Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jet Lag Week: How to Beat Jet Lag

I’ve written about it before.  On my first trip to Europe as a 15 year-old, I spent much of the trip in a zombie state.  The problem: a bad case of jet lag!  Since then I’ve developed a routine which makes fighting jet lag a lot easier. 

The goal when dealing with jet lag: allow your body to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible.  So, you have to treat your body well and help it along with a few easy steps:

1. Drink water.  On an international flight, I generally board the plane with a full liter of water.  And I drink the entire bottle.  And sometimes more.  Why? The air on a plane is extremely dry.  The food served is full of salt.  And my body, like yours, is mostly water.  So I approach an international flight like I would an athletic event.  I drink a lot of water the day before I fly, while I am in the air, and when I land as well. 

2. Don’t drink alcohol.  Give up free booze?  I know. It’s hard.  But all alcohol does is dehydrate your body.  And it keeps you from drinking the water you really need.  I’ve been known to have a cocktail with dinner on the plane, but only one.  And then I’m done.

3. Sleep when flying TO Europe. 
There’s a reason the flight attendants turn off the lights after dinner.  It is time to snooze.  Now, you’ll have to get up and go to the bathroom once or twice since you are well-hydrated, but that’s good for you. Get up.  Walk a little bit.  Stretch.  And rotate your ankles.  Then settle back in and sleep again.  Having said that: I can’t sleep on planes.  If you’re like me, just use the time to relax.  Watch movies. Read.  Rest.  I’ve found that the more I can just relax and veg out, the better off I am in the end. 

4. Stay awake. 
When you get to your European destination whether it is London, Liechtenstein, or Lucca, chances are it will be morning or mid-afternoon (depending on how many connections you have made).  Before you leave, plan a day that will keep you out of your hotel or apartment and out on the streets.  This isn’t the day to see the Vatican Museums or to go to the theater, but it is a great day for a walking tour of a city’s center.  Do something active but not taxing. 

5. Go to bed. 
On my first night in Europe, my goal is always to stay awake until 8 pm.  In Italy, the restaurants are just opening for dinner as I snuggle down into bed, but I know that I’ll enjoy many more leisurely plates of pasta if I sleep well that first night. 

6. For 3-4 nights: take Tylenol PM (or something similar).  That first night, you will think, “Oh, I am so tired.  I’ve just walked all over Rome after being on a plane for 12 hours.  I won’t need anything to make me sleep.”  And you’ll be right.  You don’t need anything to make you sleep.  What you need is something that will KEEP you asleep.  Otherwise, about 4 am, you will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as my mom says.  And unless you really like to keep baker’s hours on vacation... well, I’ve found that Tylenol PM does the trick for me.  I usually take it for four nights straight.  After that, I’m sleeping through the night just fine. 

7. No napping. 
On that first trip to Europe, my biggest mistake was taking naps.  The more you take them, the more you need them.  When you nap you interfere with your body’s adaptation to the light and dark of your new location.  Now, I love a good nap!  If napping was an Olympic sport, I’d be on the US team.  But when traveling, napping can really inhibit your ability to adjust quickly.

Traveling from Europe to North America?  Do the very same things!  The only difference: you should stay awake on the plane to North America rather than sleeping.  That’s why the cabin crew keeps the lights on.  Generally, your plane will land in the late afternoon or evening.  Again, stay awake until 8 pm, and then head to Dream Land.

What are your best strategies for beating jet lag? 


jessiev said...

i read an article about eating tart cherries - and just bought some, at trader joe's, for said purpose. you can find it here:

Angela K. Nickerson said...

And I love cherries! Yet another reason to eat them! :)

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth said...

A shower and a beer on arrival do the trick for me. I feel refreshed and able to make it through that first day following what is almost certainly a bad night's sleep on the plane.

Certainly not the most traditional or typical anti-jetlag approach, but I've been quite successful with it recently

Kristen said...

A whole liter of water on the plane? My last 9 1/2 hour flight I sat next to the window with an elderly couple next to me sound asleep through the whole flight. I actually refused the second beverage service because I couldn't figure out how to get out. I got off the plane REAL fast though!

Angela K. Nickerson said...

@Seth: I'm with you on the shower. Nothing ever feels better!

@Kristen: perhaps I should mention that I always get an aisle seat for that very reason! :)

Travis said...

One of the things we like to do when we first arrive in a country (if we're in a larger city) is to take one of those hop on/hop off bus tours of the sites of the city. It's not strenuous activity, but it's interesting enough to keep us awake!

Angela K. Nickerson said...

@Travis: That is great advice! You are right: those bus tours can be just the right pace -- if you can stay awake on the bus. :)

Jeanine said...

Like Angela, I don't sleep on airplanes, a fact better peacefully accepted than fought. Angela's survival techniques are the same I use (though I skip the Tylonal)with great success even when I have to hit the ground running. Being a natural night owl, flying to the west is always an easier adjustment and comes with the added benefit of allowing me to thoroughly enjoy a few quiet, early mornings. Under normal circumstances, groggy, uncoordinated laziness hinders my appreciation of these lovely early moments of the day.
To Angela's list I add two more suggestions which ease the transition. 1) Eat at the right times. You can play games with your mind: if it is dinner time at your destination, remind yourself that you should be hungry anyway since it is lunch time at your origin. Ádmittedly, you might be telling yourself at some point that this dinner or breakfast is like a midnight snack. With a little creativity and imagination, you can justify the meal somehow and manage a few nibbles at least.
2) If your travel must include a layover and you have the option, always choose to layover on your continent of origin. One is much fresher before the long, overseas flight so you can avoid studying the signs in the airport, trying to bring your dry eyes into focus long enough to read the gate numbers.
Happy and safe traveling!

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