Travel Log – Stardate 21.378 – Jet Lag

Having been on an international travel hiatus, I had almost forgotten about the joys of Jet Lag. Boy, what a laugh riot.

Crossing many timezones wreaks havoc on the circadian clock. On both ends. There is the initial adjustment when you start the trip, and then the hammer falling when you return. Couple that with the amount of time in the new timezone, and you can add several days of misery to a trip.

When I was younger, I used to try to tough it out. Shorter trips (like 3 days in the timezone) can pretty much be ignored. Effectively don’t change your sleeping habits, and while it will still be a little screwed up, you can bounce back quickly.

However, as I try to make the most of each trip, I will often fly the weekend before, spend a whole 5 working days in region, and then fly back the following Saturday. That is about worst case, as unless you are ironman, you will need to shift your sleeping schedule, lest you fall asleep during a meeting ;-).

Still, an uncomfortable day or two when you return home and you are close to being back to normal.

Where you are totally screwed? When you spend two full weeks on the road. That is impossible to gut out, and not fully adjust to the local time. You will need 3-4 days to recover at the return.

How to combat?

Advice from hundreds of trips, not always effective, I will still share:

  • Sleep aids – Melatonin is often recommended. I use it, and it does help start a sleep cycle, but unlike many claims, it isn’t a miracle drug for jet lag. I also use Benadryl. The combination of those two helps initiate a sleep cycle when you aren’t ready to sleep (useful on the return). I personally avoid prescription strength sleep aids, but it might help you.
  • Sleep on the return flight – If at all possible, try to get some quality sleep on the flight. I know it isn’t easy, and as a guy who never gets to fly business class, it can be difficult, but even a few hours of sleep in the cabin can help.
  • Get back on the “end time” your your sleep first – It is difficult to fall asleep when your lagged, so you will find yourself staying up long past your normal sleep start time. Unavoidable. However, you should set your alarm, and get up at the regular time immediately. As difficult as this sounds (and oh boy, it is difficult), you need train your body to get back into a rhythm.
  • Avoid alcohol – When I whinge about jetlag, someone always recommends a couple of adult beverages. While it may work for some people, I find that the dehydrating factor of alcohol makes it difficult for me to get a sound sleep. It is also why I don’t drink on airplanes either.
  • Exercise – do your normal penance. Bike, run, walk, gym, whatever. Go out and burn some calories. Not sure what the physiological effects are, but I do know it helps. Of course when you come back to 3 days chocked full of meetings, well I feel for you.

This last trip, the lag was awful. First night, I stayed up until almost 9:00PM, then BAM, woke up at 12:45AM and never went back to sleep. Second night, could NOT get to sleep at all. Was up well past 1:00AM before dozing, and up again at 5:30AM.

The third night was better, but still not right.