How to Beat Jet Lag
This is information is loosely based on
How to Beat Jet Lag, A Practical Guide for Air Travelers
It is out of print, but it was widely circulated so
you should be able to find a copy. It will be more difficult to find the
originally included eye mask. The schedules recommended below have been
modified from the book to streamline computer processing of your inputs. In
addition, our version factors in your normal sleep schedule, as well as other
scheduling tweaks. In our opinion, the book's schedules didn't always make
sense and were not consistent in strategy. However, the supporting theory is
sound, and deviating from the proposed schedule by an hour or two will make
We became interested in this topic after a West bound flight
traversing 10 timezones left us horribly debilitated at our destination for days
after our arrival.
We have since followed these recommendations ourselves on
several international trips covering a variety of time zones. We can attest
that following these recommendations greatly lessened the jet lag we suffered.
If your travel involves a change of one or two hours, you shouldn't have to
make any adjustments, just assume the local schedule upon arrival. It could
still be to your advantage though, to be sure you get proper light exposure
during the day and avoid bright lights at night.
For those that can't wait, you can go to the
The key is to modulate your exposure and avoidance of light in a
pre-determined period of time in order to minimize the disruption of adapting
your body's internal clock to the time zone of your destination. Do not
expect to be totally free of jet lag effects, but following these
recommendations will greatly minimize the jet lag you suffer. If you work
night shifts and sleep during the day, I'm not sure how this will aid you.
You might get away with flying somewhere, sleeping at night, sightseeing
during the day, with no adjustment period at all!
In general, if you are traveling West, we elongate your schedule by
scheduling very long days followed by somewhat normal night periods. The
adaptation is easier in this direction than traveling east. Taking morning
flights West helps with this by elongating the natural daylight period as the
aircraft is traveling in the same direction as the sun. (Well, technically speaking,
traveling opposite of
Earth's rotation, but the inaccurate version is easier to visualize) You must resist the
temptation to sleep on daytime flights however, for more than a brief nap
will seriously throw off your time adaptation efforts. It seems that the book
didn't want you to nap at all while traveling West, but given how long the
days are, a brief nap seems much more humane. If you must take a red eye, it is
of the utmost importance to get adequate light exposure during your elongated 'night.'
In general, if you are traveling East, we compress your schedule by
scheduling short days followed initially by somewhat short night periods. For
longer East bound flights, the night periods after your arrival are actually
extended in order to get you matched up to the natural local night time. This
also allows you to pursue normal activities at your destination while you
continue to adapt. Just don't plan stimulating activities first thing in the
morning for a few days after your arrival. Adaptation is much more difficult
in this direction than traveling West. We think taking red eyes East is a
slight advantage to daytime flights, because the natural darkness will allow
you to sleep more easily, even if it is too short. With day time flights, you
arrive at your destination excited with anticipation and all the locals are
going to bed!
Beware of Daylight Savings or Summer Times. They come in and out at different
times for different parts of the world, if they are used at all. This must be
factored in to your total time difference. It is too variable to try to cover here. Do a
search to determine the time distortions employed at your destination.
We ignore the effects of crossing the International Dateline. Crossing one
time zone changes the local time (usually) one hour, our time adaptation is
not affected by it being today, tomorrow or yesterday.
On really long travel to the other side of the globe, be sure to figure the time difference over
the zones of your travel, it may be greater than the number of time zones on the other side of the globe
to the same destination. We have calculated schedules for up to 13 hours difference in either
direction for those long haul travelers.
Before departure, try to follow good sleep habits, getting a full night's
sleep each night and being well rested for your journey. Avoid stressful
situations that will disrupt your restfulness. Eat a healthy well balanced
diet. Avoid big heavy meals. Drink plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol. While
many believe alcohol would help you sleep, it in fact has the opposite
effect. Even though it is a depressant to your central nervous system, your
metabolism increases as your body tries to rid it's self of the poison you
just ingested. Avoid heavy caffeine consumption. If you must have that
morning fix, a cup or two is OK. If you don't consume caffeine, don't start
now. However, during your travel, if modest consumption will help you stick
to the daylight schedule, then go ahead, as long as it's not too close to
your dark period.
