What Timezone is this Anyway? Tips for dealing with jet lag.
Jetlag sucks. I even know people who won’t travel across timezones because of it. It can make for a miserable trip and can even contribute to being robbed or getting in an accident when you get to your destination.
What Causes Jet Lag?
Our bodies simply aren’t designed to move around the planet that quickly. We are “programmed” as diurnal creatures to wake more or less with the dawn and sleep at night, but our bodies have an internal sense of when that’s supposed to be. Jet lag throws that off. (And yes, if you take your pet or service animal on a long flight, they get jet lag too).
What Effect Does it Have?
The most common impact of jet lag is the twofer of travel fatigue and insomnia. You’re exhausted, yet you can’t sleep. Red eye flights can contribute to travel fatigue substantially — even if you “can” sleep on planes, you’re never going to sleep well.
Other symptoms of jet lag include anxiety, bowel issues in both directions, irritability, headache, nausea, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, malaise (that’s when you feel just a bit out of it) and even short term memory loss. Jet lag can also affect your immune system, which increases your risk of being sick.
Jet lag goes away after a few days. For most people, this is one or two time zones a day. For a short trip, though, this can leave you feeling lousy and grouchy for the entire trip.
Some people are more prone to jet lag than others.
How to Deal With Jet Lag?
Jet lag is a natural effect of crossing timezones, so there’s no way to “prevent” or “cure” it, but there are things you can do:
- Resist the temptation to nap on the first day when going east. You’re better off scheduling nothing in particular and powering through until proper bedtime in your new timezone. In fact, this technique has allowed me and my husband to get over a five timezone eastward jump in a day. Your mileage may vary.
- If you’re traveling for a meeting or family event, go a day early. Allow yourself that first day to be miserably jet lagged. A couple of days are even better, but that can be financially prohibitive.
- Don’t drink too much on the plane. Alcohol can make jet lag worse. Also avoid the coffee, cola, etc. Caffeine can make jet lag a lot worse. (Feel free to use it to help with point 1, though).
- Stay hydrated. Take every drink the cabin staff will give you, and if you’re particularly prone to jet lag make it water. You can also carry a packet of electrolytes and put them in a water bottle you fill after security. Dehydration can make you even more miserable.
- If possible, gradually adjust your schedule before you leave. This doesn’t always work. Another trick I’ve found works is to adjust your schedule when you arrive. For example, if traveling west, if you have activities that involve getting up at oh dark thirty, schedule them for the day after you arrive. You’ll enjoy them more and it will help shift your body. This includes meal times, as there’s evidence that changed meal times also messes up your circadian clock.
- Set your watch to the new time as soon as you get on the plane. I’ve found that doing a mantra of “It is X o’clock” in my head a few times is surprisingly helpful.
- If it’s daytime outside when you land, step outside, take off your sunglasses and look at the sky. This sends your brain a very clear “It’s daytime” signal. You should also do this as soon as you get up on the first full day.
- Don’t take sleeping pills, on the plane or otherwise. They’ll only confuse your poor body more. If melatonin works for you, take it, but only in a small dose.
There’s a lot of research being done on ways to reduce jet lag. These include special night lights, and the possibility of an anti-jet lag pill. However, none of these are ready for “prime time” yet.
The best way, the absolute best way, to mitigate jet lag is to resist collapsing into bed…even if you’ve already been up all night on the red eye. Trust me. It works.