My husband recently experienced his worst jet lag ever. We had just arrived in England, and for the first three days he was an absolute zombie – exhausted, forgetful, dozing off at odd times in inappropriate places. This was especially disturbing since we’d flown there from Spain, where the time difference was only an hour. In my usual compassionate way, I kept saying, “Snap out of it!” and “What’s wrong with you?” Finally, on the third night, Rich came out of the hotel bathroom holding two identical pill bottles, exclaiming, “I haven’t been taking my new prescription, I’ve been taking sleeping pills! I’d forgotten I’d even packed them.” The pills and their containers were virtually indistinguishable until you read the fine print, and I suppose I should be grateful he discovered it as soon as he did, before he was permanently comatose. He stopped taking the sleeping pills and his “jet lag” disappeared.
Real jet lag is not, of course, quite that easy to shake off. The disruption to our circadian rhythms by the sudden shift in the schedule of darkness and light, coupled with the natural stress and dehydration of hours spent in a vibrating plane breathing recycled air, can leave us weary and discombobulated for days. What’s a traveler to do?
Some people are trying the hot new anti-jet lag apps, such as Entrain, Jet Lag App, and Jet Lag Rooster, all based on calculating the light you need (bright indoor, low indoor, bright outdoor, etc.) to adjust your sleep-wake patterns. I’m sure the apps are brilliant, but I have absolutely no intention of using them. Nor will I be attempting the Argonne Anti-Jet Lag Diet, a complex program of feasting and fasting that I could never manage without an app, a personal chef, and an enforcer. And I’m definitely skipping the Harvard/Beth Israel anti-jet lag fast, in which you stop eating altogether before and during a flight. What fun is that?
No, I’m sticking with my tried and true jet-lag-reduction strategies. They may not be perfect, but they are realistic, effective, and simple enough to manage on the fly – which is how most of us are living these days.
1. Drink water, not alcohol. Dehydration is a major factor, so skip the martinis and guzzle water. Worried this will require multiple rest room trips? See Tip #2.
2. Walk around on the plane. Boost your circulation with frequent strolls up and down the aisles.
3. Take No-Jet-Lag. For me, this homeopathic remedy really takes the edge off post-flight suffering. Arriving on the other side of the country, or the planet, I may still be tired, but I don’t feel trashed.
4. Sleep on the plane. On overnight flights lasting ten hours or more, I take half a low-dose sleeping pill; some people favor melatonin. On shorter trips I avoid sleep aids as I find arriving in a drugged stupor is even more disagreeable than jet lag.
5. Have coffee and a shower when you land. Unless it’s nearly bedtime in your new time zone, it pays to perk up with a little caffeine and to rehydrate yourself externally as well as internally.
6. Adapt to the local sleep schedule as best you can. Even if your body is saying you need a nap now, push yourself to stay awake until after dinner. Walks and other physical activities help. Chances are you’ll bounce awake at some ungodly hour, such as 4 AM, so you may want to consider a sleep aid the first few nights.
7. Be kind to yourself. Even with the most effective remedies, transitions are hard, and jet lag drags at the body, soul, and spirit. Try to accept this with good grace and remember it’s only temporary. Adjustment typically takes a day for every hour of time change. If you manage it any faster than that, go out and celebrate.
Do you have a favorite remedy for jet lag? Have you tried one of these new apps or diets? I’d love to hear from you.
7/3/2014 09:53:46 am
I laughed til I cried. Great advice!!
7/3/2014 06:28:08 pm
Thanks, Duane. Glad you enjoyed it!
7/3/2014 06:30:24 pm
You almost can't drink too much water before, during, and after a long flight! Not sure I consume the full half gallon the day before, but that's a great idea, Nancy.
7/3/2014 11:23:01 am
The science fiction writer William Gibson proposed the best explanation for jetlag: our souls travel at a slower pace than our bodies, and so are still somewhere over the Atlantic or the Arabian peninsula when we land. The time they take to catch up is what we call jetlag. Alison Lurie added a wrinkle; our senses travel at a slower rate than our bodies. The fastest are taste and sight - which explains why tourists always want to sight-see and eat when they land, but take more time to retrieve their tastes of touch, smell, hearing etc.