It is not necessary to adjust your sleep schedule before your departure. It
is more important to sleep well than earlier or later at this point. If you
really want to, you could go to bed and wake up an hour earlier or later,
depending on which direction you will be traveling, a day or two before you
depart. Only do this if it will not disrupt your sleep.
You will establish a period where you will act as though it were night time,
even though it may be in the middle of the day. During this time period, it
is most important to avoid exposure to bright light. Be pragmatic though: Do
not wear dark glasses if doing so creates a safety hazard, or if you are
being questioned by border authorities. Several minutes of light exposure
will not be seriously detrimental to your plan. Avoid energetic activities.
Being in the dark will not help if your metabolism is going 120 miles an
hour. You should try to sleep, or at least rest. Don't bother with the
in-flight movie, you want to avoid any stimulation. If you must read, read
something boring. Do not read that adventure novel at this time. If you use
a personal entertainment device, turn the backlight down as low as possible. Try to get a
window seat to avoid disruptions. Some believe taking 1/2 to 1 mg of
supplement at the beginning of this period is beneficial. For short term use, we think it can't
hurt, but if you are taking MAOI's, consult with your doctor.
Recently (2012), Unisom, a manufacturer of over the counter sleep aids, has been promoting
their "Natural Nights" natural sleep aid. The principal ingredient is melatonin. It also contains vitamin
B-6 and calcium, which are supposedly lost during excessive stress. 1 tablet contains
2.5 mg of melatonin. This is much higher than the usual recommended dose. The tablets are
scored, so you should seriously consider beginning with a smaller dose and only take more
if the lower dose has no effect. This product has received mixed reviews, the large majority
being strongly negative.
It does work well for a few people. You should experiment with low dosages to see how or if
it affects you positively or negatively before you depend on this sleep aid for
important travel across multiple time zones.
The following discussion on sleep medications is NOT medical advice, we are
just relating our personal experience. We are not doctors. If you need
medical advice, see your doctor. Sleep medications are sort of a debatable
issue. If you don't like them, then don't take them. We believe getting as
much sleep as possible during this period is important, so we use them. Over
the counter sleep aids,
based medicine, (Unisom, Benadryl, etc.) will work. We don't like them because they
give us a cold medicine type of hangover, (they are anti-histamines, which
are used in cold medicines) but they are cheap and readily available without
a prescription. The packaging insists that you shouldn't take it unless you
have 8 hours available to sleep before being active again. Our experience is
that you'll be lucky to get more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep. More likely, if
you are crammed into an aircraft, you'll just lightly doze off and on. Even
so, getting into a car and taking a long boring drive before that 8 hours has
passed is a bad idea. You could try other anti-histamines (but not the non-drowsy types
such as Claratin of course), your body may tolerate one better than the other.
is another type of anti-histamine, if you have problems with
motion sickness, this may be your solution. If you take Dramamine, you
shouldn't take another sleep medication without consulting a doctor or pharmacist.
are a better options if you really have 8 hours available to sleep, but don't expect it to
be a sound sleep. If you let them run the full 8 hours, there should be
little or no drug hangover. But if you must be active before that 8 hours is
up, you will still experience undesirable side effects. These are
prescription medications and the name brands are fairly expensive, but if you only need half
a dozen for a trip, it will not be much of an expense. Generic Ambien, zolpidem tartrate, is now
for less money. It is debatable whether the sustained release formulation, Ambien CR (no
generic available) works that much better than the original formula. A lower dose sublingual
(under the tongue) form of zolpidem tartrate is available by perscription as
(no generic available) It takes effect quickly and is intended only for treatment of middle-of-the-night
awakening and subsequent difficulty falling asleep. If you expect your typical sleep
pattern while traveling to fit this pattern, this may be something to explore.
