The Secret to Overcoming Jet Lag

preparing for jet lag

You've just flown from Hong Kong to New York City. The 15+ hour flight [if direct] left at 9 AM and arrived at 12 PM on the same day. In between the frequent seatbelt sign dings, the screaming baby three rows behind you, and already having a night of rest, you barely get any sleep. Now it's not even dinner time and you're ready to pass out. The problem is, if you give in, you will most likely wake up at an ungodly hour in the middle of the night. This in turn will start a terrible sleep schedule and result in a week's worth of grumpiness and poor work performance.

I've had my share of jetlag, the worst being on those trips where I am expected to work early the next day. And since my job requires I give 110%, a bad case of jetlag tends to make things very, very difficult. Thankfully, I have been able to overcome even the most terrible bouts in just a short period of time by following a few simple rules:

  • Drink lots of liquids on and off the flight. You've heard this a million times and there's a reason for it. Cabin air is pressurized at roughly 10,000 feet, and unless you live in Aspen or Bogota, your body won't be used to the lack of humidity in the air and you'll dehydrate faster, which will only make you more tired.
  • Do not, ever, under any circumstance take a sleeping aid while flying during your regular waking hours. Sure, if you're on a 9-hour trip overnight, it might help to catch a few Zz's [and if you are even able to sleep on a plane, you have my envy]. But if you are using sleeping aid just to kill time, you might be doing more bad than good. If you are landing somewhere in the evening, or afternoon, after just having spent the entire 6+ hour journey sleeping, you'll have a hard time going to bed that night at a reasonable hour. This will only make things more difficult.
  • Once you are at your destination, you should force yourself to either stay awake or go to sleep at a time that coincides with where you are. In my example, you've just had a 15 hour flight that due to time zones only represents 3 hours of time. In this case, you should try to stay awake until a good bed time, such as 9 or 10 PM. If you are on that rare flight that takes you forward in time and you'll not be sleeping until late into the night, bring out the sleeping pill.
  • Getting an eye-mask or closing the curtains in your bedroom will help with premature waking due to sunlight. It's often that you'll find yourself waking up at 4 AM because of an early sunrise, especially in Asia.

The key here is to adjust your body to the local timezone as fast as possible, and that usually means the first night. Getting over that first hump is the hardest, but if you can do it successfully, it will start you off on the right path.

And yes, you should definitely take a few days off on your return if the trip is only for a week or two. Going through it once is bad enough, but twice in a month? Terrible. I assume you are like myself, and are awaiting for teleportation to be developed. Not only will it be fast and easy, but you won't have to deal with flying coach, ever, again.

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Posted on Sep 19, 2009