“I am jet-lagged.” If you’ve ever had the poor unfortunate circumstance to say this, you know how awful it can be. On a trip to Thailand, I had jet lag. Wait, let me rephrase that. I had debilitating, shoot-me-now jet lag. I arrived in Bangkok dragging like a character from The Walking Dead, vowing never to feel that way again. I figured out a strategy to avoid this nasty consequence of a long-haul flight, but first, for those of you who’ve never experienced it. What is jet lag?
Jet Lag Definition
According to WebMD, the medical definition of jet lag is the following:
“A condition that is characterized by various psychological and physiological effects (as fatigue and irritability), occurs following long flight through several time zones, and probably results from disruption of circadian rhythms in the human body”
Circadian rhythms are a fancy way of saying your internal clock is seriously confused and your body is on a ledge wondering what the hell happened. Symptoms of light cases are usually fatigue and perhaps a slight headache. Bad cases feel like a hangover. You’re tired, have a terrible headache, sometimes feel nauseous, and you’re so tired, having a simple conversation takes effort. (The latter is what I had in Bangkok. Absolutely no fun.
What’s the best cure for Jet lag? Answer: Avoid it in the first place by adjusting your internal clock during the flight so you’re in sync with the local time of your destination. Let’s take a recent flight to Kenya, for example. We left JFK in New York at 1 pm eastern and arrived 13 hours later at 8:30 am Nairobi.
My Strategy for Avoiding Jet Lag
The trick to beating jet lag is using your flights to adjust your body to the local time of your final destination.
In this case, I counted back seven hours (six hours to sleep and 1 hr to freshen up before landing), which put me around 8 pm eastern. The plan: Stay awake for the first seven hours of the flight, sleep for six hours then wake up with one hour to go.
You’re probably thinking, Susan that’s all fine and good but I can’t fall asleep on command. Most people can’t. So…. wait for it…. I take something. Usually, I’m good with melatonin — a naturally occurring sleep hormone that’s secreted by the pineal gland, the part of your body that regulates your circadian rhythm. You can buy it over the counter and it helps to induce sleep. I like it because I don’t feel fuzzy when I wake up. If melatonin doesn’t work for you, try something stronger. (Note: Use a sleep aid under your doctor’s supervision.)
The way the timing worked out I had to take something, I wouldn’t naturally fall asleep at 8 pm. Or if I did, there’s a good chance I’d wake up an hour or two later which would defeat the whole purpose.
Flights with Stops
I left New York at 6 pm for Johannesburg which included a 3-hour layover in the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. When I arrived in the Netherlands it was 7:25 am local time. I departed for South Africa at 10:25 am and arrive in Johannesburg at 9:00 pm local time after a grueling 20+ hours of travel. What’s good is that Amsterdam and South Africa are in the same time zone.
In this case, I went to sleep about an hour or so after I boarded the plane in NYC using a sleep aid. Six hours later I arrived in Amsterdam at 7:25 am (local time; 1:25 am eastern) having slept most of the way. I was a little groggy but awake enough to survive my layover without wanting to collapse.
From that point on I stayed awake (binging on in-flight entertainment, walking around (always good to stretch your legs) until I reached Johannesburg 11 hours later—which thankfully is in the same timezone as Amsterdam.
Having stayed up during the flight, I was ready to go back to sleep by the time I reached my hotel in South Africa around 10 pm. All went well and I was on local time by the next morning. Yes, I was a little tired, but I’m a little tired when I’m in New York sometimes, but not jet lag tired. The next day I was raring to go. I did fell asleep a little earlier than usual about 9:30 pm that evening but that was no big deal.
Ta da! That’s it. No more, I am jet lagged in your future.
Things to consider
Flying on planes leads to dehydration which in and of itself can make you feel crappy. Be sure to bring your own water—in a reusable bottle please, say no to plastic waste—and drink from it regularly even if you’re not that thirsty. I’m not a big water drinker in general so I usually have to think consciously about it.
Don’t drink alcohol. That whole dehydration thing.
Dress for success, be thoughtful about what you wear on the plane. Don’t choose anything that’s binding. And that doesn’t mean baggy sweats. You can be comfortable and presentable at the same time.
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