When I was a kid I went to visit my family on two occasions in New Caledonia, which is about 20,000 kilometres away from Paris and has a 10-hour time difference. Both times, it took me at least three days to recover from the twenty-four hour flight and the jet lag. And, of course, the same would apply upon my return to Paris. I became quite traumatized by long-haul flights; when I started travelling frequently I did some research on how to fight jet lag and tried my best every time to circumvent this effect. And, to help keep you fresh on your travels, here are some of my observations and advice on the subject:
Jet lag, medically referred to as “desynchronosis,” is a physiological condition which is a consequence of alterations to circadian rhythms; it is classified as one of the circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Jet lag results from rapid long-distance trans meridian (east-west or west-east) travel, as on a jet plane (Wikipedia).
Set your clock to destination time
Jet lag is greatly influenced by your mind. If you set your watch to the destination time straight away, it will help your body start adapting to the new schedule. Additionally, avoid the usual “departure time” thinking (i.e. “it’s 3 a.m. at my departure place, I should be sleeping right now”). It’s a useless thought and even if you are not tired, you will feel like it. Your mind has a powerful control over your body.
To sleep on the plane or not to sleep
Fly red-eye (overnight) if you go from east to west and try to sleep as much as you can. I usually wait until the first meal is served and once I finish it I go into “blackout mode”: sleeping mask on, ear plugs or headphones with some classical music and my hood on. Not very sexy but it will do the job. It’s never really resting but it’s better than nothing and should be enough for the next day. It’s only a matter of time, then, after arriving in the morning at your destination, to be back on track quickly.
When you go west to east, try flying early in the morning to arrive during the day at your destination. Go to bed early the previous night and then don’t sleep during your flight. Enjoy the multimedia system, the meals and make new friends on the plane (if you are a challenger, go for the ‘Mile-High Club’). Once you land, continue with your day and wait until night-time to sleep (see below). I’ve always managed to feel only a little jet lagged doing this.
Once you get there, DON’T sleep
No matter what, don’t sleep when you arrive at your destination: no nap, no rest on the beach, no sleepy cuddling in bed. NO SLEEP. It’s the most important rule! Wait at least until 10 p.m. to go to bed. Here are some tips to help you stay alert and avoid sleep:
- Drink tea, coffee or Red Bull. Tea contains more caffeine than the rest (source: Wikipedia) but I just like the taste of Red Bull. And the fact that it was prohibited for years in France makes it even more exciting.
- Meet friends or talk to new people. It’s harder to fall asleep when you have someone talking to you and expecting answers.
- Don’t watch movies. No matter how great it is, the simple fact that you sit still and look at a screen will make you sleep.
- Party and have some booze. At first getting drunk will help you forget that you are tired. Don’t dance too much (be Hitch not Albert), instead try hitting on that cute girl/boy at the bar. This will generate stress (adrenaline) and excitation to keep you awake, and you might get lucky. Also, be aware that the exciting effects of alcohol will disappear after a couple of hours and you’ll begin to feel twice as sleepy.
- Avoid sex, sport and any physical activity that would make you even more tired. Video games on the other hand are a good way to get excited and have fun while avoiding any physical exhaustion (cliché: if you get really excited about video games, there’s a pretty good chance you can’t get laid and are terrible at sports anyway).
- If you are into this kind of thing, there is some really strong stuff that you snort and will keep you awake for hours.
- Ask a friend to slap you in the face every time you start closing your eyes. Fear is a good stimulation and, in case it’s not enough, well, pain is too…
- Remember that if you fall asleep in an awkward place or position, your friends will take pictures of you and post them on Facebook. You might prefer to get slapped in the face actually.
This is just a list of basic things, but I found that following these simple rules really helped me after long flights. I came back from New York last week at 6:45 a.m. and then went straight to work. The next day was fine, apart from the fact that I was much better during vacation there. And if all my recommendations fail to help you, Wikipedia says that some recent studies indicate faster recoveries thanks to low doses of Viagra. I know your partner will like it!
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The first thing I pack before any trip is a pair of running shoes.