By Wendy Knecht
As a former flight attendant, one of the most common questions asked is, “How do you deal with all of those time zone changes?” It’s not easy. But I have developed my rules that seemed to have helped me overcome the worst side effects of jet lag. Although there’s no one panacea for everyone, a lot can be said about putting a few rules in place.
Change your watch to the local time of your destination before departure. Once you’re gone, that’s it—you have no choice but to adjust. Some may say it’s 9 PM at home, and noontime at your destination! A valid observation, but it’s just a source of frustration. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. So psychologically, just focus on the time zone at your destination.
TAKE A NAP
Once you arrive at your destination, do whatever it takes to get on a sleep schedule. As a rule, if you arrive at your hotel in the morning, you should most certainly indulge in a nap for no more than four hours. Forcing yourself to wake up can be the hardest thing, but "rest assured," you’ll be glad you did. You want to relax enough to be alert for the day, but still be tired enough to sleep at night.
TAKE A WALK/RUN
You’ll be so excited about being in a new place that it will be an easy effort to throw on your comfortable gear and get your blood flowing. Exposing yourself to the sunshine is to put your circadian rhythm flowing in the right direction.
THE CLOTHESPIN CURE
I promise this is the best advice you will ever receive. If you find yourself without a clothespin, a hair clip will suffice. Secure the drapes together to keep street/sunlight from entering the room. In desperation, you can manipulate one of the room chairs up against the curtain to keep them closed. Darkness is the best sleep aid, and early morning light can wake you up abruptly. Keeping the curtains shut will help you have the best chance of a good night’s sleep.
Drink coffee at the first possible moment when you arrive at your destination. That is, as soon as practical, if you are not napping or as soon as you wake up from your nap. Coffee is essential, so much so, I’m listing it before water. The worst, most insidious headache is caffeine withdrawal: a head-pounding headache that creeps up on you in the middle of the night in a hotel room.
DRINK LOTS OF WATER
The airplane environment is quite dry, and can also be quite drying on your sinuses. Making sure that you stay well-hydrated is one of the best ways to avoid traveler’s headache as well. I am not against a glass of wine by any means, just make sure you don’t drink to excess (sip slowly!) and stay hydrated. The rule of thumb is six-to-eight ounces of water for every hour of flight time. And keep the hydration going once you arrive at your destination.
Make sure you bring some of your favorite treats—small bags of nuts, protein bars, or buy a light snack along the way. Having snacks is essential to stave off hunger so you can wait until the local meal time. Whatever you do, take your mother’s advice: “Eat a little something.”
If you are not one of those people who can sleep anywhere, anytime, a bit of melatonin can make a difference. I prefer the “melts” or the liquid melatonin. In my experience, these work. For chronic poor sleepers, there are prescription drugs. Of course, don’t take anything without first consulting your doctor. Sometimes taking these at the beginning of the trip gives you a jumpstart on getting in the local time zone.
GO WITH THE FLOW
One important thing to remember is that it’s fine to skip a sight or an event in place of some much-needed sleep. It sometimes takes a day or two to adjust; some people have body clocks that change more quickly than others. If it’s 3 AM, and you’re wide awake and hungry, just go with it. Hopefully, your hotel has twenty-four hour room service or at the very least, a stocked mini-bar. Order that French onion soup, crack open a red wine, and put on the movie channel. Sit back, relax and enjoy.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
If your trip is short, just a couple of days or so, don’t worry about adjusting to the time. Going to bed earlier, and waking up earlier—or vice-versa—keeps you right on schedule for your return home. There’s not enough time to adjust, and you will be better off in the long run. Disrupting your schedule just for a couple of days isn’t worth the trouble.
All in all, these are savvy tips you can use to put jet lag in its place. However, an essential element of your success in dealing with it is not to give into it at all. Forge ahead, and enjoy the wonder of a new locale. You might just have to accept that you’ll be a little bit tired. Once you start to ensconce yourself in the wonderment of your surroundings, you'll forget you're tired. Or you'll just have to stop for a cup of coffee.
Wendy Knecht is the author of Life, Love and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir. Visit her at WendySueKnecht.com.