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.
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and outrageously delicious food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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