How to fight jet lag from US to Tokyo?


I usually arrive at my parents’ house in Tokyo right before dinner. Flights arrive around 4, and it takes 2-3 hours to clear Narita and settle down at destination. I’m always starving. I eat, and immediately get sleepy. Last night we had a big feast—shabu shabu, sashimi, potato salad, white asparagus (in season!), sweet edamame, kimchee-and-squid, rice. Persimmons, figs, and nashi (Japanese pear) for dessert. I unpack/shower. Pass out at 10PM. And then, almost without fail, I wake up in the middle of the night and stay up and listen to the city sleep. In the dead of summer, you hear cicadas all night. Tonight, I heard some other critter chirping outside my window until about 5am.

I know it’s 5am because the first trains hit the tracks, and I hear them speeding across town and the house shakes just a little bit. It’s also right around the crack of dawn, so the room starts to light up. Then the mean crows start cawing and the newspaper guy comes around in his little moped and I hear him doing the stop-and-go around the neighborhood. Then my dad wakes up. And I start to get sleepy again, but I usually eat breakfast and stay up til about 4PM, when I take a super power nap, and stay sleepy throughout the night until about 2-3AM the next morning when I wake up and do the same thing.

After all these years of going back and forth, I still don’t have a good strategy to fight the brutal California-to-Tokyo jet lag. I’m open to tips!

25 thoughts on “How to fight jet lag from US to Tokyo?

  1. Do your best to get up with the sun and do lots of walking early in the day, then do all you can to stay on a normal schedule. Avoid carb-heavy meals.

  2. Life in Japan definitely has its own collection of sounds. I heard the same things during my short time living in the Kobe-Osaka area.
    Maybe you should put out a microphone, Flâneur-style, and record the sounds of Tokyo for a future story.

  3. Summertime sucks in Japan. Sun comes out at 4AM! (Not forgetting typhoons and the humidity)
    1. I don’t sleep on the plane from U.S. to Japan.
    2. I eat and go to bed when the gf hits the sack around 11PM. (If the noises are waking you up, sleep earlier.)
    3. Do not nap. Drink some coffee early, but fight it and sleep when everyone else does. (you don’t have to like coffee, use it as a medicine)
    The biggest problem I have is the Sun. Pulling the shades work, but she prefers to leave the window open in the summer instead of using the air-conditioner. (This kills me because of the sunlight and the street noise a couple floors below at the crack of dawn.) Perhaps an eye shade thingy that you wear on planes might help with the light.
    Winter time is easy and is my favorite season to visit, thus November – April is best. Yes, just avoid Japan, other than those months. 😉

  4. If you don’t have Provigil handy, don’t eat for 16 hours before the flight. It worked when I flew to Denmark and it worked when I flew back to Seattle. Here’s the link:
    By the way, Sultine, where did you get yours from? Did you tell a doctor you have narcolepsy? I’ve thought of that approach but I’m not big on dishonesty.

  5. sounds like your parents and me live in the same building.
    fast, or at least eat as little as possible while flying and drink tons of water. sometimes it help…but i am usually wrecked for a few days no matter what.
    i have been fan of your blogs since coming here 1 1/2 years ago and have always followed boingboing. super happy to see that you guys are collaborating.

  6. I take one benadryl about 15 min before I want to go to bed on my first night only. (Usually shoot for like 10PM) Its an antihistamine with some serious drowsy factor. I think the box refers to a side effect as “profound drowsiness”. One of those and I sleep through about anything for 6-7 hours. Thats a little less than a full night but enough to live off without a “Super power nap”.

  7. I live in Tokyo and fly back to the US on a semi-regular basis. From the US to Tokyo, I first stay up really late the night before the flight (a habit that started because my bf couldn’t ever manage to pack until 2am and I couldn’t sleep while he was packing). Then I sleep through the WHOLE flight to Tokyo. The only time I wake up is to drink a cup of water or ginger ale when they come around with drinks or food. I don’t eat anything on the flight. When I get to Narita, I grab a snack (this prevents the extreme tiredness that usually happens immediately after dinner). Once home in Tokyo, I try to have dinner later, like 8 or 9pm, even though I’m starving and blind with hunger around 7pm. I usually go out to dinner, because then I am more pressed to not fall over asleep into my food and it takes longer. When I get home again and it’s 10 or 11pm, I go to bed. I might wake up at 7 or 8am, but it’s not the horrible 3am-and-never-going-back-to-sleep thing. That’s it, no jetlag.
    I have to say though, I haven’t found the same to be true when I fly from Tokyo back to the US. My flight gets into Seattle about 10am (the same day I left at 5pm, of course) and I’m ruined by 4pm…

  8. I try to drink a cup of water every hour on the plane. Once I’m in Japan I stay active and awake til at least midnight. Then I crash. I can sleep in til at least 8 am, which isn’t bad.

