Posts from Sunday, January 29th, 2006

How to Avoid Jet Lag

Published 12 years, 10 months ago

Inspired by some recent conversations and a post by Dave Shea, I’m going to share with you my Sooper-Dooper No-Patent-Pending DIY Anti-Jet-Lag Technique.  I used it in my trips to and from the UK, Japan, and Australia this past year, and I didn’t have jet lag going either direction for any one of those trips.  The technique is so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it first.  Unless you did, in which case you can feel all smug.

Here it is: after getting your usual amount of nightly sleep, wake up at your normal time in the target time zone.

All right, maybe it doesn’t sound simple.  What I mean is, figure out what time the day starts at your destination.  Then modify your sleep schedule to synchronize with it before you get there.  So if you always get up at sunrise, arrange things so you sleep your usual time and wake up at the same time the sun is rising at your destination.

I’ll use my trip to Australia for Web Essentials as an example.  Going there, I flew across America to Los Angeles and then had nine hours before my flight across the Pacific.  The United flight from LAX left at 11:15pm, and arrived in Sydney at approximately 7:00am Sydney time.  Perfect: that’s about when I get up anyway.  I need about six hours of sleep in a night, and the flight was 13.5 hours long.  So I kept myself awake for the first half of the flight, and slept for the second.  When we landed Tuesday, I was all ready to go.  Sure, I was tired, but I was completely synched up with Sydney’s time zone. 

Coming back was tougher, because we departed Sydney at 1:30pm and landed in Los Angeles at 11:15am the same day.  Still, I knew what I had to do: wake up around 7:30am Los Angeles time (give or take an hour; I’m not overly picky about the time I wake up).  So I slept only an hour or two the night before leaving, in order to intentionally shorten my waking time during the flight.  Part way through the flight, I went to sleep, and woke up a few hours before landing.  While I was exhausted all that day, I was in step with LA’s time zone.

As I say, I did the same going to and from Japan, and when I went over to London.  Synching to the UK was actually pretty simple, because going there was a seven-hour direct flight that landed at 7:00am.  I just made sure to sleep for as much of the flight as possible.  The return flight was a special case, as it left in the late morning and landed in the early afternoon, Cleveland time.  So I just kept myself awake until my usual bed time, and got a full night’s sleep.  Ta-daaa!  No jet lag.

It is no shame to support this technique with medication; I do it myself, in fact.  Tylenol PM works well for me, as does Ambien.  I do not, however, medicate myself into wakefulness upon arrival.  No melatonin, which never has any effect on me anyway; and no caffeine, which I basically never consume in any form.

If you use this approach, odds are that you’ll be pretty tired on the day you arrive.  Just keep going until whatever time you’d normally go to sleep, and then sleep until your normal wake time (or maybe an hour or two later, if you’re feeling indulgent).  The next day, you’ll be back up to speed and still in synch with the local time.

Admittedly, this does require some forethought and planning, but it works for me every time.