My Tried & True Jet Lag Tips
I snuggled deep into the down comforter. I was soaring. (Little did I know I would soon be researching for some jet lag tips to preserve my sanity.)
I arrived in Germany today—six weeks after returning home from my last trip to see my boyfriend. This evening we sipped on piping hot Glühwein at Ingolstadt’s quaint Christkindlmarkt and walked around the colorful Alstadt while snowflakes floated in the icy air.
Winter is my hands down FAVORITE season in Germany. And, now I’m tired! Really tired. Thank God, because it’s 1:30 a.m.—a bit too late for a weeknight, but I can get by on 6-7 hours sleep.
Tick, tick, tick.
What was that? Oh, wow…German heaters make some seriously bizarre noises. Okay, I can ignore that. Because I’m tired. I really am. I’ll just turn over on my side…
Awwww, he’s so cute when he’s asleep—even if he does snore a tiny bit. Maybe just a gentle smooch on his ear will make him stop so I can sleep. That’s better!
Tock, tock, tock.
Well, it sure would be nice if they could figure out a way to silence those chiming clocks between midnight and 8 a.m. Two o’clock??? Wow, that was the fastest 30 minutes EVER. It’s okay…I can still make it on 5-6 hours, but it’s getting serious.
Must…relax. Thinking about relaxing, I’m going to start doing more yoga. But, that means I’ll have to get up earlier…
It didn’t stop until 4:08 a.m….
You’d think that after a year going back and forth between California and Germany, I’d have jet lag nailed. Not only have I not become a pro at resetting my internal clock, my clock is completely shot.
It’s time to take the pillow by the corners and do some Google reconnaissance so I have an understanding and a plan.
Why the Jet Lag?
According to Medicine.net, jet lag—or “desynchronosis”—is “a temporary disorder that causes fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms as a result of air travel across time zones. It is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder—a disruption of the internal body clock.” In short, the hypothalamus gets off kilter and is unable to regulate melatonin properly, thus all those awful symptoms kick in.
One of my suspicions was correct. “Descynchronization” is directionally selective. If you’re traveling from north to south [or vice versa], no problem. From east to west, you get a temporary gift that you’ll be forced to give back when you return home.
Yep, it’s west to east that’s the nightmare. And, the more time zones you cross, the more scary the nightmare. Word has it that it can take one day per time zone for your circadian rhythm to get back the beat. This means that on a journey from the U.S. to Europe, a “normal” person can expect to recover their lost hours in three to five days.
Once again, I’m far from normal. On the aforementioned trip, it took me 17 days to resynchronize.
My Best Jet Lag Tips
Obviously, these tips are only worth following if you’ll be staying put in the “foreign” time zone for more than a few days. If you’re taking a quick trip or there’s not much of a time difference between your home and destination, keep it simple and just stick with your domestic time.
- Exercise regularly. I will be doing more yoga. And, biking to the grocery store.
- Change sleep schedule at home. When taking an extended trip to an eastern destination, start going to bed early and waking up early about 7-10 days before departing. Since I travel every six weeks, I’m thinking a permanent schedule change is in order.
- No alcohol or caffeine the day before the flight, during the flight, and the day after the flight. Hmmm…no Glühwein, no coffee, no tea? Boo hiss to this tip. But, okay…fine.
- Drink lots of water. Not proud to admit it, but another tough one. I’m thinking a Smartphone app that reminds me to drink will be necessary.
- Adapt to the local time schedule immediately. If you arrive in the morning, keep those eyes open until nightfall. If you arrive at night, go to bed at the most optimum time considering your temporary schedule. If it’s morning, eat breakfast; if it’s evening, make it dinner…not the meal your brain and stomach are expecting.
- Soak up as much sun as possible. It will enlighten your hypothalamus.
- Take melatonin. Studies have shown that a low dose (about 0.3 mg) is best. Take the first dose on the first day you travel at the time you will want to go to sleep at your destination and continue taking it at bedtime for up to five days once you’ve arrived at your destination. Don’t take too much for too long…yes, it’s natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous in excess.
- Use a safe sleep aid as needed. Natural is best and valerian root is recommended most consistently. If you need something stronger, but still over the counter, most pharmacists lean toward diphenhydramine (generic of Benadryl) because it’s non-addictive. If you need the big guns, talk to your doctor about Ambien.
Two Months Later
On this trip, I vowed to faithfully follow my jet lag tips, which is why my cosmetic bag was fully stocked with:
(1) bottle of melatonin
(1) bottle of Benadryl
(1) bottle of Valerian Root
I followed EVERY one of my pre-trip jet lag tips listed above. I popped my first melatonin at 3 p.m. in Atlanta [11 p.m. in Germany] and, before I climbed in bed that night, the Benadryl was already dissolving in my stomach. I was feeling optimistic.
I faithfully followed this routine for the next four nights—and, each of those four nights I was graced with beautiful, luxurious, uninterrupted sleep. It still took every ounce of resolve to drag my groggy self out of bed each morning, but I managed to make it to the kitchen before noon to sip on some rhubarb vanilla HERBAL tea. I do believe I’ve synchronized…and, it’s never felt so good.
P.S. I’m SO going to try this Entrain on my next international wander!
Interesting – and very informative information Janet. Here I am in Seattle, 3:41, unable to sleep. I’ve been here a little over a day, having taken ~24 hours of flights to get here from Brisbane. I have not experienced this sleeplessness ever before – and I’ve made a LOT of international flights over the years (Australia is a long way from most places of interest).
Maybe I’m getting old and my sleep cycle is responding to the stresses of life/work; am definitely in need of a better fitness level; and a better routine wouldn’t go astray. Whatever it is, I want it to stop now.
I am similar to you – my mind never stops – always things to do, in work, in life. It’s blogs like yours that help bring me back to knowing both what is important and also what needs to become a part of my everyday life.
So here’s to more sleep, regularly!!
Ok, back to counting kangaroos jumping a fence. Cheers!!
Oh, Kim…I was thinking maybe it has to do with age too. Yuck. I wish you sleep-filled nights during your special trip to the U.S.