Jet-lag tips and tricksMay 4, 2010 1:41 pm work
During my recent adventures in San Francisco, I told a number of people about my jet-lag “cure”, and they found it sufficiently interesting I thought I would share.
On trans-Atlantic flights, you typically take off late morning and arrive early afternoon when traveling East to West, or you take off in the afternoon & land in the early morning when traveling West to East. There are two steps to dealing with major (>= 6 hours time-zone difference) jet-lag: what you do in the plane, and what you do when you arrive.
For me, when I’m traveling East to West, I don’t sleep much on the plane. I watch movies, get up & walk around, chat to the other people hanging around outside the toilets, read – whatever helps pass the time. This means that when I arrive at my destination, I’m tired – my body thinks that it’s late night and I’ve been awake all day. But in reality, it’s 2pm.
By the time you get out of the airport, get to your hotel and check in, it’s probably between 2pm and 4pm. If you go to sleep now, the chances are that you will sleep for several hours, then go out to eat a late dinner, and have difficulty getting to sleep for the night, resulting in tiredness early the following day. This is the vicious circle of jet-lag.
To break the cycle, here’s where my cure kicks in: get out of your hotel. Your body uses sunlight to set its biological clock, so by getting out in the daylight, you are helping your body to adjust to the new day and night pattern. Getting outside during the day suppresses the natural production of melatonin, which helps put you to sleep. It also stimulates the production of vitamin D, helping combat illness (another consequence of jet-lag).
The absolute best way to get out and get over jet-lag is to get some exercise. Go on a cycling tour of the city, or go running. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphines, making you feel good, and more importantly, after exercise you typically do not want to go to sleep. And a few hours later, when you do go to sleep, you sleep more soundly.
If you do an hour or two of outdoor exercise after arriving at your destination, then go back to your hotel and shower/bathe, go out for a bite around 7pm, and then get to bed at an early but reasonable 10pm, you should be able to have a good night’s sleep, and function all day the day after. I typically wake up very early the first couple of mornings when I travel to the States – which gives me an opportunity to (you guessed it) go for an early morning jog before getting ready to go where I have to be.
When traveling from West to East, the problem is similar, but the lag is in the other direction – you may have a hard time waking your brain in the morning when you travel 6 or more hours back in time.
The same trick works. Avoid excessive sleep in the plane – a couple of hours nap is about all I ever manage overnight on these flights. When you arrive, get outside and moving about for the afternoon. I love to go with the kids to the park when I come back from trips and run them (and myself) ragged with a football, or go for a walk with the family – anything to get us out of the house. To help me get to sleep, as well as skipping most of the previous night in the plane, I take a melatonin pill (purchased in Safeways while in the US, not on sale in Europe for some reason) to help me to get to sleep at the right time. And the following morning, when I have the most difficulty waking up my brain, I force myself with difficulty to put on a pair of trainers and go for a 45 minute jog.
And that’s all there is to it! Typically, the day I arrive I suffer, the day after I can function, but am not 100%, and the the day after that, I am fully adjusted to my new time zone.
Does anyone have any other hints & tips to overcome jet-lag? Comments open!