Once again, I find myself in Hong Kong on business. After leaving San Francisco at 1:20am early Wednesday morning, our plane landed at about 7:00 AM local time Thursday morning. Out of the fourteen hours of our flight last night, I slept for about seven of them. Never very solidly, as we kept hitting patches of mild turbulence every half hour or so. I drank plenty of water during the flight, and am continuing to do so. Nevertheless, jet lag is already punishing me in full force.

It hit me all of a sudden near the end of a meeting earlier this afternoon. I started to feel light-headed and dizzy. My vision got blurry. Now, my stomach doesn’t feel quite right. Muscular control and ability to think is quickly waning. Body parts are twitching. And in general, I feel like my body could collapse at any second. Yet I’m told that going to sleep is the last thing I should do right now — that I should force myself to stay awake until at least 8 or 9pm tonight to acclimate my body so it won’t remain wonky the rest of the time I’m here. Right now, it’s only 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and all I can think of is crashing hard on my hotel bed.

Unlike last December, when I stayed only three short days, this time, it’s a full week. I was here for such a short period the last trip, I must have run entirely on adrenaline. This time, for some reason, it’s a different story.

When I was younger, I never believed in the concept of jet lag. What were all those crazy travelers complaining about? I didn’t understand how a few hours time difference could throw your body’s entire context out of whack enough to physically affect it in negative ways. Now, I think I know (and am experiencing) its effects all too well. Up until last year, I told myself that flying West was never a problem — that going East was what potentially played tricks with one’s mind and body. However, that theory blasts apart when flying West means not only crossing the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. But also when it means crossing that pesky International Date Line, causing the virtual loss of 24 hours in an instant.

Do you experience jet lag? What do you do to fight it? Or to stave off its effects once it starts to settle in?


  1. Pete F.

    Excersize, primarily. Try to keep physically active to draw out the time until you’re in sync with local bedtime. I do this every day I’m away.

    I’m not suggesting you head to the gym and beat your best weight for 80 benches, but something gentle and continuous is good. Try walking around the locality, swimming, whatever suits.

    I find walking around the best, for a number of reasons; soaking up the atmosphere of somewhere different, looking at the architecture, stopping for a cup of coffee to watch this new/different world go about its business. I also find doing bit of shopping (mostly of the ‘window’ variety) is a good way to keep interested and awake.

    In your case I’d be popping into a noodle bar before treading the streets taking copious amounts of photos. I’d also have an incredible wish to read William Gibson’s Neuromancer again. :)

  2. Adrian

    I find the best way is to keep going no matter what on the first day you are there. Then go to bed at a normal time (local). You wont have a great nights sleep, and day 2 will be strange but by day 3 you will be running on local time.

    I try see crossing timezones as like when I have gone out and partied all night long. You get just as out of wack, and you have to soldier on.

    Although the older I get the harder it is to deal with.

  3. Andyk

    I was watching a program on TV about someone who did a “weekend” trip to hong kong a couple of days back. If you can find one, there are “tea bars” that do chinese herbal teas. The show showed one that is apparently brilliant for jetlag and will give you bags of energy. Ask your hotel receptionist I’m sure they will be able to point you in the right direction.


  4. Richard

    I agree on the forcing yourself into the local timezone by staying awake and trying to function. Generally when I cross the dateline I try to make sure the first day is open so I don’t have to think too hard or “perform” when I’m not feeling too well.

    I’ve tried melatonin although not yet on trips west but twice on trips east from the East Coast (where I live) to India through London. I take it on the last leg: London to Mumbai where one lands in the middle of the night. I get to the hotel there and finish the night sleeping and when I wake up, POOF, I’m localized. The last time I did this the person I was traveling with did it too and he had the same experience so it’s worth looking into. Some folks have had adverse reactions to it but it did work for me, no doubt.

    Long plane rides: water, when awake, walk laps around the plane if possible, if you’re flying coach and if there are center seats available where you can put the arms up and get flat that’s a much better way to get longer sleep times and if you fly a lot and have mileage Asia trips are where you want to use it to upgrade to business as the difference is meaningful.

    If you have a choice of plane types 747/400 upper deck (on most that’s business, not first) will be quieter with fewer people milling about. 777 has no upper deck but I’m not sure how many of those are flying to Asia.

