Pilots and flight attendants often find themselves traveling long distances and working long shifts only to find themselves in a different part of the world in a completely different time zone. This can lead to having to deal with jet lag on a very regular basis. If you’ve ever traveled and had to deal with jet lag yourself, I’m sure you know just how challenging it can be. It makes you feel tired, makes it hard to think, and can ruin a trip.
Well, it’s even worse for the crew of an intercontinental flight. Not only does a pilot have to deal with the same jet lag that we all have to while traveling, they have the responsibility of safely flying hundreds of people to their next destination. And in the case of flight attendants, they have a variety of responsibilities they still have to attend to regardless of how tired they are.
This is a group of professionals that deals with jet lag on a regualar basis while still performing their job duties at the highest level of excellence. So, it’s safe to assume they know a thing or two about how to handle jet lag. Whether you’re an aspiring flight attendant or pilot wondering how you should handle this topic, or just someone trying to beat jet lag on vacation, let’s take a look at how the pros do it.
Here is a list of the 13 top ways pilots and flight attendants beat jet lag.
Tip #1: Fresh Sunlight
Your body naturally knows when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to go to sleep based partially on the sun being around. It’s natures way of telling your brain when it’s time to sleep (night time) and when it’s time to be awake (daytime).
You can use this to your advantage. If you find yourself in a time zone where there’s currently daylight but you’re already tired based on what time it is back home, try to go for a brisk walk outside. This can help trick your brain into thinking it’s actually day time and time to be awake.
Tip #2: Stay Active and Get Some Exercise
Physical activity is another way to wake your body up. Exercise has proven to increase endorphins and help make you more energetic and alert.
If you’re traveling as part of a cabin crew (flight attendant or pilot) you should always keep this option in mind. When staying at a hotel, there is typically access to some gym equipment like a treadmill, exercise bike, or some dumbbells.
If you don’t have access to a gym, don’t worry about it. You can also go for a brisk walk or a job and get the same benefits. Personally, going for a nice walk when away from home has always been enjoyable because you not only get the benefits of exercise but also get some sunlight and to experience a city you don’t have have the chance to see.
Tip #3: Drink Water…
Staying hydrated can do wonders for how you feel. It’s tempting to ignore how much water you drink (or even worse – drink alcohol or other drinks that sedate you) but this can lead to you feeling even worse and more tired than you otherwise would.
Studies show that even being slightly dehydrated can make you feel more tired, make it harder to think clearly, and make you more unhappy.
It’s a good idea to make sure you’re drinking water regularly before, during, and after your shift.
Tip #4: And a lot of Caffeine
Although a lot of experts will tell you to limit extreme amounts of caffeine, having the right amount can really help give you the boost you need to make it through a long flight or a few more hours until bed time.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to caffeine:
- Continue to stay hydrated! Coffee and other caffeinated drinks can dehydrate you so make sure you are drinking extra water if you go this route. Professionals recommend drinking an extra glass of water for every caffeinated beverage you have
- Don’t over-do it: More is not always better. If one cup of coffee gives you a jolt to help wake you up, that doesn’t meet that 5 cups is 5 times better. Doing this can lead to you feeling sick, feeling your heart race, and getting the shaky.
- Try to space out your caffeine consumption. Studies show that sipping on a caffeinated beverage slowly over time will give you a better energy boost with less of a crash than drinking a lot at in a short amount of time.
Tip #5: Know When to Nap
When you are a pilot or flight attendants that goes on trips to far away time-zones, you have to learn to really take advantage of naps.
That means knowing that when you get to a new time-zone you might sometimes have to force yourself to take a nap when you might not feel it’s absolutely necessary. The key is to force yourself to take a short nap that’s just long enough where you can make it until when you actually want to get a full night of sleep.
Using these short naps strategically can lead to you being able to adjust your sleep schedule quickly and with the least amount of interference to your life.
Tip #6: Know When NOT to Nap
Naps are great if you use them appropriately to get some rest and make it until you’re ready to get a full night of sleep.
However, you should make sure to not take naps at times that will end up interfering with the getting sleep at the time you actually want to. A good rule of thumb is to not start a nap if you’re within 6 hours of when you’d like to get a full night of sleep.
That way, you won’t find yourself fully rested a few hours before bedtime and start the cycle of jet lag where your sleep pattern is all mixed up. That can be hard to break and lead to several days of being tired and low on energy.