7/3/2014 06:39:09 pm
I just learned that William Gibson calls it "soul delay," which is such a perfect term for it! I hadn't heard that comment of Alison Lurie's; I'll have to test it out on next time I travel. Thanks for sharing these insights, John!
7/3/2014 11:23:17 am
I love that word "discombobulated"! My dad used to use it all the
7/3/2014 05:17:22 pm
Right after the security checkpoint at the Generall Billy Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, WI, there are a few benches under a sign reading "Recombobulation Area".
7/3/2014 06:44:01 pm
This is absolutely fantastic, Robin! I'd never heard of the Recombobulation Area, and now that I have, I think all airports should have one! For more info and photos: http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/29452504.html
7/3/2014 06:44:39 pm
Thanks, Jackie. One of my motivations for being a writer is keeping wonderful old words alive!
7/3/2014 11:44:13 am
My brother-in-law once mistook Ambien for baby aspirin and took 2 of them while on the golf course. He didn't make it to 18. Love your writing!!
7/3/2014 06:46:17 pm
Rich was delighted to hear this story! Thanks for sharing it, Duane. You made his day. Two Ambien! I can't even imagine...
7/3/2014 11:51:24 am
For transatlantic flights I nap on the plane (spoken word podcasts or books are great sleep inducers), drink plenty of water and as soon as we get to our hotel, I take a two-hour nap. When I get up I'm on Euro time and have dinner and go to bed their time. Next morning, ready, set, go! P.S. Glad Rich didn't OD. My goodness, that had to be a disconcerting discovery.
7/3/2014 06:49:01 pm
I hadn't thought of listening to spoken word podcasts or recordings, Nancy; that would be a great way to zone out on planes. I'll have to give it a try. And yes, it was rather disconcerting when Rich began to act so strange; what a relief to discover the cause and fix it so easily!
7/3/2014 12:14:59 pm
thanks for the new suggestion (for me).
7/3/2014 06:52:04 pm
Ships are, like trains, a more civilized form of travel and so much easier on the body and soul. I've never crossed the Atlantic that way, but I have taken overnight ferries a few times lately, and yes, even with the ridiculously early dawn arrivals, I feel much, much better than I do getting off a plane. I'm with you, Lee; it is a better way to go!
7/3/2014 01:31:57 pm
All good advice always. I especially appreciate the reminder to hydrate externally as well as externally. To that end, I use eye drops and lotion en route and essential oils before I get on the plan. Yoga in the back galley or in a very large plane in those crazy skinny isles between cabins.
7/3/2014 06:59:48 pm
You're so right, Laurie; eyedrops and hydrating creams really help. I've never done yoga in the aisles (you are SO brave) but I do a few simple stretches in my seat, and occasionally in the galley areas. Whenever possible, I get a massage before or after the flight. This has become a lot easier since I joined the No. 1 Traveler, a club that offers a lounge and spa services in Heathrow and other airports. Anything to stay more limber!
7/4/2014 12:42:56 pm
Thanks for yet another amusing blog (and I don't even like travelling!)
7/4/2014 06:06:51 pm
Thanks for the tip, Lucy. I'm not sure I have the spiritual sophistication to use this approach, but I would love to hear from others out there who have tried it. I do like the idea of setting a conscious intention to harmonize with your new environment; it's something I work on with every transition. I maintain the image of mentally unpacking my bags, which is a somewhat similar process.
7/4/2014 02:38:46 pm
Great suggestions! I have used No-Jet-Lag for numerous trans-Atlantic trips and it works quite well. I have recommended it to numerous others and they agree that it is a great product.
7/4/2014 06:11:36 pm
I'm glad you like using No-Jet-Lag as much as I do, Carol. I love homeopathic remedies. I finally realized that I don't really care how they work, I'm just grateful that they do!
7/31/2015 10:46:32 am
My son just arrived from Phillipines and since we are in a 'weed' friendly state, he was able to turn day to night in 24 hours. Record time.
7/31/2015 12:33:56 pm
What a practical solution! Here in CA you still have to prove a medical need – I'll have to find out if that includes jet lag!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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