Overcoming Jet Lag

Overcoming jet lag

I arrived at a distant overseas blackjack location two days ago, and am fighting jet lag because of a nine-hour time difference. In trying to adjust, I managed to stay awake till 7 pm last night, but I still woke up at 3 am and couldn’t go back to sleep.

Any tips on staying awake later than 7 pm so I can stay asleep until a reasonable hour? I suppose I could drink Red Bulls or coffee, but caffeine really doesn't help me stay awake, nor do I enjoy any of those drinks.

Photonman: Human performance studies by the FAA suggest it takes about one day per time zone for complete adaptation if you do nothing, and that you should begin changing your sleep cycle by one hour per day, starting with the number of days of your time zone difference. Obviously, this is not practical for most people, nor is complete adaptation really necessary, but the more pre-departure adaptation the better.

Flights are dehydrating due to insensible water loss through your lungs as cabin air is bone dry (and very pure, contrary to popular myth). Ergo, drink lots of nonalcoholic fluids.

Flyboy: Caffeine and sugar aren't the best remedies for overcoming jet lag. They will provide some temporary energy but will slow the adjustment process.

I've done a lot of international business travel in my time, including several runs between the US and Asia. Heed Photonman’s advice above, as well as these proffered tips:

Eat lightly the day you travel and stick to small servings of fruits, veggies, and carbs; they digest faster, enabling your system to adjust quicker to mealtime and dietary changes at your destination. For the opposite reason, avoid meat protein and animal fats before and during long-distance travel.

Don't drink alcoholic beverages on the flight. Not only do they contribute to dehydration, they slow time zone adjustment. The first 24 hours at your destination, drink lightly (one beer or a glass of wine) or better, not at all.

I've found that no matter what I do, adjustment after the return trip (eastbound or westbound) takes longer. You don't have the rush of the outbound trip, the work, and the novelty of the destination driving your psyche.

The Chaperone: For me, jet lag is always worse going west to east. I've heard many people concur with this. I'm talking about intercontinental flights with seven or more hours time differences, not the two or three-hour differences you get on domestic flights.

I think the reason is that coming east to west, you can just treat it as a very long day. For example, if the time zone is nine hours ahead such as from the mainland of Europe to the west coast of the US, it effectively is a 33-hour day. Part of the reason this may be easier for me is that I'm a night owl. If I've been going to bed at 3 am in Germany and fly home, my body will want to go to sleep at 6 pm, which isn't that big a deal. I will usually tough it out for 3-5 hours, chatting with friends/family, eating, etc. So this has me going to bed at 9-11 pm which is when most normal people go to bed. Then I will probably sleep longer than my usual 7-8 hours. Maybe I'll sleep 9-10 hours due to trip exhaustion and wake up at 7-8 am which isn't bad at all.

Heading east is brutal for me as my typical 3 am bedtime is high noon in Europe. After the long trip, it is definitely hard to keep the eyes open until 8 pm, or whatever minimum you might assign as a reasonable bedtime, and an afternoon nap is counterproductive (good luck trying to wake up from that nap!).

Originally published on Green Chip, edited for this format.


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