    I have a nice, medetative playlist on my iPod for long trips and some nice Bose noise cancelling headphones and both make a nice difference as well.

    Sounds like you might want to watch Lost in Translation just to know that you’re in good company. If anyone asks you to “lick their stockings,” well, run. Or don’t. Don’t forget to post pictures, Hong Kong is a fun town.

  5. Neil

    You could always try the Die Hard solution, and make “fists with your feet”. It was probably just a plot device to get Bruce Willis barefoot, but who knows?

    There’s also this post on conquering jet lag, where the author recommends using sleeping aids to push through when your body clock would normally wake you up (usually in the middle of the night).

    This works for me. The hard part is getting through the first day, and forcing yourself to stay awake until a “reasonable” bed time. I find staying in a public place (i.e. not in my hotel room) helps, also, if only that the fear of falling asleep in a strange, public place helps keep me awake.

  6. dru

    I am in Beijing for my first time having flown from Kansas. Jetlag is a mother of a pain in the neck. The first day felt exactly like staying up all night. The second day I was cold as my body was trying to shut down. Today I just felt out of it and hope to be over it by tomorrow.

    PS: If you are going to be in Beijing at all drop me an email. – dru

  7. Josh

    5,I think the “fist-feet” is to stimulate circulation and counteract swelling, not jet-lag. Or that’s what it is actually for, despite what Die-Hard may have said.

  8. Richard

    I think Neil’s link and the idea of making sure one gets a full night of sleep, rather than going nuts to stay up is probably it and clarifies my experience considerably.

    It also is supported by the two characters in Lost in Translation who go to sleep on time but can’t sleep.

    It’s not the going to sleep, it’s the sleeping that counts. Thanks Neil.

  9. Patrick Taylor

    I’ve been flying Manchester UK to Melbourne Australia a few times each year for several years. I’m 57. I can never sleep en route. I’m normally a person who needs lots of sleep, but strangely I experience very little jet lag either way. When I get to my destination I feel fine and just get to bed at the normal local time (though pretty tired). I feel a bit odd for the first few days but that’s about it. Maybe the really big trips have less effect. Plus I think it’s partly a mind thing.

  10. paul

    i experienced jetlag over the weekend without even flying! my girlfriend’s band played a show on vancouver island, and instead of getting a hotel, we packed up quite late (3ish), drove to the ferry terminal and waited for the first ferry (6am). we finally got in just after 9am (after loading gear), and it’s taken me until today pretty much to not be tired as hell and feel out of sync.

  11. Justin Perkins

    I can *never* sleep on a plane. It’s just too cramped and uncomfortable…I can’t do it.

    When I traveled with my family to Greece (from NY), I arrived in Athens in a very sad state. By about the time we got to the hotel I was feeling very jet lagged. Tired, but unable to sleep. Stomach in knots. You name it.

    My mom, being the great planner, brought some Grapefruit Extract along on the trip, it is supposed to help with something (I have no idea what). Anyway, she drops a little bit in a glass a water and I proceed to drink it up.

    Little do I realize that the grapefruit extract settles to the bottom, so I get a full glass of water until I reach the bottom. I which point I get a huge swill of straight up grapefruit extract. That’s about the nastiest stuff you can drink (OK, maybe not) and it’s a 100 times worse when you’ve got an upset stomach (jet lag). I don’t need to fill in the rest, but let me just say that the grapefruit extract caused an “upheaval” reaction.

    Fun stuff.

  12. Oliver

    One thing to get over jetlag is to either sleep a lot (the entire day) or don’t sleep at all. Eat a lot as well.

  13. Brian Warren

    I typically try to take some Tylenol PM when it gets close enough to the time to go to bed. It’s cheap and just makes you sleepy and none of the side affects of benadryl. If I’m really sleepy in the afternoon and cant push it to 8ish, i’ll take a little 15 min nap and then you just have to use mind-over-matter to get up and stay up till 8 or 9.

    I dont recommend surfing the web or any of that. You gotta be up moving around, talking to people.

