What I try to do when I travel abroad across several time zones

How do I try to beat jet-lag:
– book an overnight flight that lands at the destination in the morning, if possible. This really helps.
– start gradually shifting my daily schedule of meals, activities, sleep, a few days in advance.
– once I pass security and have about an hour before take-off, I take clonapen (not sleeping pills and no, not melatonin, though some people swear about it – it makes me depressed because of my extreme owl-eness and SAD). This (as I am a little anxious of flying) helps me fall asleep very quickly, sometimes before we are airborn, sometimes right after they serve the dinner.
– then I sleep the entire flight and wake up just before landing.
– once I arrive, I make sure to do three things throughout the morning (or even the whole day): be outside in order to get exposed to light, eat breakfast and lunch at local time, exercise. It is usually easy to combine the three: sightseeing around the city, stopping at a street vendor for food, traipsing around all day.
– in the evening, have dinner at local time, with little or no alcohol (could not avoid that last time in London, but I was OK), go to bed with a book and try to sleep. It usually works for me.
– what I find is that most of my physical functions adjust to new time in a day or two (no real jet-lag, i.e., nausea, headaches, lack of appetite), but my time-perception takes longer (i.e., my ability to estimate the time of day without looking at the clock).
On the way back, it is harder to do all of the above, so I usually do get jet-lagged once I arrive home from Europe. Still have to make myself more disciplined about it (also, the London-Raleigh flight is daytime, which makes it hard to use the flight itself as a resetting mechanism).

8 responses to “What I try to do when I travel abroad across several time zones

  1. I do only one of those things: light. Specifically, light around 7 or 8AM destination time. Which of course is easier to do if you arrive in the morning, but as you’ve discovered that helps not at all when traveling West. My large delta-TZ trips have generally been to Japan, where you can choose to arrive at any time, as long as it’s between 2 and 4 PM. Which means 8AM happens about 4 to 6 hours into the flight. Fortunately the sun is up the entire time, so all you have to do is open the blind and look out at Alaska.
    Trouble is, everyone else on the plane prefers to be jet-lagged, so they’re all still sleeping and get all pissy about the light I let in. If they complain I actually wrap a blanket around me to make a little kid’s fort and keep the light to myself. Looks foolish, but when it’s 5PM my first full day in Japan and I’m reading numbers off a voltmeter for an hour and not falling asleep, my revenge is complete. So for me at least, the light is all I need.
    One of the last such flights I took (3 years ago, now), the upper deck had 4 or 5 shades open in fact, so maybe people are starting to clue in to the whole light==good thing. I’ll be making the trip again shortly, so I guess I’ll find out.
    And alas, the return trip isn’t a whole lot better. There are some flights that get in to Chicago at 9 or 10 AM, which isn’t bad, though thats 10-11 at my ultimate destination. I’d happily get up wicked early in Tokyo to get home at 8AM, but I guess not enough other people agree.

  2. I got a fair amount of practice in dealing with jet lag when I lived in Honolulu. (Minimum 5 hour flight to anywhere.)
    Eastbound travel always gives me a harder time than west, mostly because I have a very hard time sleeping on planes. That said, the closer I come to the strategy outlined above, the better I do.
    Westbound has always been a lot easier for me. What I’ve found is that the trick is just lots of caffeine. I try to read or work through the flight, and when I reach my destination, I try to stay awake and semi-active until something approaching my normal bedtime. If my total awake time is going to exceed about 20 hours, I’ll allow myself a 2-hr nap either en-route or at the destination, but nothing more. (The trick to this method is making sure I’m exhausted enough to sleep a full 8 hours starting at bedtime.) I’ve found that this lets me get back to normal within two days max, and usually within one.

  3. I have a much simpler strategy: Drink like a motherfucking fish on the plane, and then keep drinking when I get to my destination until I pass out. Then I wake up, and start drinking again.

