I’ve been on the dark side of a jet lag more than once. I’ve been laying awake for hours at night trying to convince my body it was night. Trying to convince my mind I needed to sleep as morning was approaching. For many who travel this is the truth, a very harsh truth. Your body doesn’t like to travel time zones and is making you pay for it. This blog will shed a little light on jetlags as you can overcome them rather easy.
What is a jet lag?
Let’s take a look at what a jet lag actually is, understanding an issue is half the solution (consultant talking).
According to Wikipedia, a jet lag is : a physiological condition that results from alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms caused by rapid long-distance trans-meridian (east–west or west–east) travel – source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_lag
There are two routes essentially, East-West and West-East. The easiest one (for most people) is East-West. This would be from Europe to the US. Imagine leaving at 10am in Amsterdam and arriving at 2pm in Los Angeles after have flown 11 hours. Your body will think you had a very long day. You need to stay awake until around 9-10pm to get into the new rhythm. Recovery this one is fast although you will wake up very early for a number of days.
Going West-East is harder and will take days to recover from. Imagine leaving LA at 4pm and arrive in Amsterdam at noon the next day with only 10 hours flight time. Somewhere you’re missing time. You skipped a night, flew 10 hours and are half way the next day. that’s gonna hurt. Again, you need to stay awake until that night but will feel this one longer if you don’t read on.
Tips to deal with a jet lag
I kinda did a little research on myself last year. I had to travel a lot and thought it was interesting to test how sleep rhythm and food/drinks would have an effect on a jet lag.
Sleep is overrated but not when battling a jetlag
We always joke that sleep is overrated, and although I agree in normal life (IT and sleep are no good combination) here it is paramount. Your sleep management, to prevent a major jet lag start today.
Depending on where you are flying and how long you are staying the situation differs of course but this is a guideline. I never stayed longer than a week so that’s my reference.
I try to stay close to my home time zone (I’m from Europe) when I’m in the US. So when in Atlanta region I’m about -6 hours away from home. So any hour I can win by sleeping earlier will get me a shorter jet lag at home.
As my primary business in the US is visiting conferences I’m finished around 6-7pm. I try to get some food (not too heavy) and might attend a party for a bit. I try to be in bed around 9pm-9:30pm. sometimes I’m in at 8pm, think of the hours won there. Citrix Synergy was tough with kilometres walk, glad I could rest my feet. Sounds boring but my body likes it. I wake up around 3-4am and instead of dozing off, I get up as 3am would be 9am at home (I just slept a bit longer).
I run in the morning but that is of course optional, doing something is good for your body and mind. a light walk might do as well.
Sleep when back home
After a week or so in the US, I travel home. sleeping on the plane is horror as every flight I have high-on-sugar kids close to me. I try to sleep a bit but a 8 hour flight with “diner” and “breakfast” gives about 4-5 hours of sleep time.
At home I stay awake until at least 10pm the first day, no coffee, no alcohol but enough water or water-like drinks. again light food. First night is often ok, your body is tired enough.
Second day you need to get up normal rhythm, don’t sleep out, get out. Get active, don’t hang around. You need to make you body tired because no matter how you slept in the US, a jet lag will be there. making your body tired helps overcoming it faster.
No coffee after three o’clock in the afternoon as you want to get sleep and caffeine is not known for bringing that along.
Food and drinks
I tend to stay away from too much alcohol. I don’t drink a lot (if at all) but some diners it is nice to have a beer or a glass of wine. Getting drunk will hurt your sleep rhythm a lot and make recovery harder when you get back.
Same goes for very high calorie food, if you eat a lot of greasy food you body will have to work hard to get it digested. It will hurt your sleeping rhythm and you will see the result when you’re home.
It all seems boring but I decided I rather be a little bit boring (don’t need to drink to be fun at my age or try to eat 5000 calories for fun). I rather not watch the ceiling a week when I’m back home.
Rules of a thumb
- Flying to the US – long day ahead, keep busy until 9-10pm
- Adjust your sleeping rhythm in the US to as close as possible to your home rhythm
- Careful with the booze
- Careful with the calories
- Sleep when flying home, you have a long day ahead
- Drink water, no beer or wine, water is your friend
- Get up on time, no sleep over the first week
- Keep busy the first few days, tire your body.. clean the house (help your partner for once ;). )
- No coffee after 3pm (before; loads)
I noticed by following these rules I still feel the jet lag but sleep soon after going to bed (might take half an hour where otherwise I would sleep seeing the bed).
Hope this helps someone and again, this is my experience.. listen to your body and develop your rhythm or make sure yo have a hobby for night time 😉