Most flights from North America to Europe depart in the late afternoon or evening and arrive in Europe in the early to late morning. Without preparation and discipline, the change in time zones can affect the first few days of your trip. tripcentral.ca has a guide to help you conquer jet lag learned from years of travel experience.
Before You Travel
It’s important to get a good night’s rest. If possible, go to bed a bit early and sleep in a bit on your travel day.
If your flight is around dinner time, accept the airline meal as your dinner. If your flight is well after your dinner time (8pm or later) eat before you fly and turn down the airline meal.
During Your Flight
If you are able to sleep even a couple of hours while on a plane, avoid caffeine and alcohol and sleep. These two substances will make sleeping even more difficult. However, if you can never really sleep on a plane, these two substances can help you stay awake. If it’s impossible for you to sleep, prepare yourself for an “all nighter.” Plan to stay awake during your flight and the whole next day until a normal bed time in your new time zone. Caffeine can help keep you awake.
While on the plane, it will get dark outside quickly. If you can, try and sleep as early as possible. The more sleep you’re able to get on the plane, the better. Eye patches can be helpful in telling your body that it’s sleeping time and ear plugs can reduce distracting noise. The most difficult aspect of sleeping on an airplane seat is the stress on your neck so adjust your headrest to accommodate what feels comfortable. Use a quality neck cushion (the best are stuffed with beads and not air), and if you can pay a bit more for premium economy class or any upgrades, more space will make a difference in getting some shut-eye. If you wear contact lenses, take them out.
It’s Morning in the New Time Zone
It will then get light outside quickly and the crew will be quick to serve a “breakfast.” Even in the new time zone, this is a very unnatural time to have breakfast (especially only hours after you have had dinner). Skip it. Keep your eye patches on and try and get as much rest as you can – even if you can’t fully sleep. You are far better to eat in your new time zone once you are off the plane, and have a real breakfast.
Take your eye patches off as close to landing as possible, or as close to your “normal” waking up time in your new time zone. On a six to nine hour flight to Europe, if you can even get four light sleeping hours, it will significantly help on the long day ahead of you.
Adjust your watch when you “wake up” to the new time zone. It will be morning and you need to perceive it to be morning. Even if you are still flying, you should look at your watch and see “6:30 am” and sunshine and think of it as 6:30am and not 12:30am back home. Brush your teeth and put contact lenses back in (if you wear them). If you can still get service on the plane, have a coffee or tea now.
If you are arriving at a hotel or staying with family, it’s really important that you resist any urge to go to bed. If you go to bed in the morning, even for a nap, you will dramatically improve your chances of feeling jet lagged for several days. Try and go on a tour, explore, or do something that will keep you fully occupied.
Later, have an mid-afternoon nap – and it’s really important that this is only a nap. Set your alarm for a 90 minute sleep – and keep the curtains open/lights on. It’s important that your body feel as though it’s having an afternoon nap. If you hit snooze, or sleep beyond 90 minutes, you will be doomed for several nights of waking up in the middle of the night. If you are travelling with someone or visiting family, ensure that they wake you up. If you have a connecting flight in Europe, and don’t arrive in destination until the late afternoon, consider having this nap on your second flight (without eye patches). Having this nap in the late afternoon or early evening is not a good idea, unless you are prepared to stay up even later at night.
The home stretch is to stay up until at least 10pm on your first day in Europe. The later the better. Caffeine and activities that will keep you engaged and the time moving quickly is best, but reduce caffeine and alcohol to avoid it keeping you up too late – especially if you are sensitive to it. Being sedentary, including just sitting around and talking or watching tv are a very bad idea – because you will likely fall asleep. Stay busy. Tire yourself out physically if you can.
When you finally go to bed after your long day, set your alarm for an eight or nine hour sleep. Be sure you are up at a normal morning wake up time and enjoy the day ahead!