Monday, October 26, 2009
Timezone travel is a pain. When you're flying across timezones, it can take your body a bit of time to adjust. In the meantime, you're graced with unpleasant symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, constipation, diarrhea, confusion, and more - enough to make any trip or vacation difficult to enjoy - while your body matches its internal clock to your new external clock. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to ease and speed up the transition.
Every week, push your schedule one hour back or forward, depending on where you're going. The more time zones you're flying across, the earlier you'll need to start. This will give your body a chance to gradually adjust to your new time zone. If the time difference is several hours, however, it may prove inconvenient to spend your final week before leaving 3 or 4 or more hours ahead or behind everyone else. Alternatively, you can shift your eating and sleeping schedule by an hour a day.
Stay hydrated. On the day of your flight, drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is one of the symptoms of jet lag, and the dry, cabin air on the plane doesn't help. Stay away from any beverages with alcohol or caffeine in them, as the side effects can do more harm than good. Set your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you begin your flight.Sleep (or stay awake) like you're already there. If it's daylight at your destination, try to avoid sleeping on the plane. If it's nighttime at your destination when you're on the plane, try to sleep. Use earplugs, eye shades, and turn on the air-conditioning valve (cooler temperatures help you fall asleep faster). If you'll be needing sleep while on the plane, try to book a roomier seat. In a narrow economy seat with little leg room, your body will produce an adrenaline-like substance to keep blood flowing up to your brain, and you won't be able to sleep as a result. More leg room in first class or business class seats helps prevent this from happening. Eat like you're already there. Avoid eating airplane food, since it's generally served on a schedule that's consistent with the time zone you're leaving, not the one you're going to. If you're hungry, snack lightly until you arrive at your destination, and eat during what would be mealtimes there.
At Your Destination
Play or exercise, preferably in the sun. If it's daytime at your destination, spend as much time outside as you can. The exposure to sunlight will help your brain adjust to the new timezone. Remain active - don't just go to your hotel room and sit in front of the television. If you desperately need a nap, take one only for 30 minutes. Any more than that will make jet lag worse. If you are on a business trip, play may be out of the question. No problem; any exertion (for example, a brisk walk) will help, and doing it in sunlight will make it even more effective. Can't get outside? Open the curtains over the hotel window to let in as much sun as possible, and do some exercises in the room. Outside is best, but any exercise in bright light will help a lot. Be creative!
Eat light meals according to your new timezone. Not only is your sleep cycle adjusting, but so is your digestive routine. If you have any large, rich meals, they'll make it all the more difficult for your body to adapt, and symptoms like constipation and diarrhea will put a damper on your vacation. Exercise in the evening and in the morning. It'll help you get better sleep by tiring you out before going to bed (as long as you exercise a few hours before bed, so that the body has time to calm down) and it'll help make you feel more awake in the morning by getting your blood flowing. Have a protein-rich breakfast the morning after you arrive. It'll help with alertness.
Taking synthetic melatonin as a dietary supplement may mediate the effects of jet lag, but the long-term effects of taking melatonin and the lack of watchdog measures make it a controversial solution. Some people report that it worsens their jet lag symptoms, so consult your doctor before considering this option. If you're only away for a few days, stick to a schedule that coincides with the time zone at your home. If possible, arrive at your destination a day early to help adjust to the new routine. The medical term for jet lag is resynchronises. Remember that if you change your watch before you leave, you may have some confusion if you have a layover in a different time zone. Make sure you know how long you have between flights to avoid missing a connection.