  4. What PP said. Drink heavily (to avoid mental flashes of the many possible horrible ways to die in an aircraft crash) during the flight. However, when I reach my destination, I simply step into their time frame. If it is bedtime, I am ready for bed. If it is not bedtime, I can keep drinking. WOO WOO…
    Well, it worked for me in my 20s. Thirty years later, I don’t know if I have the stamina.

  5. Melatonin (MEL) works for most people and has been used for years to avoid jet lag by Europeans. I have used it many times and it works well. Three or six mg taken at bed time at destination resets clock for most. MEL is safe for most (not those pregnant or who have an immunodeficient disease. There are several books and a karge scientific literature available on the subject. Also, MEL is a good radical scavenger. I use six mg each night 30 minutes before bed time for a good rest. Smaller doses often work for many. I convinced my physician (with science journal articles) and he prescribed it for sleep problems to several hundred patients. Seventy five percent reported excellent results. The remaining 25% had no sleep problems, but did not like to very vivid dreams they experienced!

  6. Cortunix. I don’t agree that going west is harder, in my experience it’s going east that is much harder. Also light works beautifully. Tea with sugar outside in direct sunlight about 1-3pm for half an hour or so will reset your clock pretty well.
    And 8 hours to/from Europe is a walk in the park – try 24 hours between Europe and Australia sometime – I don’t think I could face New Zealand which adds about 6 more. But if anyone has to do it, I reccommend a stopover in Tokyo or Hong Kong. You get almost half the trip out of the way without changing timezones and then it’s just 11 hours to London. Do that leg overnight and you’re laughing.

  7. themadlolscientist, FCD

    I must be weird or something. I found that what worked for me on my two trips from Philadelphia to London was almost the exact opposite of conventional wisdom even though, like you, I’m also plagued with SAD, and in addition I’m probably one of the most extreme nightowls you’ll ever meet – I usually get a second wind sometime around 11pm no matter how sleep-deprived I may be otherwise.
    Both times it was an overnight flight. About the only “right” thing I did was carry a 2-liter bottle of water and drink almost the whole thing. I had 2 or 3 glasses of wine with dinner, then zonked out for the rest of the trip. (When I’m out, I’m OUT. You could drop a bomb on my head. I was completely unaware of the impromptu birthday party that broke out 3 rows ahead of me the first time and kept everyone else awake.) We got into Heathrow around 5:30 am, and it was about 7:30 by the time we got to the place where we were staying.
    Everyone else took the conventional advice to eat breakfast and go out for the day. I went straight to bed, slept until 1 pm, had lunch, slept until 6, had a leisurely dinner and a couple more glasses of wine at a riverfront pub, went back to my room, and slept straight through until the next morning.
    My traveling companions thought I was out of my mind for “wasting a day,” but apparently my body knew what it needed. Out of my group of 18, I was the only one who wasn’t jet-lagged to hell and back for 3 days.
    I dunno. Maybe it’s easier to set my internal clock forward 19 hours instead of back 5? I know my natural tendency is to run a ridiculously long day, but that’s extra-ridiculous.
    Flying west? No problem. I actually get to see what a morning looks like for the day or two it takes to shift back to my “normal” state of sleeping until noon and staying up until 4 or 5 am…….. with a good siesta in the middle to make up the rest of the 9 or 10 hours I need.

  8. I’m another one of those people who has trouble sleeping on planes, so for me local time of arrival seems to be the key variable. Asia has never presented a problem since the flights I have been on generally arrive in the midafternoon–I just make sure I stay awake through dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and find that I have no further problems–and return flights tend to arrive in my time zone (eastern US) in the evening. Europe outbound, and South America both directions, have been problematic due to the prevalence of overnight flights, so when I have a choice of schedules I try to book the later departure. If there is a connection involved on a Europe trip I try to put it in Europe both directions, since that means a later arrival outbound and fewer TSA hassles returning. (When flying across the Atlantic, avoid JFK unless you are actually going to New York; the risk of being stuck in customs while your connecting flight departs is too high.)