  14. Jason

    I too can attest to the horrors of jet lag. I returned from a two week trip in Australia (visiting Sydney and Melbourne) and got slammed with jet lag. When flying to Australia I didn’t sleep that much and considering my starting point was IAD (Dulles, VA), I did very well when flying over. Surprisingly when I got on the ground in Sydney I only had about 6 hours of sleep in a period of about 25 hours and I was good to go. I became acclimated with the time difference and enjoyed my stay in Australia. Coming back was the bad part.

    Due to a cancelled American Airlines flight, they merged our Qantas flight with all the American passengers and the flight was overbooked. Needless to say, it was elbow to elbow coming home (going over, my friend and I had the last four-seater row all to ourselves; that was nice!) and we didn’t get much sleep. We had plenty of movies, TV and video games to keep us occupied on the flight between Australia and Los Angeles. I tried getting some power naps, which didn’t help much. Upon arriving in LAX, we found out that our American flight to IAD was pushed back seven hours!

    After finally touching down in Dulles (and being up a total of 38 or 40 hours with only two power naps), I crashed hard and slept for 12 hours.

    I drank a lot of water for about a week and had to change my sleep patterns back to normal as opposed to getting up at 3am and getting tired around 5pm.

    All I can suggest is sleep, lots of fluids and patience.

  15. Joseph Lindsay

    Get so drunk that your body doesn’t know what time it is. You’ll wake up the next morning with a headache and you body clock reset to <blink>00:00</blink> ;)

  16. Mike

    I once spent some time with a guy who travelled frequently around the world for speaking engagements, and asked him how he managed to cope with the jet lag. He had a lot of the usual type of advice, but one of the tips he told me was to get out and spend some time in the sun – He reckoned it helps your body-clock adjust itself for the time of day you are in. Don’t know if it works, but it made a strange kind of sense to me at the time.

  17. Justin Perkins

    The guy that “invented” Red Bull supposedly did so because he grew weary of jetlag from traveling back and forth from Austria to Tokyo. The idea came from the taxi cab drivers there (Tokyo) who always seem to have this little elixir drink (Taurine, I think) that keeps them going through the long hours.

    All the above was paraphrased from a recent National Geographic feature article on our obsession with Caffeine.

    Might want to give Red Bull a shot next time Doug ;)

  18. Justin Perkins

    [Edit: Replace Tokyo with Thailand above, sorry.]

    Note to self, check facts before posting.

  19. goldfish

    one of my friend did yoga while she was travling betw different time zone. apparently made a huge difference to the jet lagged.

  20. Patrick Taylor

    Thinking about this some more, I think there’s a difference between jet lag and sleep deprivation. I’ve heard that a time zone adjustment of just a few hours can lead to significant discomfort (never experienced it). On a 25 hour trip from Australia to the UK one can go 46 hours without sleep, which gets into deprivation more than jet lag. In other words any lag effect is completely over-ridden by the deprivation, a situation which may actually be easier in mind and body.

    I know of people who work in big legal firms, who sometimes work 3 days and 2 nights non-stop without sleep – they miss two nights sleep and are still functioning.

  21. cale

    These are some very helpful posts, I’ll have to try some of them next time I travel…

    However, as the internet allows me to do, I’m going to offer unsolicited advice on making your sleep on the plane more productive – which I find helps me combat jetlag much better .

    – Nasal spray (your nose will dry out on the plane)
    – Water (been covered)
    – Airborn tablets
    – Clean, warm & comfortable socks
    – NO SHOES
    – NO BELT
    – Put your watch, rings, cancer braclet, wallet, money clip, spare change in a zip lock bag and stuff it in your carry on. (This is handy for security check points too)
    – iPod

    You get the idea. I myself can sleep sitting straight up and feel rested – others need those neck pillows…

    Have fun

  22. Chris

    Yeah I never have felt the effects of jet lag, mostly because I have accustomed to sleeping 4 hours a night and usally hour to and hour and a half at a time. So Even I went to the worst place to possibly go to with jet lag I’d end up sleeping on the plain then not sleeping for another 24 hours.

  23. Niky

    Caffeine is the magic liquid, believe me.

  24. Ross Easton

    Didn’t Bruce Willis get told to “make fists with [his] toes” in one Die Hard film… always wanted to know if that worked!

    Jet lag’s nasty. I travelled from the UK (home country) to Canada to visit relatives a couple of years back and found that acclimatising your body by forcing yourself to stay awake and eat meals at the local time is the best way to work it. It’s also a good idea to wake up at the “usual” time in the morning – even although you feel awful!

