Dear Yanni...How Do I Cure Jet Lag?

Dear Yanni...How Do I Cure Jet Lag?

Dear Yanni,

I travel across time zones all the time, and jet lag is becoming a real drag. What can I do?

- Jet Lagged in Jacksonville

TL;DR: Take daytime flights when possible. Get extra sleep in the days before crossing time zones, time meals to destination meal times, hydrate, and begin shifting time zones before you travel.

Jet lag is definitely a drag when traveling. To deal with it, there are various forms of advice offered, but it also comes down to how your journey is timed, what you’ll be doing when you arrive, and what type of traveler you are. I happen to be categorically unable to sleep on flights, absent of a lie-flat state; no comfy chairs or recline will ever do. If, however, you happen to be able to sleep on planes in particular, or can claim a comfortable-enough seat to do so, then it’s good to plan when to sleep on a plane in a manner that allows you to acclimate to your new time zone. If you’re traveling > +3 hours ahead of your time zone, this is where red eye flights can help, especially if you can sneak in 5 or more hours’ worth of rest. Sleeping nearest to when it is after at least 10 p.m. in your destination’s time zone is a good approach to start. Timing meals nearer to destination meal times is also helpful, as is avoiding consuming too much alcohol which disturbs the ability to sleep in a lower oxygen environment like an airplane. Beginning to shift time zones in advance of travel can be helpful, particularly if you are jumping greater than 7-8 hours ahead or behind. This may not be realistic for a lot of us, and given that crossing many time zones guarantees a longer flight time, setting yourself up for success in flight is key. Some airlines are also trying to help with this, like Qantas, who has focused lighting and cuisine to adapt to Australian time zones for its new, extra-long haul flights over 15 hours. New technology on planes is mimicking natural light and serving brighter meals with stronger flavors during destination breakfast and lunch times, with more subdued ones for dinner and after dinner becoming popular on transcontinental carriers.  

If you’re like me and can’t sleep upright, you may be better suited to avoid red eye flights and opt for day time instead. Traveling in the daytime from east to west is generally easier. If however, you must red eye on an eastbound or cross-hemisphere trip and can’t sleep, it’s best to sleep bank in the days prior. Oversleeping can get you rested for the ardors of an overnight flight you may not be able to sleep on. By doing this, you can also try to stay up after arriving to a destination. Try to take it easy, don’t rely on driving any long distances on that first day, and if you can make it close to night fall, it’s a great way to get acclimated to the time zone immediately. I’ve done this many times eastbound to Europe and it’s mainly worked out, however, on my last trip to Ireland, I learned the hard way that staying up all night, picking up a car and driving 300 miles followed by ambitiously touring a castle, led to me nearly collapsing around centuries’-old antiques. I still kept to forcing myself to stay awake until nightfall, but made sure to slow down significantly, which is my personal lesson going forward. 

For those that can’t sleep, melatonin is a natural approach that is often recommended for both being non-habit-forming and effective. Another approach is training consistency in the sleep environment if you are often traveling across time zones. An example can be a portable diffuser, with a scent like lavender or a small spray for your pillow with a similar calming scent. Using this at home around bedtime and again when traveling, can invoke an almost Pavlovian sleepy response, as can other routines like sleepy time teas, like chamomile. 

If you travel a lot, have a nighttime routine that is easily replicable. If you travel less frequently and the time zone is > 3 hours +/-, try and adapt yourself earlier on, especially if you’re going to be at a destination for more than 3-5 days. For those who are the lucky ones to sleep on planes, I envy your talent, but use it to your advantage by following your future destination’s timeline and stay awake if it compromises your new intended schedule. If you have a generous travel policy that allows you to use business class and that helps you sleep, take advantage. Or, splurge or use up some loyalty points for a more comfortable seat to get you rested up on a red-eye, and you likely won’t regret it.   


Dear Yanni,

With all of the developments in travel technology there have got to be ways to check into hotels faster than waiting in long lines. Any tips?

- Impatient in Indianapolis 

TL;DR: The Hilton and Marriott Bonvoy apps make online check in easy via their mobile apps and others are following suit.

Among the biggest pain points for travelers are all the potential check-in friction events along the daily grind from ride hail to flight to rental car to hotel, which is often the last stop and longest component of the sequence. At hotels, fiction is centered around both the check-in and room access processes. Hotels, from major brands to small operators are heavily investing in apps that allow for check in from a mobile device and the replacement of a roomkey with a smartphone. This not only meets traveler convenience needs, it’s also an avenue to cost savings for hotels and a way to make more eventual revenues, including booking-direct. App use of course means the acceptance of terms and conditions, in which there will often be little control of personal data. Ultimately, a hotel can understand more about guests and even push notifications centered on hotel offerings, like room service. This can be very convenient for the traveler in need of a snack, or it can be a nuisance, however it will be a trade off for the convenience of skipping a wait in the lobby after a long day of travel that many would accept. 

A couple of major brands have heavily invested in mobile check in to ease the burden on the traveler and the hotel staff alike. Two prime examples are the Hilton and Marriott Bonvoy apps. The Hilton app allows you to select your room, complete check in and opt-in for a mobile key all from a smartphone, eliminating the need to wait to speak with anyone in what can often be a busy check in line. The Marriott Bonvoy app allows travelers to check in as early as two days before their arrival, and if opting in to receive push notifications, be pinged with potential upgrades, offers for local attractions or restaurants and provided access to opportunities for extra points if choosing not to have housekeeping service their rooms during their stay. The disclaimers for these apps, and others like them, is that not all properties participate and advanced check in may not be guaranteed. However, where hotel apps allow for check in from a mobile device, a lot of time can be saved and even earn travelers extra loyalty points.  

In travel, waiting in any line can often be the most negative experience, however, it’s also one of the few places that people are able to interact with one another. The trade off to save time eliminates these interactions leading to some greater efficiencies, but it may also lead to reallocating the people that provide those services or perhaps eliminating some of their positions altogether. 

About the Author: Yanni Poulakos
Yanni has had the travel bug from a young age. From traveling to over 50 countries and stints spent living in Asia, South America, Europe and the Caribbean, his insights into hacking personal and business travel are grounded in first-hand experience. As a former road warrior, he once covered every province in Italy in 6 weeks by car, served as a travel manager for dozens of colleagues across the US and Europe while leading a fundraising team, and customized exclusive travel experiences for a smattering of politicians and celebrities. No matter whether at home or on the road, Yanni stringently adheres to his approaches to nutrition and self-care, with a fervent commitment to help others do the same.