and it’s a big b-u-t, if you do follow these tips, you will wake up in London or any other European capital feeling as fresh as you did when you left New York, ready to enjoy one of the finest cities in the world.

Jet lag is not about luck, and in fact there’s no mystery – it’s your body’s clocks being thrown out of whack, and your eyes, stomach and brain having no clue how to cope, or when to rest. Here’s how I approach East Coast USA to Europe jet lag, when I feel like going through all the fuss.

At its essence, combating jet lag is centred around shifting your body to its new time zone as quickly as possible. Crossing five time zones in just a five-ish hour flight is brutal, and East Coast to Europe is always amongst the most hated jet-lag soul crushing routes.

The sooner your body feels comfortable with it being light at a time different to what you’re used to, and dark the same way – the better you’ll feel. To do this, you’ll need to focus on when you eat and what you do in the interim. Or sadly, more of what you should not do…

All The Fun Ends Around 2PM

When I’m headed to Europe, my last day is pretty much the opposite of “going out with a bang”.

I try to get up as early as feasible, get enough physical exercise to tire my body out, have caffeine in the morning and then let it all go down a big boring hill. Because 2PM on the East Coast is 7-8 PM in most of Europe, that is when I will have my last meal of the day.

I make it count, aiming for a nice carb heavy feast to hold me over for a while, but knowing that I won’t eat again until I land in Europe some 10-12 hours later is a bit of a bummer. Unfortunately, it’s not just food that’s out the window after 2PM too, it’s one of the more fun parts of travel for some – the drinking!

Unless its water, it’s not ok until the next morning.

No Food, Or Drinks Other Than Water

The idea here is pretty logical. By eating at 2PM East Coast time in the USA, when it’s night time in Europe, you’re convincing your body that it’s having dinner, in hopes it will figure that out by the time you get there.

By fasting “overnight”, you’re tricking the body into believing that it’s kind of had a nights rest, after dinner (even though it was more like lunch time in the USA). Water is crucial to combating jet lag, so just because champagne, beer and anything else are off limits doesn’t mean you should hold back on water. Drink it, plentifully.

Of course, a comfy airline seat or a modern plane, like an Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner will make quite a bit of difference too, but ultimately the circadian rhythms of your body, which are often largely dictated by your metabolism will play the biggest factor.

Working out earlier in the morning before departure helped to get your body tired enough to rest on the plane, whether you’re able to actually sleep or not, which should help shift you into earlier sleep times needed to enjoy Europe.

Don’t tell me to close the blinds on the way back to New York, it’s light there and I need to remind my body of that, even if I’m tired!

Let There Be Light And Energy

When you land in Europe, you’ll undoubtedly be starving. I’ll admit, if I wake up before landing, I’ll often have a cup of tea to kickstart me with energy.

While that sounds like a flight that sucked either way, the rest of the plane that didn’t skip meal service will feel worse, because plane food (generally) sucks, makes you feel bloated, and those people also missed out on crucial hours of sleep by staying up for meal service, when they should’ve stopped eating hours ago.

But now that you’ve landed in Europe, it’s definitely breakfast time and you need to sync up to your new Euro time zones.

If you land at 7AM, have what you’d typically have for breakfast at 7AM. If you land at 11, wait until 12 and have what you’d typically have for lunch. Whatever you do, you need light, so look to sit at an outdoor cafe, or at least by a window. If you’re in a hotel, keep those blinds open all the way!

Otherwise, your body is going to be seriously confused. After you’ve gotten some nourishment, push for a nice long walk, or even better, an invigorating gym workout or class.

This will muster up the energy to push you through the day with endorphins, and more importantly, get you to tire out earlier in the night, accelerating your body into syncing up to a new timezone.

Put it this way: if you hit up a 10AM workout after landing, you should feel absolutely exhausted by 9PM in Europe, which is a triumph considering that’s between 3PM or 4PM where you just came from. You’ve pushed the jet lag time table way up!

Does It Really Work?

Yes, unfortunately it really does. I’m often in New York and London twice in a week. Leaving New York on Sunday, coming back Wednesday and then returning again to London Thursday night.

As I often do, I take one trip where I don’t follow the advice, and give into a glass of champagne and a snack in the evening. I then try to strictly follow the advice on the other trip, and the differences are far greater than any placebo effect could ever create.