  9. This is completely off topic,but in July you posted about Unagi Nabori, and I have searched high and low for it. I saw one guy drinking it, but he also looked like yakuza so I didn’t bother trying out my amazing Japanese skills of “unagi nabori wa doko des ka”.
    Now that you are in country, you think you can track it down?

  10. I’ve heard in some scientific journals that your sleep/wake cycle is tied to your eating schedule and melatonin amounts in the body etc. They suggest that before travel that you avoid food for 16 hours and that when you get wherever you’re traveling that your schedule will set after eating.
    Makes sense to my biology roots.

  11. This requires discipline. The day of your travel, make yourself sleep and eat during Japan time zone. That means refusing meals and sleeping at odd times. When you arrive your body clock will have adjusted

  12. I agree with lizarooski. Prepping for a long haul flight to Japan from the US is all about making your body start to adjust before you even get on the plane. In fact, I usually don’t sleep at all the night before a flight. This means that the moment I get on to a morning flight from NYC, I fall asleep immediately and I spend most of the flight sleeping. I usually wake up with about 3-4 hours to go, which somewhat puts me in sync with Japan time.

  13. Im making the trek from US to Tokyo in less than a month so this blog is definitely getting me prepped! hehe.
    My boyfriend travels overseas a lot and whenever he does, he always stays up super late the night before (or even all night) that way he passes out and sleeps the whole flight over. Thats pretty much my plan! plus i’ll probably have some melatonin in tote.

  14. I envy those of you who can sleep on the airplane. (I can’t sleep sitting up. If only I had the budget for a flat-reclining sleeper chair!)
    On the plane, don’t drink alcohol.
    In Tokyo, I go our for a big dinner. Then I walk around for a couple of hours. Around 11:00pm it’s lights out and I try to sleep through the night.
    The first full day in not too bad. It is the following day that kills me. And I have a lot of trouble sleeping that second night.(Anyone else experience this?) I’ve tried Melatonin with mixed results. These days I no longer bother.
    Finally, the jetlag produced by the trip East, back to California, is MUCH worse. Compounding things is the fact that you arrive in the morning, so it is almost impossible to make it through the day without a nap. That throws off you sleep schedule for days!

  15. I travel over seas a lot and the best way to over come jet lag is once you land in Japan, do not force yourself to go to sleep until the next sleeping day (maybe a short nap but plan on doing an all nighter if you can). No such remedies to take while on the plane there, our bodies are all different.

  16. Try Fasting.
    CHICAGO (Reuters) – Starving yourself before a long flight may help prevent jet lag, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
    Normally, the body’s natural circadian clock in the brain dictates when to wake, eat and sleep, all in response to light. But it seems a second clock takes over when food is scarce, and manipulating this clock might help travelers adjust to new time zones, they said.
    “A period of fasting with no food at all for about 16 hours is enough to engage this new clock,” said Dr. Clifford Saper of Harvard Medical School, whose study appears in the journal Science.

  17. I actually find going back to the US a lot tougher than coming to Japan.
    When coming to Japan, I go to bed early, wake up early, and head over to Daiwa at Tsukiji for the best morning sushi!

  18. Longtime reader, first time poster.
    Funny, I just got back from my first trip to Japan (was there from the 17th through the 22nd).
    I didn’t have any jet lag to speak of… going there or coming back. I can’t sleep on airplanes, fwiw, so my travel days to and from were of the 24-hour variety — getting to the airport, checking in, layovers, etc. I just ended each arrival day by staying up very late and drinking a lot of beer. Woke up as I would on any other morning, at the same time I do at home. Worked for me. YMMV.

  19. What works for me without fail, is setting my watch when the plane takes off to the local time at my final destination. Especially for longer flights because it gives me more than 10 hours to adjust.

  20. Similarly to ‘Vagrant’:
    – Don’t sleep on the flight over
    – Force yourself to stay awake until 11pm or midnight
    At this point you’ll have been up for long enough and be tired enough that you should be able to stay down for 6+hrs and should be functional that next morning.

  21. I had such bad problems with Jet Lag I had to find a solution…I just returned from Japan and had no problems with Jet Lag both ways!
    You have to get on the local sleep pattern starting the first night, and depending on when your flight arrives, you should also control your sleep on the plane.
    Here’s my article explaining more about how you can fight off Jet Lag
    Hope it helps!