This is where I come from: I have more than 250 intercontinental flights under my belt, most of them being long-haul between Asia and Europe because I was running offices both in Singapore and Munich for 20+ years.
Here come my tricks for beating jetlag when arriving in Singapore, coming from Europe. My tricks will also work if I arrive from the East Coast of the U.S., just that I need more days to fully adjust to Singapore time. And I will not work on the first day when I arrive from the East Coast of the U.S. in Singapore.
If my tricks work for me then they may also work for you.
Trick #1: Know The “Stay Awake” Time Window [1pm – 9pm]
These are the eight magic hours that you must stay awake, whatever it costs: [1pm to 9pm].
The rationale is simple. I want to force my body into a new circadian rhythm that gives me sleep during regular nighttime, starting from 10pm onwards.
The difficult part is the first part of that 1 pm – 9 pm “stay awake” time window, from 1pm to 6pm, because this is night time in Europe or in the Americas. I usually force myself out of bed at 1pm during the first days after my arrival in Singapore, and I use all the alarm clocks that are available for me. I then try to expose myself to the equatorial sun, by having breakfast on the balcony and by walking outside. A swim in the pool will help, too! All that will drive the melatonin levels in my blood down and make me awake.
Rule of thumb: the longer I can stay up after 1 pm during the first days, the easier it gets for the rest of the stay in Singapore.
If that works for me, it may also work for you.
Rule of thumb: whatever time zone you are from, that “stay awake” window of 1pm – 9pm applies. Remember it by heart.
Trick #2: Do not accept whatsoever meeting before 3 pm, not online and not even for lunch, during the first few days of your stay in Singapore
The rationale for Trick #2 is that you emphasize adjusting your circadian rhythms to local Singapore time during the first week of your stay here.
And you do that by squeezing all your personal meetings into that 6 hours long “meetings window” of 3pm – 9pm.
That does not mean that you cannot do work offline. You can do offline work but you cannot commit to specific meeting times.
You will have plenty of time during the first week in Singapore when you cannot sleep but it is difficult to predict when that is. That may be from 2 am – 5 am in the morning Singapore time, or 10:30 am – 11:30 am. Nobody can predict that.
There is a two-hour time window after the start of your above “stay awake 1 pm – 9 pm” window and the “meetings window 3 pm – 9 pm”. You will need these two hours for waking up and for driving to your meeting location, wherever means of transport you use.
Nobody in Singapore will question your time restrictions because we often have foreigners here. And we appreciate that you sacrifice your valuable time for having dinner with us.
Trick #3: Accumulate as Many Sleep Hours as Possible During Your “Sleep Window” 10 pm to 1 pm (next day)
Yes, you have read right. Your “sleep window” is 15 hours long. From 10 pm to 1 pm on the next day. And there is a reason for that.
My sleep efficiency is at best 50% during a time when I am cranking my circadian rhythms to another time zone. I have measured that with my Oura ring. And if it is that little for me then it is probably the same for you.
This is what my Oura ring taught me: I can accumulate sleep over one day and still get sufficient rest for overcoming fatigue. That accumulating sleep even works with naps that are as short as 30 minutes!
The First Sleep/Awake Cycle of my First Night After Arrival
That means for me that from 10 pm onwards, I lay down in my bed, with the goal of falling asleep. This usually happens within 30 minutes because I am tired from my earlier “meetings window” of the same day and – importantly – because I am applying my method of “falling asleep like a boss” (click here). That comes with taking a low-dose 3mg medical-grade Melatonin pill.
My circadian rhythms are completely set up from earlier going through the “meetings window” and I will usually wake up after 2 or 3 hours of deep sleep. And that may be at 1 am in the morning. After that too early waking up in my bed, I try to fall asleep again but that does usually not work. I try to fall asleep again for 10 minutes but I get up if I am not successful. Yes, I get up even if this is at 1.30 am in the morning. No problem, we will fix that later. What matters is that I got 2 or 3 hours of nice sleep under my belt.
I will then do some work, often for 2 or 3 hours. I eat something. I can even drink coffee. And I go back to bed as soon as I start to feel sleepy again which is usually at 4 am or 5 am in the morning.
The Second Sleep/Awake Cycle of my First Night After Arrival
I then take another low-dose medical-grade 3mg Melatonin pill. I switch all lights off and I go back to bed, waiting for that Melatonin pill´s “sleepy wave” to arrive. That would usually put me to sleep until 7 am in the morning. The second sleep cycle for this night is complete, and I am happy. I got 2 or 3 hours of nice sleep under my belt which makes a total of 4 or 5 sleeping hours. My Oura ring counts that for me.