If you think you'll need medication to fall asleep to begin with, stick to
the more traditional medications.
Our favorite prescription sleep medication is
It only lasts about 4 hours, and takes effect very quickly. We find it is rare to have a
full 8 hours available for the other meds. We'd rather sleep for just 4 hours
and quietly rest the remaining time, than deal with the drug hangovers of the
other meds. Cost is a factor for many of us, but the cost of a few tablets of
Sonata is relatively little compared to the cost of a Doctor's Office visit.
If you see a doctor
regularly anyway, ask for a prescription during your next regular visit. If you don't
normally see a doctor, you'll have to decide if paying for an office visit is
really worth it, or just deal with the anti-histamines.
You will establish a period where you will act as though it were day time,
even though it may be in the middle of the night. During this time period, it
is most important to have exposure to light. Daylight is best, but any light
is better than sitting in the dark. If you find yourself on a darkened plane,
turn on the reading light and read or at least look at something light
colored. If the in-flight movie sounds stimulating, go ahead and watch it if
you like. If it's a dark moody film, you may be better off reading. If you use
a personal entertainment device, turn the backlight up. Try to view content
with bright backgrounds. If you're
indoors, try to be seated in the brightest part of the room. Try to be
active. If you're stuck on a plane, drink plenty of fluids so you have to
get up often! Walk up and down the aisle a few times every time you get up.
Get up any time one of your seat mates gets up. Try to get an aisle seat so
you aren't reluctant to get up often. If all else fails, do some of the
exercises designed to prevent blood clots on long flights.
Recently (2010), glasses containing green or blue LED lamps have been promoted as a cure for jet lag.
These are essentially daylight substitutes, supposedly providing the same effect as bright white light
without anything near the same brightness. This is supposed to work because our eyes are more sensitive
to the blue/green end of the spectrum as far as melatonin suppression is concerned. We think that
daylight is still
the best light source, but these glasses may be useful when daylight is not otherwise available.
If one is to believe the blue/green light research, it follows that if you must wear sunglasses during
the your scheduled day, ones tinted blue or green would be less detrimental to adaptation. Conversely,
if you wear
sunglasses to enhance your scheduled night, ones tinted orange/brown would be more effective,
as more blue/green light would be
filtered out. We are not convinced that carrying an extra 2 or 3 pairs of glasses around
would really be worth it.
Exposure to light is especially important the first 3 hours after artificial
'morning' and from 4 hours to 1 hour before artificial 'bedtime'. Start
avoiding bright light during that last hour, but you do not yet need to take
extraordinary measures like eye masks. This exposure is important the first
day you assume a local schedule as well. During the 'day', naps are OK within
3 hours either side of time specified in our schedule, if they are allowed at
all. On East bound flights, naps are frequently allowed in the schedule, but in fact, you
should forego the nap if at all possible. It is so common to not get a good night's
sleep in the 'night' period allotted, we put scheduled naps into most East bound schedules. But
if you do manage to sleep well during the 'night', adding in a nap as well
would be counter productive. Skip it if you can on East bound travel. In any case,
naps should be no more than half an hour. Use an alarm to be sure you
get up in time. It's very easy to accidentally sleep for hours if you don't use an alarm. Don't
ask how I know this.
We haven't tried this, but we've heard that you can quickly
drink a cup of strong coffee just before you nap. It will take half an hour for the
caffeine to take effect, and make it easier to be alert when you're finished
napping. This would be a bad idea if it's within 4 or 5 hours of the start of
your night period.
Once you complete the suggested schedule, you should be reasonably well
adapted and you can resume your normal schedule in the local time zone.
If you have one of those weird 30 minute time zones, you will need to pick
the next lowest whole hour, then in your head add the 30 minutes for yourself.
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