One of the best things about remote work and being a digital nomad is that it gives you the freedom to travel and work in amazing locations. You could be in San Francisco for a month, the next in London, and Montreal after that. Quite often, your destinations will be in different time zones—day could be night, and night could be day. As digital nomads, an inherent part of the lifestyle is adapting to schedules with your team or clients. And to be successful at this, it’s essential to be productive when you get there – and there could be in a time zone 8 hours ahead or behind your normal office hour schedule.
Luckily, there are tried and true methods to adjust to different time zones. Whether you’re an aspiring digital nomad, already have a trip coming up or travel often and want to master adjusting to different time zones, consider the following six tips.
6 Tips to Adjust to a Different Time Zone
The body operates on a biological schedule known as the circadian clock. Seeing daylight at specific times of day helps set this clock—but it’s slow to adjust when we rapidly fly across time zones. Enter jet lag.
If you’re planning travel that will land you in a significantly different time zone, you will most likely have to battle jet lag on some level. But severe jet lag doesn’t have to be inevitable—it can at least be mitigated. The 6 tips below should help you prepare for big time zone swings so you can be super productive with as little disruption to your sleep as possible. Let’s begin!
1. Planning is Key
If you’re traveling today or tomorrow, this won’t necessarily work. That said, if you have several days (or more) before your trip, sleep planning is highly recommended. First, figure out what time zone you’ll be in at your next destination. If your trip is taking you east, try to get up earlier and go to bed earlier than normal. If you’re going west, it’s the opposite—stay up later, wake up later. The goal here is to help sync your “body clock” to the new time zone.
Note: Keep in mind when your team or clients expect you to be available, and let them know how your new location will affect your availability/communication. This is huge! Don’t leave them hanging—reliability is essential to sustain a travel-based lifestyle for remote workers and digital nomads.
2. Stay Awake (If You Can)
It sounds like a bad horror movie title, but it’s pretty solid advice, especially if you land during daylight hours. Go for a walk, work in a cafe that’s nice and bright (or even sit outside), or get some light exercise. You’ll adjust faster to the sunlight and it will aid in your body clock’s reset process.
Much like pulling an all-nighter in college (or for your startup), your craving for sleep will be particularly strong if you stay awake for a prolonged period, no matter what time zone you’re in. So with this in mind, don’t snooze on the plane. And when you arrive, resist the nap and try to stay awake until your normal bedtime based on the local time. For example, if your normal bedtime in Atlanta is 11pm and you fly to Berlin, stay awake there until local time 11pm. If you land in the morning and have to stay up all day, you’ll end up feeling exhausted when that normal bedtime actually comes around—this will help with a restful sleep!
Your body may beg for sleep, but stand firm: Refuse. Force your body’s transition to the local time.Rick Steves
Note: What if you land at night, feel tired and the local time is similar to your normal bedtime? Take advantage of it and hit the sack! It could help you speed up the adjustment process.
3. Vitamin D is Your Friend
After waking up the following day, go and get yourself some sun. Light is the principal control of our day-night cycle, influencing everything from body temperature to metabolism to sleep. That said, it’s the most important factor in resetting your body clock. If possible, get 15-30 minutes of direct sunlight after you roll out of bed. Go for a stroll, grab an acai bowl and eat it outside, or simply sit in the sun and flip through an interesting book or zine.
Note: Currently reading Radical Focus—it’s on the NomadStack list along with a bunch of other great reads for digital nomads.
4. Dazed & Confused? Daytime Remedies
This one is worth mentioning, but if you’re a seasoned digital nomad or remote worker, you’re most likely already all over this. If you’re dealing with daytime drowsiness and having a hard time adjusting to new time zones, use the things that work for you at home and apply them in your new location.
Early on in your trip, find the cafe near your hotel/apartment/co-living space with stellar coffee, espresso or tea. Let that be your morning HQ. Being around people other people can combat drowsiness, too. We’d suggest finding a lively coworking space where you can be surrounded by fellow energetic remote workers and digital nomads.
5. Melatonin & Supplements vs. Jet Lag
Meds aren’t essential for combating jet lag, but the use of melatonin may help.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate our circadian rhythm by working as a darkness signal. It’s produced by a small gland in your brain called the pineal gland. It’s secreted in the absence of light, such as during nighttime hours. The presence of light suppresses melatonin production. It’s been studied extensively, and supplemental melatonin is commonly used for jet lag treatment—it’s been shown to help with both sleep and reducing jet lag symptoms.
Now if you go with melatonin, make sure you’re going with the correct does (Jodi Ettenberg breaks it down on LegalNomads). Alternatively, there are other supplements that can help with sleep, such as valerian root or Magnesium. Do your own research beforehand on these though, so you’re aware of potential side effects.
Note: Personally, I find valerian root effective, and use a supplement called Shut Eye. It contains valerian root extract, melatonin, passionflower and other herbs that are supposed to aid sleep. Just my two cents.
6. Prep For the Next Locale
As your current trip gets closer to an end, think about your next locale—where you want to stay and what time zone it’s in. Begin to ease yourself into that time zone, adjusting your bedtime/wake time in 30-60 minute increments towards the new clock setting. Also, lock down a
Addendum: Upside-Down Schedule
No, we’re not talking about Stranger Things, although we do love it (especially the music). We’re referencing a more unorthodox approach and working an “upside-down” schedule if it makes sense in your life, or if it’s the only way to work with certain clients. This entails working nights and sleeping during the day. Usually, this will only come into play if you work with clients or a company with a major time difference to yours (i.e., 12 hours apart). Or, maybe you prefer this lifestyle! Either way, we will cover this in a later post.
Have Jet-Lag Tips for Digital Nomads?
What are your tips on traveling across time zones, fighting jet lag (winning), and being productive immediately? Let us know in the comments and help out other digital nomads and remote workers!
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