How I beat jet lag on big timezone changes to hit the ground running at my destination

TRAVEL_Brussels Airlines at IAD.jpg

With Wine:Thirty Flight's next oversees trip just two weeks away, today I found myself preparing to beat seven timezone's worth of jet lag by scheduling sleeping hours on my calendar over several days leading to our departure. Such is my particular technique for getting the most out of my travel time from the moment I land: Adjust your sleep schedule incrementally, an hour each day, until you get as close as possible to syncing with your new timezone the day you depart. Here's how it works.

Schedule eight-hour blocks of sleep time starting a week or so before departure. The night before you leave, get as close as you can to what you'd consider a normal night of sleep in your destination timezone. Then, create a similar block for two nights before your departure, but move its start time one hour closer to the timezone to which you are accustomed. Work backwards, moving each previous night an hour closer, and hour closer, etc... until you've gone enough days back to match your normal sleep routine.

In the case of our upcoming journey from Eastern Time in the United States to Central European Time, I knew that the earliest I'd be able to go to sleep on the plane the night of our departure (a Thursday) was 8pm (20:00) ET. I therefor reasoned that the night before departure (Wednesday), I should shoot to go to sleep at 9pm (21:00) ET. Likewise for Tuesday at 10pm (22:00) ET, and 11pm (23:00) ET on Monday, and (because I am a night owl and this adjustment is tough for me) another 11pm night on Sunday for good measure. It ends up looking like this:

TRAVEL_Eastern Time Sleep Calendar.jpg

Switch into Central European Time (my destination) on my computer, and the calendar looks like this:

TRAVEL_Central European Time Sleep Calendar.jpg

Basically I am trying to trick my body into thinking that the (night before my departure) I am going to sleep at 3am (03:00) and waking up at 11am (11:00) at my destination. Takeoff and landing times on night of departure will constrain my sleep (or, at the very least, onboard sleep attempt) into a definite block, but if I can manage arriving at my destination with some inkling that it's 8am (08:00) and time to wake up, all the better.

As a night owl, I personally struggle far more with the timezone change when I fly east than I do when I fly west. Westward journeys are generally no problem for me because in practice they just involve me staying up until what in my mind feels late but in reality is a normal bedtime at my destination. That said, if I wanted to pre-adjust for a westward journey, I'd schedule time in the opposite direction of my example above. I'd try to stay up super late at home the night before departure, then stay up an hour less late the night before that, etc. 

Finally, when I arrive, I work really hard to stick to my new clock reality as best I can. I do admit to usually taking a nap the first day, but I cap the nap at an hour (maximum) to recharge, and then power through from there.

The real trick of this technique is actually having the foresight to schedule your sleep time on the calendar, and then having the discipline to go to bed when the calendar specifies. Schedule the time well in advance so that you can arrange your other plans at home as best you can around your bizarre new sleep schedule. Realities of life, work, and family will usually prevent you from nailing this completely, but I've found that some effort up front helps me gently spread the adjustment over a few days, and make better use of my time at the destination. 

What about you? What are your tricks for mastering a timezone change?