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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My top tips for fighting jet lag

Jet lag... is there anything worse?

Well, yes, plenty of things, clearly, but there's no need to get too technical! Living in Australia, we NEED to have the whole thing sorted, because if we go to America or Europe, our body clocks are pretty much turned upside down and inside out.

Last year coming and going from Paris I had no jet lag at all - I did have an early night the first night, because I was tired from 24 hours on the road, but it was about 9pm and I didn't have that ghastly-tired-confused-oh-my-god-what-is-going-on-I-feel-disgusting thing happening. My secret is in a number of things - and I'm going to try out some more next time I travel long distance.

Here's what I do:
  1. When I get on the plane, I set my watch to destination time, and I sleep or stay awake depending whether it's day or night there. I try to think of that time as the time, and not think about what time it is in Melbourne or what I should be doing according to Melbourne time. This is really important!
  2. I take a sleeping pill to sleep when it's night-time at my destination time. This helps with the adjustment. Actually, as it's generally the 14 hour leg of the flight, I usually take two different sorts - one that lasts around six hours, followed six hours later by one that lasts around four hours. I start this process a couple of hours into the flight, once they've served dinner, aiming to be properly awake again for when they serve the last meal before you land. You probably should discuss this with your doctor before trying it - I am in no way a qualified medical professional.
  3. Block out the light when you're trying to sleep - ordinary sleeping masks - the type they give out on planes - are better than nothing, but you're really better off investing in a good one (I have a new one about to arrive from Magellans, I'll review it for you once it arrives)
  4. Lavender essential oil helps you sleep, so does cooling your body temperature down (although that's normally not an issue on a plane, they're freezing...)
  5. Try to be as comfortable as possible - feet up, blankets, non-binding clothes. Yes, it's economy class, and it's horrible, but there are things you can do (see previous post on what to pack in your hand luggage)
  6. I don't follow the whole of the anti-jetlag diet - it's too damn complicated for me, and I hate having my caffeine restricted, it makes me cranky. What I do is a small part of the anti-jetlag diet. Basically, carbohydrates make you sleepy, protein wakes you up, and also helps to reset your body clock if you eat it at breakfast time. Try to eat carbs when it's bedtime at your destination, protein at breakfast time (there's nothing like getting off a plane in the morning and tucking into bacon and eggs - just skip the toast). There's new evidence that starving for 12-16 hours may fend off jet lag - here's a more detailed explanation, with videos. What you do is not eat for 12 (or so) hours before breakfast time at your destination - shouldn't be too hard as that should be when you're sleeping anyway. Then eat protein. This is actually what I did (without realising it at the time) flying to and from Paris last year, and I am sure it's part of why I didn't suffer from jet lag.
  7. Light. Exposure to light is really important. I try to make sure I get as much daylight as possible on the first day in a new time zone - it helps reset your circadian rhythms. British Airways has a jet lag calculator that tells you when to avoid light and seek light. I just go for as much daylight as possible, and as little light of any sort as possible when you want your body to think it's time to sleep - works as well as anything, but of course you may be restricted by having to work, for example, if you're travelling on business.
  8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. That means water, people, not alcohol. Apart from the fact that I would never mix alcohol and sleeping pills, alcohol in mid air dehydrates you unbelievably badly and makes you feel, well, shit. Stick to the H2O and stay moist.
Things I'm planning to add to the agenda are blue light - in the morning - and using the Brainwave Sleep Cycle Tuner on the wakeup cycle (also in the morning - I don't generally have any problems getting to sleep, if I've followed the regime above, but getting going in the morning can still be difficult!)

When I go to the US next year, I'll probably also do some experimentation with melatonin, seeing as you can buy it over the counter there.

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