BY ROB SMENTEK
It’s the worst: You’ve come home from a successful business meeting overseas with nothing more on your mind than getting a good night’s sleep in your own bed. But then 4 am rolls around and you’re still wide awake, counting the rotations of the ceiling fan. Jet lag has reared its ugly head once again.
Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that can occur any time you travel quickly across two or more time zones. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to feel its effects: sleepy or sluggish during the day and/or wide awake at night. While the effects of jet lag are short-term (think: one day for every two time zones crossed), the disruption to your circadian rhythm undoubtedly has a negative effect on your mood and productivity. Moreover, in addition to the classic sleep disturbance, jet lag can also cause digestive problems, loss of appetite, and memory and concentration issues.
While there is no sure fire “cure” for jet lag, there are ways to minimize its effects. While one travel blogger insists you can eliminate it altogether by just putting your bare feet on the ground after your flight, we took a look at some of the easiest—and most realistic—ways to get yourself on track when you travel.
“Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder that can occur any time you travel quickly across two or more time zones. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to feel its effects...”
If you’re the type of person who maintains a strict routine, try and relax your schedule a bit in the days before your flight. Having a rigid routine of eating and sleeping can often make it harder to adjust to new time zones, especially if you’re on a business-related trip that requires dinner meetings and late nights. To get your body accustomed to the change, experts recommend changing your sleeping patterns in the days before travel. If you’re heading east, try to go to bed one hour earlier each night for a few days. If westbound, go to bed an hour later. Those who have an already somewhat flexible schedule will generally manage better on a long trip.
Smart Booking and Scheduling
If booking the trip falls under your auspice, look for an overnight flight that arrives during daylight hours—particularly during transatlantic travel. Use your time in the air to get as much sleep as you can—admittedly a challenge on a plane—so you’ll be well rested when you arrive. Once you land, try to keep active and stay awake until you can take advantage of an early local bedtime. If you can, make that first day a “free day” by avoiding any big meetings, particularly if you’re not “sharp” after travel. Also, exercise and fresh air are key to staving off jet lag. Avoid daytime naps, even if you’re desperate. If you nod off at 4 pm and wake up several hours later, you’re already way out of whack and likely lost for the remainder of your trip.
Watch What You Eat
Whether you’re traveling for pleasure or business, it’s often difficult to not overindulge in food and beverage. Avoid overeating and keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum—particularly on the flight. As tempting as it is to have the flight attendant bring you a gin and tonic or glass of wine, the effects of alcohol in the air may increase tiredness and dehydration, which feeds the jet lag monster. However, feel free to drink lots of water. Keeping yourself hydrated is hugely beneficial to getting over jet lag.
A scientist with the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory firmly believed that nutrition was a large part of jet lag and thus developed the Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag Diet. This plan is said to be effective, but ultimately “difficult to stick to” since it involves alternate days of feasting and fasting before a trip. Set your watch. After the flight attendant gives that safety speech, move your watch ahead (or behind) to the destination time. This helps sync your mind—and body—to get into the new rhythm.
Catch Some Z’s
One of the best ways to get ease from jet lag is to sleep. No, duh, right? But, seriously, do your best to try to get as much sleep as you normally would in a 24-hour period. Bring noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to help you block out distractions. Close your blinds before bed to prevent that early morning light shining through your window. In extreme cases, you may want to consider medication to help you sleep or keep you alert following a flight. Talk to your doctor whether you’ll benefit from such treatment. Be aware, however, that sometimes the “hangover” from a sleeping pill is worse than any jet lag.
Consider these tips prior to your next long flight. With a little prior planning, and some minor lifestyle adjustment, you may be able to make the most of your trip—and return—without any lag. [CD0717]