I’ve never had jet lag.
That’s not totally true. My first time in Ireland I was a bit lagged, but compared to my then-wife it was nothing. I opted to be our driver for the first day, while she hung deliriously to consciousness in the passenger seat. Eventually we took a nap in a pasture by an abandoned church, where I found a black ritual candle. But I digress.
I have my own approach to dealing with jet lag, and that is to just never get jet-lagged in the first place.
It’s not some super power I have, it’s just the way I approach it. Think of how jet lag works: you fly six, maybe twelve hours across the world, and the time zone is completely different. Maybe your internal clock says it’s almost midnight and it’s time to go to bed, but in the world around you it’s 8 a.m. Your sleep schedule and the real world no longer line up.
If you think of sleep in terms of debt, jet lag is the waiter giving you the check while you’re still eating. There are two ways most people deal with this.
- Pay it now. Sure, maybe it is only 8 a.m., but you’re damn tired. You get to your hotel, throw off your smelly plane clothes, and fall into bed with abandon. But you haven’t fixed anything. You’ll wake up around dinner time, be up all night, and same again tomorrow.
- Invoice me. It’s 8 a.m. and you’re in a new county. Who’s sleeping? Tired as you may be, you push yourself to go onward. Brunch at a cafe… walk through a museum… fancy dinner… out to a bar… it goes on. This can get you on the same schedule as the world around you, but only through force of will. You’re half-dead and don’t fully experience your destination. When you do go to bed, you’re likely to oversleep.
Both of these are reactive solutions. I prefer to be proactive. I ask for the bill ahead of time and pay up-front. In layman’s terms, I stay up all night.
Technically, “all night” may be overkill. The night before leaving for Thailand, I got a grand total of 1.5 hours of sleep. This was intentional, and comprised both staying up late and getting up early. I let myself have the 90 minute nap (around 3 a.m.) because literally staying up the whole night is just unpleasant.
This left me enough mental faculty to get to the airport with all of my things and board the correct flight. (I got a ride from a friend, so I wasn’t a danger on the road.) But once I was on the plane, I had no trouble drifting off to sleep. In fact, almost nothing could have stopped me.
My trip comprised four separate flights. The longest was 13 hours from Chicago to Tokyo. I would wake up when the stewards came by with meals, eat groggily, and go back to sleep. I passed on coffee. What would have been nearly 30 hours of hell time for most people seemed, to me, more like 4 hours of eating and napping.
By the final flight, I was fully rested and wide awake. I arrived at Chiang Mai, feeling like I just had a night’s sleep, at breakfast time. How convenient.
I should put some caveats on this. For starters, last minute sleep deprivation and last minute packing do not mix well. I’ve gotten better about planning over the years, which has allowed me to pace myself on stressful “to do” items before departure.
Also, I got my math a little wrong this time around. My first night in Chiang Mai I went to bed around 9, so I was off by a couple hours. But being off by 2 hours is definitely better than the full 13 hour time difference between Central Time and Indochina Time.
Of course, not everyone likes staying up all night, so this solution isn’t for everyone—but sucking up the jet lag is basically the same thing as staying up all night, except it ruins the first day of your trip. I’d rather ruin packing day.