If you really want to kick jet lag in the bum, you’ll need to toast your trip to Europe when you get there, or if you really want to do it before you go, you’ll need to do so before the hours of 2-3PM, when you should stop consuming anything but water.

It’s not fun, but feeling fresh enough to have a great trip is well worth it. You don’t pay all that money to visit Europe just to sleep it off in a hotel room all day.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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16 Comments

  1. When I head from the East Coast to the UK I always just take a morning flight. Never have jet lag that way. You arrive late evening/Night time so can sleep easily at night time GMT. If I take one of those evening flights that pit you out in Heathrow in the morning I can be screwed for days. Probably a combination of the flights taking less than 6 hours so sleep deprivation as well as the time zone difference.

  2. I just take a mid-afternoon nap on arrival in Europe, wake up and go to dinner – then go to bed on local time. I’m adjusted.

    What’s hard is flying over and going to work same day, no opportunity for that nap, I’m going to fade into the evening and have to find a way to sleep the entire short hop across the Pond. That’s why (1) I prefer late departures and (2) airline service is so vexing, they need to serve meals on a single tray and clear them immediately, turning off the lights as soon as possible – and quit waking everyone up an hour out to collect headphones as AA generally does…

    1. Yeah I think I started going heavier into this when I had to “perform” on that same day and this helped make it through the day.

      I agree there’s still so much room for improvement on either a) expedited in-flight service, or better coordination of lounge meal to make the on-board offering redundant. And ugh, if one more person taps me for headphones while I’ve still got an hour of sleep on the table… : )

      xoxo, G

  3. It’s been 16 months since I’ve been on a plane and I don’t yet know when I’ll be on one again. So can someone please remind me, what is jet lag? By the way, my body has a hard time adapting when I go from the Upper West Side to the Upper East side. Something seems to happen in the middle of Central Park.

  4. What solutions are there for the, becoming more frequent, ‘let’s all go to sleep’ westbound on a morning flight? What do you say to the stewardess who asks you to put the shade down? Or even worse, just overrides everyone’s preference and darkens the windows.

    I’d like my shade up thanks. I’m on my laptop or reading and I’m not tired. Put your eyeshades on if you want to sleep, don’t ask me to live in the dark.

    1. I def commiserate with this. I think every passenger is entitled to their own on that one. If seat mate wants to sit window open, that’s fine by me. My blind is down, my eye mask is on. I’ve been told by FA’s to close blinds before, even when I’m the only paying pax in F on an transpacific flight, with non-revs in the cabin. It’s a bizarre flex.

      1. On the way over to IAD from LHR last week during a daytime flight, I was astounded that they did this. And it was a 787-8 so they simply overrode the individual window dimmer setting. Strange.

  5. My practice flying internationally (and domestic too) is to limit my food intake prior to the flight. I try to schedule my flight departure time from the US (to the UK and Europe) in the evening.

    As soon as I arrive a the gate, I set my clocks to the local destination time. I try not to sleep on the flight other than short naps. I do not take the evening flight meal offered (often receiving strange looks from the flight attendants). I will have the breakfast just before arrival.

    I learned I simply do not have jet lag. Upon arrival, I have high energy and can easily move through the day. Admittedly, I sleep very well the first night. I follow the same procedure when returning to the US.

  6. I am not a frequent flier but (until recently) visited the USA from England at least once a year. Purely by chance a good few years we booked onto a BA daytime flight from Newark to Heathrow. Until then, all return flights had been red eye. Wow, what a revelation. Got out of bed around 6.00am, flight departed around 9.00am and arrived Heathrow around 9.00pm. Snoozed a little on the flight as 6.00am was earlier than I would normally rise in the morning. Checked into a Heathrow hotel, had a snack / sandwich and asleep by 11.00pm. Arose around 7.30am the next day and neither my wife or myself suffered the slightest degree of jet lag. Subsequently all flights back to the UK have been daytime flights with the same results. I appreciate BA no linger offer Newark to Heathrow daytime flights but plenty other operators do daytime flights from EWR, JFK, ORD, BOS & IAD. Business passengers who can not afford to take a working day out of their often tight and busy schedules would be as well to take a Saturday or Sunday daytime flight.

  7. Nice article…. I don’t travel to Europe anymore for business, but go there occasionally for fun. But my starting point is SFO, not the east coast. Would I just back these hours up by three hours and ‘knock off the fun’ at 11am? Seems logical enough, but that’s even before most of my flights takeoff!

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