How To Recover From Jetlag – Tips from an International Airline Pilot

33 years of worldwide flying

There are no such things as a “quick fix” for the age-old question of how to recover from jetlag. If you have flown across timezones that are at least four hours different from your home-zone, then you know what havoc and fatigue jetlag can cause on your body.

A lot of medical research is being done on the subject. Overcoming circadian rhythm disturbance, however, does not offer any solutions to an instant fix.

Regardless of medical research and advice from other people, there is no such thing as a “quick fix” for the age-old question of how to recover from jetlag. You are going to have jetlag regardless of which measures you put in place to counter the effects. However, HOW you choose to recover from jetlag could make things easier to handle for your jetlag recovery.

What is jetlag?

Jetlag is the extreme tiredness and other physical effects we feel after a long flight across several time zones.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton discusses jet lag with Harry Smith. CBS News/YouTube.

Constant jetlag over years, often experienced by international airline crews, could potentially have lasting health effects, according to medical research.

Typical tips on how to overcome jetlag

Most of you have heard the typical advice we get on how to best minimize jetlag. These methods include things we can do, such as:

  • Setting your watch to the destination time a day before you depart.
  • Adapting to what the destination schedule will be while inflight.
  • Arriving early in the day.
  • Moving around the aisle of the airplane.
  • Stay hydrated,

and more.

The newest airliners even have “mood lighting” in the cabin, designed to help adjust the body to the arrival timezone and to minimize jetlag. But does it work for most people? The ruling on that appears to differ from flyer to flyer, in spite of scientific evidence that it should work.

The Golden Rule of jetlag-effects

In general, it takes one day to recover from jetlag for every two time zones that you cross.

How well you recover within a given period of time, according to former U.S. Navy Flight Surgeon and FAA-designated AME physician Dr. Robert Heebner, M.D., is largely dependent on a person’s genetics.

What methods help me the best to recover from jetlag?

Steps to recover from jetlag


So how can you best-overcome jetlag? Each person you speak with has their own solution.

What methods do I, an airline pilot, apply to recover from jetlag after averaging four long-haul flights a month between the U.S. and Europe or Pacific/Asia nonstop for more than 30 years?

A typical jetlagged schedule of an airline pilot flying internationally

As an airline pilot, I would seldom stay more than 24 hours in any given place around the world.

For example, on day one, I may start my trip from Los Angeles.

  • The first day (ok, only a 3-hour time zone difference) I might spend in New York.
  • The next day I might be in Rome (9-hour time zone difference from my home-time zone in California).
  • The following day I might be back in New York.
  • The day after I might be in Paris.
  • The following day I could be back in New York.
  • The final day I arrive back home in Los Angeles.

Combine the constantly changing time zones that are 9-12 hours apart every day with all-nighter “red-eye’ flights for 4-5 days straight at a time, and your body will be taking a constant beating!

An Airline Pilot’s Personal Jetlag Recovery Routine

Some people have asked me if I get so used to traveling between time-zones that I don’t get jetlag.

The answer to that is, international airline crews get jetlag like everybody else.

Here’s my personal solution to minimizing my own jetlag. I have found these simple methods to work best for me:

  • Stay hydrated with water.
  • Light therapy: At the advice of my Flight Surgeon I spend at least 20 minutes in daylight, preferably in the sun after arrival, if my arrival-time is during the daylight hours.
  • If I arrive during the day-time I would take a one-hour nap, two hours max, upon arrival. Then I often have to force myself to get up when the alarm clock rings.
  • I go to bed at normal local time bedtime at my arrival location, ensuring I get plenty of sleep.
  • Taking 3 mg (max) of melatonin helps adjust my sleep and minimize the jetlag. (If you wish to try melatonin for your own jetlag, please first ask your doctor if melatonin is right for you).

In terms of flying, jetlag can be brutal on your body. What are your experiences with jetlag? You can contact us here.

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