Avoiding Jet Lag

by Nancy Bestor

As regular travelers to far off countries and time zones vastly different from our own, Bob and I like to think we know the best ways to prevent jet lag. We take No Jet Lag tablets, drink lots of water, avoid alcohol on airplanes, and try hard to sleep and wake according to our new time zone. Take our most recent trip to Barcelona for example. We arrived in Barcelona at 8am, local time. We both slept a few hours on the plane ride over, and then stayed awake that first day until 10pm. That night, our first night in Barcelona, we slept 11 hours, waking at 9am. We felt pretty darn good and patted ourselves on the back, thinking we had the whole jet lag thing licked.

Then we got to the second night. I’m pretty sure I got to sleep about 5am, having gone to bed about midnight. And Bob didn’t fare much better.  My brain just wouldn’t shut off. Because we only had a limited time in Barcelona and we knew that sleeping in the daytime would only prolong our jet lag misery, we were up by 9am, and “ready” to roll on about three hours sleep.

Now before I had children, I would have said that I simply could not function on so little sleep. I was always the person who required nine to 11 hours. Then I had children. When they were babies, adorable as they may have been, they wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule. The end result however, was that I learned I CAN function on much less sleep, at least for a few days at a time. (On a side note, they’re teenage girls now, and one of them drives, so now I stay awake worrying until they are home!)

But back to the jet lag. I know that jet lag is caused by our body’s inability to immediately adjust to a different time zone, due to the altering of our circadian rhythm or 24 hour cycle. I also know that the primary cue to our body’s adjusting is daylight. But here are a few things I didn’t know:

  • Evidence suggests that it is more difficult for us to travel west to east, as opposed to east to west.
  • A general rule of thumb is the number of time zones you cross equals the number of days it will take you to adapt to your new time zone.
  • One of the symptoms of jet lag is irritability. My children might argue I am always jet lagged.

After researching jet lag for this story I’ve learned there are a few more things I can do to avoid jet lag in the future. In the weeks leading up to a trip, I can try and partially adapt to my new time zone, an hour a week. According to a doctor’s article on the web, this will save my body the shock of adjusting all at once. Studies have also suggested the use of melatonin to aid in sleeping, and, according to some studies, fasting may also help adjust your body clock (although I can tell you right now I am NOT going to go without food to help me sleep, I’d rather be sleepless).

In the end, for me, one mostly sleepless night was more than worth it for a week spent in a fabulous city almost halfway around the world. I’ll give up a good night of sleep for travel any day.

Read more tips and advice about avoiding jet lag here.