    I try and get acclimatised to the local timezone a few days before I travel if possible.

    Hope you recover soon! Enjoy the trip… photos? :)

  25. yafujifide

    Look at it this way: you didn’t fly west, you flew really, really far east.

  26. Ho Yin

    Schedule your flight to arrive in HK in the morning – then Stay up for 18+ (or more) hours before flight departure. When you get on the plane, get pillow, blanket, and check your seat’s headrest for the side supports (newer planes have these headrests that have sides that fold out that holds your head up on the sides). Usually by the time I settle down in my seat and hook up to my iPod I’m dead tired… I slept through take off on my most recent trip, managed to miss some of the meals (but most airlines serve instant noodles if you ask), and pretty much woke up when we were about to land.

  27. Joris Machielse

    I actually find that scheduling a flight that arrives somewhere in the late afternoon most convenient. Though only when combined with a very small amount of sleep on the flight itself. It will make sure you’re dead tired when you arrive. At your hotel, take a shower and have a proper dinner. The fatigue will make it easy to get to sleep the next morning you can basically be productive and alert.
    Btw: make sure that after the first day you have to get sufficiently tired so that you can actually get to sleep in time.

  28. Douglas Bowman

    Joris: I wish that could have been possible. The airline we flew only had one flight per day to Hong Kong — leaves every night at 1:20am, and arrives at 6:30am-something. It was the only option we had.

    Even though I almost took a nap soon after I wrote this original entry, my colleagues I’m traveling with managed to convince mt to come out with them, and we stayed up until about 10pm that night.

    As mentioned above by several others, the problem though, wasn’t necessarily keeping myself awake that long, but staying asleep once I went to bed. I woke up around 2am that first night, and couldn’t go back to sleep. Ah, the joy…

  29. DJ LoBraico

    You know, I have never gotten jet lag! I can’t imagine why not, as I get car sick, sea sick etc. very easily if I do the wrong thing (i.e. try to read :P) That’s strange though. It sounds pretty terrible…Sorry about that, love the blog though :-)

  30. Ms. Jen

    I am a big believer in Diet Coke and dark chocolate for just about every ailment… during the day. Red wine and dark chocolate in the evening… ;o)

    I sleep terribly on planes, so the last few international flights I tried Tylenol PM which works great on the ground but not in the air for me. Last November I flew out of LAX to Ireland on the 6pm flight which arrived in Dublin at 11:45am. I really wanted to sleep as we had a full day planned in the afternoon and evening of our arrival.

    A friend gave me a few small white sleeping pills for the plane and first night. I have no idea what they were but they worked. I slept on the plane, woke up 2 hours before Dublin. Took a shower at the hotel, went to Newgrange, on a hike, for a drive, to dinner and to bed at 11pm and woke up rested at 8am the next morning.

    I did not have to function at a client meeting, thankfully.

  31. Eeezee Cheeze

    One other method, if you can arrange it, is to adjust your sleeping pattern 3 days before your journey starts, that is you actually go out and party all night and sleep during the day, so your body is already in the destination’s time zone when you go. If you’re self-employed, try forcing yourself up at night and sleep during the day, so you have the bad effects in the comfort of your own home where you’re easy with everything compared to a foreign environment with stuff like traffic coming from the opposite direction (I almost died in OZ by looking in the wrong direction while jet lagged, a friend pulled me back just in time).

    Also watch out for pills being handed to you in that foreign country that are supposedly great against “Jet Lag” – I found myself dancing to lame electronic music wearing nothing but a gas mask and glo-stick one time…sure the Jet Lag wasn’t there but at what price?

  32. meat

    If you have an Ipod or similar mp3 player, load it with a couple audio books – someone suggested William GIbson’s neuromancer as a good read. I, too, would feel *compelled* to read that again but reading puts me to sleep ASAP! So the audio form of the book(s) makes more sense.

    Then get yourself some melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical your body releases before you go to bed to tell yourself that it, indeed, is time to sleep. Pilots use it to acclimate their internal clocks to the ever changing time zones. Take it when it’s time to go to bed wherever you are and it will greatly minimize the next days angst and set your own clock to Jap-time.