Tip #7: Don’t Waste Crew Rest Time
When you’re given time to rest as part of your work schedule, you should absolutely take advantage of it. It’s given to the flight crew for a reason and not something you should overlook.
This can be some quality time to rest and take a strategically based nap that will help keep you well rested for the rest of your journey. It’s tempting to skip this and do something else with the time, but you’ll regret it when jet lag kicks in and you feel tired and run down.
Tip #8: Try to Keep a Consistent Schedule
This one can be especially hard for people in the aviation industry. Pilots and flight attendants are not known for being jobs that allow for everyone to have a clearly defined scheduled. This is especially true when you’re newer in the role and don’t yet have the seniority to choose your schedule.
That being said, you should try to keep a consistent schedule as much as you can. This prevents your body to have to adjust to completely new sleep schedules on a regular basis. Instead, you can get used to having the sleep schedule that your job calls for.
You will then also have the benefit of preparing for your flights outside of work by changing your sleep schedule as needed. That’s much easier to do than finding out last minute that you need to completely overhaul your schedule for a 2 day assignment.
*Related: Flight Attendant Schedules
Tip #9: Say “NO” to all Nighters
If your flight takes you to a time-zone that is significantly different than yours, you might find yourself in a situation where you are tempted to stay up all night to make it until the “new” night time. This is typically a bad idea and will almost always lead to you crashing and then having your sleep schedule even more messed up.
This is especially common if you’re based in the United States but take a flight to Europe. You can end up landing in London at 6am while it’s still 11pm back in Chicago (this has happened to me!)
In a case like this it’s tempting to try and stay up until it’s bedtime in London. While that is a great idea in theory, it will likely put you in a position to feel awful by mid day. You’re energy level will crash and you’ll end up napping in the late afternoon.
Then begins the problem of not being tired at night and jet lag really kicking in.
Instead, you should take a short nap when you arrive and then wake up and try to stay up until it’s bedtime in the local time zone (London, in this case)
Tip #10: Wait Until the “new” Bed Time
If you need to try and “reset” your body’s natural sleep cycle, one of the best ways to do this is to wait until it’s the “new” bed time that you want to get used to being bed time.
For example, if your flight lands in a new city where it’s 7pm but in your home time-zone it’s already 10pm, you should try to stay up 3 hours later than usual so you can go to sleep at the same time you usually would (10pm for example) in the new time-zone.
While this will require you to stay up later than you usually do, it will also help train your body to what your new schedule will be like for the coming days.
For tips on how to stay up for those additional 3 hours, see the other items on this list that include getting some exercise, sunlight, and a touch of caffeine.
Tip #11: Use a Mask for Darkness
If you are trying to get some sleep and have a hard time falling asleep you should consider using a eye-cover mask for sleeping. These masks do a great job of blocking light and helping you fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
Considering it might be the middle of the day wherever you are in the world when you get off work and want to take a short nap, this can really be a life saver. The natural light would otherwise keep you up or even worse in some cases – wake you up shortly after you fall asleep leaving you with that groggy feeling.
Tip# 12: Keep a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is something you should always do regardless of your profession. But, when it comes to being a pilot or flight attendant that has to battle jet lag while flying around the world it can be even more important.
Eating right can maximize your energy when you’re awake and working. It can also help you fall asleep and get better quality sleep once your down. Considering that you’ll need to maximize the quality of sleep you get while traveling (time is limited) this can play a major part in your battle with jet lag.
One tip I’ve learned over the years is to make sure I never have a large or heavy meal right before flying. This especially applies to sweets and fast food. Both of those have the ability to mess up your energy level and make things tougher over the next day or so.
Tip #13: Nap, Nap, and Nap
Many flight attendants and pilots that have years of intercontinental flight experience know the value of taking naps as often as you can. Being part of a flight crew means you have to get really good at sleeping in unconventional places.
This means taking advantage of the opportunity to nap whenever it comes about. In some cases that means taking a nap before or right after a long flight. In other cases it means closing your eyes for a few minutes at times your allowed to while in flight (as long as you’re following all proper procedures… safety first!)
Although jet lag can is not something anyone enjoys dealing with, using some of these tips from the pros can help you make sure you handle it as best you can the next time you travel to a different time zone. These professionals have spent years learning how to manage jet lag while having some of the most stressful jobs in the world. Take a look at the above list and make sure you take some notes on what might work best for you.