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…
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.
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.