Dealing With Jet Lag…Simplified

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28/02/2009 – Dealing With Jet Lag…Simplified

This morning while standing in the Arrivals-Immigrations line at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG) I started chatting with a couple from Connecticut about jet lag. This trip was the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary gift from their children, and it was their first trip outside of North America.

As we stood in line, around 6:30am local time (GMT +1) the couple’s natural body clock (and mine) were expecting it to be 12:30am EST (GMT -5). The couple I was speaking with had stayed awake for the entire flight over to Paris and was worried that they’d miss their first day in The City of Lights because they were exhausted. When speaking with me they had asked how I managed to appear to be so alert and awake (and I was sitting in a cramped seat in economy class, just like they were).   The answer is somewhat simple, it has to do with a form of discipline I have while traveling.

Travelling through multiple time-zones causes jet lag.  Some jet lag in minor, such as the 3 hour difference between New York and San Francisco; some jet lag seems hard but can be quite easy to quickly overcome, such as the 1/2-day difference between New York and Hong Kong; and some jet lag seems to impossible for many travellers to quickly overcome, such as the six hour difference between New York and Paris.

When traveling on routes that do not allow for a full nights sleep, that are overnight flights, it is often best to try and fly out on the latest flight possible.   If you depart from New York for London at 9:30pm you have an easier chance of going to sleep than departing on the 5:00pm flight.

The flight I just flew departed New York at 4:50pm (GMT -5) and arrived in Paris at 5:55 (GMT +1) the following morning.   This seems like an ideal flight for many flyers, as it lands in Paris early in the morning, allowing you more time to do business, take in the sites, or just hang out.   The problem for many flyers is that you have to wake up when many people are starting to go to sleep.   Most days I am often awake and working until roughly 1:00am EST (GMT -5), which means that the flight I just took landed about an hour before I normally go to sleep.   This can be problematic when you have a whole workday in front of you.

What I do on these flights to minimize the effect of jet lag is force myself to sleep. When I know I am traveling like this, I try and stay up late the evening before, then wake up early in the morning.   This change in my sleep pattern makes me more tired than usual.   I do not take any heavy-duty sleep aids like Ambien or Lunesta, as these drugs can have adverse affects (there are many stories of passengers taking Ambien then having significant problems in flight, as the drug was originally designed to be an anti-psychotic medication), additionally these drugs really require a passenger to have around 8 hours of sleep.

In order to make sure I can sleep I avoid all caffeine for the entire day I am travelling, about 45-prior to boarding I take two over the counter Benedryl (the active drug in nearly all over the counter sleep aids is the same as Benedryl), bring some eye shades, noise canceling headsets, and I force myself to sleep.   During this 7-hour 5-min flight I slept for approximately 5-hours.   While I am a bit tired and fighting the effects of jet-lag I know that on 5-hours of sleep I can comfortably go to work today, do my job and get through my day here in Paris, then make up my sleep tonight.

…so, to simplify how you can avoid the full effect of jet-lag follow these simple steps
1) Go to bed late the night before you travel
2) Wake up very early on the day of travel
3) Avoid caffeine on the day of travel
4) Find a mild (very mild) sleep aid and take it between 45min to 15min before boarding
5) Use noise canceling headsets to block out the ambient noise
6) Use eye shades to block out the world around you
7) Try and relax
8 ) Pop a can of Coke when you land, the caffeine should perk you right up

Remember, jet lag is usually worse going “ahead in time” rather than going “back in time” (ie: New York to Paris can be a killer, but Paris to New York is pretty easy on your body)

Well Carol and Mike (don’t you love it when you meet people with the same name as the parents on the Brady Bunch?), I hope you get through your first day in Paris smoothly, I hope you enjoy your week in this fabulous city….and happy 25th Anniversary!

FYI: GMT = Greenwich Mean Time, also known as “zero hour” or “Zulu time.” GMT -5 is five hours behind GMT, while GMT +1 is one hour ahead of GMT.   London is on GMT 0, meaning that if you need to know what the +/- on a time is, just look at what time it is in London and count forwards or backwards from there.

Happy Flying!

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