As you read this, hopefully, Terri and I are flying through a calm Atlantic sky, for an early morning landing in Munich, Germany, followed by a short hop to Helsinki, Finland. The temperature should be a cool 40 degrees, and waiting in the brisk morning air will be our annoying international travel companion, jet lag. After a 5,000 mile flight, 17 hours in transit, and 7 time zones, there’s no escaping it.
All serious travelers have their own best solutions for lessening the effects of jet lag, and after 30 years of international travel, I have worked out the technique that works best for me.
First, understand that there really is no “beating” jet lag. It’s a natural, physiological reaction, and the effects can only be lessened (or made worse … burritos and bourbon for instance!) depending on how you travel. According to the professionals, “rapid trans-meridian jet travel alters your circadian rhythms”, and for most of us that means that crossing multiple time zones messes with your body clock.
So to lessen the effects and minimize the adjustment time, this is what works best for me:
1. Start your trip well-rested.
The night before the trip, get a good night’s sleep. Forget the Bon Voyage Party and go to bed early. In addition to jet lag, international travel is grueling, and you’ll need all the extra energy you can muster.
2. Take it easy in transit.
Be reasonable while you travel, and don’t overdo. Drink lots of water, and don’t overeat or drink too much alcohol. In the airport and on the plane, get up and move around, and take time to stretch a bit. And finally, set your watch on the destination time to help start the mental switch between time zones.
3. Take Melatonin.
This hormone is produced naturally in the body and taking the natural remedy for a few days will help reset your circadian clock. It isn’t a sleeping pill, and you won’t even know you’ve had it the next day. Take one pill on the plane about an hour before you want to sleep, and take a pill one hour before bedtime for 4 additional days.
4. Get a bit of rest on arrival.
When you arrive, get a couple of hours of sleep … but only a couple. Set an alarm clock, and force yourself to get up after a couple of hours. This is hard, but if you allow yourself to sleep as long as your body wants, you’re just staying on the old time and it prolongs the adjustment.
5. Get out of the hotel and do something active.
Get into the sunshine and get some exercise. Take a walk, see some sights, and have a meal. This will also help to force your body to adjust to local time. You will have a couple of “sinking spells” in the afternoon, but try to stay active and moving around. If you give in to sleep, you’re prolonging the adjustment and will be awake for hours in the middle of the night.
6. Delay returning to the hotel.
Even though you’re really tired, try to delay dinner and returning to the hotel for as long as possible. At this point, the bed is a temptress, and is not your friend.
And when you do return, take your melatonin, and stay up as long as possible. I usually don’t make it past 8-9 pm, but when I do cave in, I immediately drop into a blissful coma.
7. Stay on the local schedule for the next few days.
Forget about what time your body thinks it is and what time is at home. As much as possible, stay on the local schedule.
And don’t forget the melatonin each night for 4 nights.
My objective is to get over jet lag as quickly as possible, and for me, this regimen does the trick in 3-4 days.