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Jet Lag - CDC Advice

Some excellent advice from our friends at CDC about jet lag. Those of us who travel across time zones may have experienced the ‘joy’ of jet lag. It can be quite debilitating.

Jet Lag Tired

At Aardvark our personal experience of this comes from years piloting aircraft across the world. Our CEO, Jonathan Breeze, is a former Royal Air Force pilot and NetJets Captain. Jonathan will share some of his advice at the end of the article.

Jet lag can be a problem for travelers who are crossing several time zones. Although it is not a serious condition, jet lag can make it hard for you to enjoy your vacation for the first few days. For business travelers, who may be expected to travel long distances and start work immediately after arrival, jet lag can affect mood, ability to concentrate, and physical and mental performance. Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize the effects of jet lag.

Before Travel

  • Exercise, eat a healthful diet, and get plenty of rest.
  • A few days before you leave, start going to bed an hour or two later than usual (before traveling west) or earlier than usual (before traveling east) to shift your body’s clock.
  • Break up a long trip with a short stop in the middle, if possible.

During Travel

  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • On long flights, get up and walk around periodically.
  • Sleep on the plane, if you can.

After You Arrive

  • Don’t make any important decisions the first day.
  • Eat meals at the appropriate local time.
  • Spend time in the sun.
  • Drink plenty of water, and avoid excess alcohol or caffeine.
  • If you are sleepy during the day, take short naps (20-30 minutes) so you can still sleep at night.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking medicine to help you sleep at night.

Back to Jonathan...

Jet Lag - Night Flight

The challenge that we face is getting our bodies used to an adjustment of the length of day. We all experience this, twice a year, when the clocks change. There is often a feeling of disconnection, as our bodies adjust.

Jet Lag – Circadian Rhythm

Our circadian rhythms are beautifully adjusted to a (more-or-less) 24-hour day. Any day more or less than this seems to cause a problem. Which is worse? A short day or a long day? Strangely, perhaps, most of us seem to adapt better to a longer day – the equivalent of staying up for an extra few hours. Think about it. It is easy to imagine staying up until midnight or 1 am, perhaps even 2 am. But now I ask you to go to bed a few hours earlier than normal... Go to bed at 7 pm or 8 pm. Most of us cannot sleep at all, and spend the evening willing ourselves to fall asleep.

So, if a long day is preferable, then flying West is easier for most of us. Flying West means a longer day. Fly from New York to San Francisco. Your ‘normal’ wake up time of 7 am is 4 am in San Francisco. Your ‘normal’ bedtime of 11 pm is 8 pm in San Francisco. It is easy to see that this is not really a problem. Just get up a little earlier, and schedule your day to finish by 8 pm.

The real problem comes when we are moving from West to East. The person who wakes at 7 am in San Francisco is asked to get up at 4 am in New York. Very difficult. At 11 pm in New York, our San-Franciscan ‘feels’ like it is 8 pm – certainly not time for bed!

Jet Lag - How do we solve this problem?

As is often the case, time solves most problems. Our bodies tend to be able to adjust to a maximum of one hour of disrupted time-zone per day. So our traveler from New York to San Francisco will be fully adjusted in three days. We have to be patient with ourselves.

Jet Lag – Can I solve the problem faster?

Now, this is clever, so concentrate... Our New York traveler, heading to San Francisco, wakes at 7 am every day in New York (4 am in San Francisco). Two days before departure she stays up an extra hour, and wakes an hour later – 8 am New York / 5 am San Francisco. The following day she wakes an hour later – 9 am New York / 6 am San Francisco. On her day of departure to San Francisco she wakes at 10 am New York / 7 am San Francisco. She is now on San Francisco time BEFORE she leaves.

We can apply the same process when heading West – we get up a little earlier every day, and go to bed a little earlier. It takes some discipline, of course, but works a charm.

Jet Lag – Can I make the problem worse?

It is easy to make a problem worse. In this case, people heading West get up EARLY for a flight. No, no, no. Totally wrong. If you are getting up earlier for a flight to the West then you are adding to your eventual jet lag problem – not smart at all.

Heading East? Sorry, but you don’t get a lie-in at the weekend. Every extra hour you spend relaxing in bed is going to hurt your transition to a new time zone.

Jet Lag – Can I just ignore it?

This is a pilot trick that works very well. If you are only going to be in the new time-zone for a few days, then simply ignore it. Stay on your old ‘clock’ and follow your normal routine. When I used to head West from Europe to New York, I would simply get up at 3 am New York (8 am London) , go to sleep at 8 pm New York (1 am London), and never adjust. This requires high levels of discipline, but is a perfectly functional solution to short-term time-zone changes. No jet lag at all!

Safe travels.

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