Outsmarting Jet Lag

I use a version of this chart every year when I fly to a location 3 time zones east of my home. I adapted this particular chart last year when I planned arrive a bit early and stay with a professor’s family for the weekend. That allowed me two extra days to make the final half-hour adjustment to my new time zone. By Monday morning, I was fully functional when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., Eastern Time.

I use a version of this chart every year when I fly to a location 3 time zones east of my home. I adapted this particular chart last year when I planned arrive a bit early and stay with a professor’s family for the weekend. That allowed two extra days to make the final half-hour adjustment to my new time zone. By Monday morning, I was fully functional when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., Eastern Time.

The first time I flew to a time zone three hours ahead of my own, I missed a large part of an important meeting the following morning. That’s because my body had refused to heed the clanging alarm at what felt like 2:30 a.m.

Jet lag results when rapid travel disrupts our circadian rhythms. Medical experts say our bodies can require up to one full day to adjust to each new time zone we encounter.

Before jet lag has a chance to ruin your next trip, try these 8 suggestions:

  1. As much as you can, adapt to your new schedule before you leave and during your flight.
  2. Arrive at your destination early, if you can arrange it, to help you adjust to the new time zone.
  3. Avoid sitting for long periods; move around.
  4. Don’t let yourself get dehydrated.
  5. Eat sensibly.
  6. Right before bedtime, try taking a hot bath so you can fall asleep more easily.
  7. Eliminate as many sleep distractions as possible.
  8. Consider melatonin and/or sleep medication when needed. Some people also find relief by using homeopathic remedies such as No Jet Lag.

It’s generally more difficult for the body to deal with lost hours when traveling from west to east than when traveling in the opposite direction. Dr. Avelino Verceles, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the school’s sleep medicine fellowship, suggests you do this when traveling to earlier time zones: Shift your bedtime a half-hour earlier each night for several nights before your departure. If you’re going west, move bedtimes and meal times later, instead of earlier.

Now that I make cross-country trips every year to serve as guest professor at an Indiana university, I can’t risk repeating my earlier experience. The need to be fully alert in front of students at 8:00 a.m. has prompted me to take the advice of these experts.

Each day during the week prior to my flight, I move my rising/eating/sleeping schedule ahead one half hour. To remind myself of the new meal times and when I’m supposed to go to bed each night, I create a chart I can refer to throughout the day. I even set a kitchen timer to rouse me from editing work when it’s time to go to bed at, say, 8:00 p.m.

When the alarm goes off at what are my old time zone’s wee hours of the morning, I’m glad I used this pennywise approach to trouncing jet lag. After all, I’d rather smile than yawn at my students. And I’m sure they appreciate my efforts.

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Fiercely Frugal Savage Sister Diana has gathered packing pointers over the years on numerous domestic and foreign trips. Most recently, she travels in conjunction with the publication of her latest book, 52 Heart Lifters for Difficult Times.

© 2014 The Savage Sisters

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