  33. brian bonitz

    I would recommend that you should consider first-class or business-class ticket especially for “ultra-long” flights from the states to Asia or Pacific Rim or South Pacific. Singapore Airlines is supposed to be one of very best “world class” airline company. Singapore Airlines have youngest fleet anywhere and they invest billions of dollars into new aircrafts and spent millions on interior design inside the cabins. As for type of aircrafts, I would recommend that you should ask for Boeing 777’s or 747-400’s or Airbus A340’s. I enjoy traveling on Airbus A340 or A330 because they are very spacious and comfortable and quiet. I am being biased because I am Deaf (smile). I could tell how quiet plane are based on “vibration” or “hummmmmings” or “roars”, etc. Hope that helps!

  34. Patrick Taylor

    A very interesting suggestion made by meat (above) regarding melatonin and jet lag. This appears to be a truly amazing substance. I think I’ll get some – not for jet lag but as an aid to sleeping (instead of drinking whisky late in the evening).

    Douglas Bowman might like to try some too, as it could indeed be just the thing to help with jet lag. I wonder where it can be found…

  35. Jen Evenson

    I guess you’re back home by now, but here’s something to keep in mind for next time. This has worked several times flying east — from SF to Paris and NY to Paris. I’ve only flown from SF to Asia once (many years ago), and I didn’t do anything special to prepare. I was fine getting there — it was coming home that zonked me out for a couple of days.

    This is what I do when flying to Paris:
    I book an overnight flight that will arrive around 10 or 11am. The night before the day I fly (e.g., Wed night if my flight is Thursday evening), I get very little (or even zero) sleep. I’m so tired by time I board the plane, that I fall asleep, even if I’m not that comfortable. It’s usually not good sleep, but I’m kind of sleeping, the plane is dark, and when I get there, it’s light out, so my body thinks it’s morning and time to get moving.

    Also, blocking out the noise of the engine helps TONS. That engine noise is soooo stressful on your body. I use Etymotic Isolator Earphones and put on some Mozart at a very low volume while I sleep. I originally bought the Bose noise cancelling earphones, but they are not small, they’re not cheap, they require batteries, and they make a high-pitched whine when used without music that I just couldn’t stand after having spent $300. So I returned them and bought the Etymotics. They were 1/2 the price and they fit in my pocket. And they do a pretty good job of cutting the engine noise, even with no music. I always wear them when I fly anywhere, even if I don’t listen to music. When I fly Business Class, I do use the Bose earphones the airline provides (with the Mozart). What the heck? They do a great job of cancelling the engine noise, and I didn’t have to shell out the moola…

    At takeoff, I take a No Jet Lag tablet, and try to take additional tablets at the prescribed times. Upon arrival, I try to take a walk outside in the sun. According to my holistic doctor, spending 30 minutes in the sunlight (direct, not through a window) before 9:30am helps reset your body clock. I know, the flight arrives after 9:30am, but I still think being out in the sun helps. And the reason I go for the flights arriving at 10am instead of 7am is because that’s 3 hours less that I have to try to stay awake. :-) There’s also something you can do with rubbing your ears to help reset your body clock, but I always forget that one. I have noticed that “No Jet Lag” helps whether or not I do the no-sleep-the-night-before trick, but it’s soooo much better with that trick.

    Anyway, if I absolutely can’t stay awake until normal bed time, I’ll take an afternoon nap of exactly 2 hours (one sleep cycle). I only do that if someone I trust promises to make me get up no matter how much I beg to keep sleeping. Then I go to bed at a “normal” (local time) bed time, and the next day I’m absolutely fine.

    Again, I haven’t tried the above when going to Asia, or for super long trips like going to Australia, but it’s a great routine for going to Paris!

    Good luck on your next trip!

  36. angelique

    My theory is that jetlag is caused by patternus interruptus…we’re used to dinner at a certain time, sleep at a certain time, darkness at a certain time…it’s a difficult thing to break millions of years of evolutionary expectation within just this last century of high-speed travel. So why do some seem immune? …possibly they have less of a schedule to break, i.e. dinner at irregular times and no set sleep schedule, thereby not disturbing the body unduly when traveling.

  37. JMC

    Ambien (zolpidem) works like a dream.

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