Friday, June 26, 2009

Jet Lag and All His Friends

What is it?

Jet lag is basically tiredness compounded with the confusion of your body and your brain disagreeing with each other about what time it is. If you’re not used to it, it can be the most disorienting feeling you have ever had: one horrible memory I have from 16 years ago, was waking up in the dark on my first trip to Asia, with absolutely no clue what time it was, or what country I was in (Hong Kong: 3:00am, just in case you were wondering).

How do I deal with it?

Firstly, forgive yourself for being human: it’s perfectly natural to have jet-lag. It will wear off in 2-5 days, and the main skill (and there is a skill to this) is to absolutely forget what time it is in the country you just left and focus on the one you are going to. The more you travel internationally, the easier it becomes. The body slowly follows the mind on this one, so the sooner the mind is convinced, the sooner you’ll feel at home. It’s impossible to describe the mental ability to program yourself like this, but it’s a kind of “deliberate mental-detachment” from your environment. Once learned it is never forgotten.

The way that works best for me is the following. The minute I get onto a plane on a long-haul flight, I set my watch to the local time at the destination and just act accordingly. Don’t set your watch before the plane leaves, or you may end up missing the flight as I nearly did once in Denver. Even if it’s 10:00am – try and get some sleep: this should not be too difficult as traveling is stressful and you may not have slept well the night before. Even the kind of low-grade skip-napping that you get on board a plane is much better than nothing.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It’s a good general rule, but the air on an airplane at high altitude is very dry (low humidity), so steering clear of booze and salty food is wise as it helps to prevent dehydration. Drink lots of other fluids, too: you may not be allowed to bring them on board a US plane any more, but you can at least bug the flight attendant every hour or so for a glass of water or juice.

Taking a single melatonin tablet at around midnight either on the plane, or once you hit your destination, can help to get your body rhythms adjusted (I normally get drowsy within 20-30minutes of taking it) but, as always, consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Safe travels!