If you’ve ever traveled for more than an hour East-West on an airplane, then there’s a good chance you have experienced jet lag.
Jet lag is what happens when we travel at high speed, and our new location (again east-west) runs contrary to our internal circadian-driven clock. It’s only in the last century that man could even experience jet lag, as all other manners of motion were relatively slow (ship, train, horse, car).
The more time-zones you pass through, the more messed up your internal clock becomes. And it’s commonly believed that it takes about one day/timezone for your clock to catch up (for example, flying from New York to LA – three timezones – would take you three days to re-establish a proper wake/sleep routine).
However, there are some things you can do to aid in the severity of jet lag. It may not be unavoidable, but you can likely make it far less miserable.
Common Jet Lag “Cures”
In general, when traveling east to west recovery is faster since it’s easier to stay up longer/later than to go to bed earlier/early.
- Don’t allow your internal clock to reset by sleeping. If you have to nap make it no longer than 30 minutes. Let your internal clock reset with the new day/night cues.
- Avoid caffeine and liquor during your journey. A drink or two before or during your flight will make things much worse.
- Stay well hydrated during the flight – water is best. The inside of an airplane has very low humidity, and you likely can’t tell that you’re getting dehydrated.
- If you have to eat at all, eat lighter than you normally would. I’ve heard that avoiding food altogether makes the jet lag a non-event.
- Get outside as much as possible at the destination. This helps to reinforce the new daytime cues.
- Change your watch as soon as you step on the plane. Do everything (eat/sleep) on the new timezone.
- Wear an eye mask and ear plugs if you have to sleep on the airplane. Block out as much noise and light as you can.
- If your trip is only for a day or so, and you can accommodate it, stay on your home timezone so you won’t have to experience jet lag twice (one at the destination, and again when you get home).
- Many travelers swear that using melatonin speeds up or eliminates the whole jet lag phenomenon. Try it – it may work for you.
- Although I don’t recommend them, short term use of sleeping pills like Ambien and Sonata can help you sleep when you absolutely can’t otherwise. Remember the dangers of using pills too often!
If you remember these ten simple steps next time you take a long flight, there’s a very good chance that the resultant jet lag will be a minor annoyance instead of a major upheaval to your trip…
If you have any jet lag tips that work for you, please leave a comment!