Same routine again as before: I stay up until 9 am or 10 am, work, eat something, and have a coffee.
The Third Sleep/Awake Cycle of my First Night After Arrival
Next, I feel sleepy again at 10 am. I take another low-dose medical-grade 3mg Melatonin pill, close the curtains – important – so that my room is completely dark, and I go to bed. I fall asleep fast.
My third sleeping round for that night lasts until about 1 pm. All my alarm devices rattle me up from my deep sleep. My Oura ring tells me that I have accumulated a total of 6 or 7 hours of solid sleep over the past 15 hours. And I was even up for 6 or 7 hours, doing some light work.
Day 2: Ready For the Second “Stay Awake” Period
I am now ready for a shower or a swim in the pool, and for a light lunch, and after that, I proceed to my first meeting which is at 3 pm local Singapore time.
That was my first night after arrival, and I will stick to the same routine for at least 3 or 4 more days. After a total of 5 such night/day cycles, I am usually all set for the new time zone.
Still, I don´t commit to meetings before 3 pm. And that is why my method is badass: I don’t care for the needs of others but only for getting my mind & body right. But that works fine.
Only after a week or so will I accept meetings before 3 pm.
Qestions & Answers
Q: Why don’t you use Melatonin with a “retard” action release? Would that not help you stay asleep throughout the entire night?
A: I have tried out these pills that release Melatonin with a delay. They work best if combined with a Melatonin pill that acts immediately. The second Melatonin pill that acts with a delay of 2 hours would then kick in when my body wants to wake up after 2 or 3 hours of sleep. That may or may not work. If it works then the result is that I may be able to avoid that “awake window” between 01:30 am and 4 am. But my circadian rhythms are still upset, and the result is that I wake up at 5 am and I cannot sleep. So I will stay up until 9 am and then need some sleep again. Nothing has changed if you look at the big picture. I find it too complicated to carry two Melatonin products with me.
Q: What else do you recommend for that first week with the “Stay Awake/Sleep Window” regime?
A: What I find very disturbing is when I have to roam around at 4 am in the morning, searching for something to eat. That is why I fill my fridge upon arrival with all that I need when I wake up during the Sleep Window times. Here is my personal shopping list
- medical-grade Melatonin 3mg
- bottled water
- lemons (for making lemon water)
Q: Does alcohol help with falling asleep?
A: Yes it does. But the Oura ring keeps telling me that my body is less recovered after a night of sleep after drinking alcohol, as compared with a night of sleep without any alcohol.
Q: What can I do to fall asleep faster after going to bed?
A: I am listening to podcasts that interest me. As soon as the “sleepy wave” from the Melatonin hits me I fall asleep. Often in less than 5 minutes. I am using wireless battery earphones so I do not strangle myself with earphone cables. I find the wireless battery earphones on my bed after I wake up again. They fell out of my ears.
Q: You always speak about the “sleepy wave” that Melatonin generates. What is this?
A: Melatonin and traditional sleeping pills work in entirely different ways. The additional Melatonin that you swallow takes some time until it gets into your blood and from there into your brain. I can feel that moment like a water wave touching my entire body. That is when I can give in and fall asleep. If I miss the “give in” part and I do not fall asleep with that “sleepy wave” then that was it. There will not be a second “sleepy wave” from the same Melatonin pill. I need to take a second pill for creating a new “sleepy wave”.
Q: Why Melatonin?
A: Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced in the brain. Natural Melatonin production is high when your eyes do not see light and if your circadian rhythms tell your body that it is time to sleep, so you become sleepy and you finally fall asleep. If you cannot sleep, that can have multiple reasons, among others because your room is not dark enough, or because you are old so that your body produces less melatonin, or if you are suddenly put into a different time zone. The easiest for finding out the root cause of your sleeplessness is to try out whether or not taking additional Melatonin helps. If that does not help then we need to dig deeper. The good news is that the solution is in most cases very simple: follow my “9 steps to fall asleep as a boss” article (click here). If that does not work then you need personal sleep coaching.
Q: Why medical-grade Melatonin?
A: It is my experience that medical-grade Melatonin has no side effects after waking up, such as dizziness. Medical-grade Melatonin also works with much lower dosages, the 3mg pill or even half a 3mg pill is good enough for creating that “sleepy wave” mentioned above.
Use medical-grade Melatonin and my 3 sure-fire tricks for adjusting yourself to a new time zone.
That will work, trust me.
Martin “Shui de Hao” Schweiger