How to beat Jet Lag

What is jet lag: When your travel involves crossing several time zones to reach your destination, jet lag occurs. This is also called “time zone change” syndrome. Suppose you are taking a direct flight from Mumbai to New York and if the local time at Mumbai is 6:00am, the time at New York is 8:30pm (of previous day). In short the time you wake up is the time you may hit the bed at the destination. The body clock takes time to adjust in such a scenario.

What are the causes and symptoms of a jet lag: Assuming the flight duration is 16 hours, you will reach New York at 12:30pm local time (whereas the time in Mumbai will be 10:00pm). It is as though you have taken a flight of 6.5 hours duration though you have spent 16 hours on the flight. Once you land at New York for lunch, your body is waiting to go to sleep. You will feel like hitting the bed immediately upon reaching the hotel from the New York airport though it is still early afternoon. It is fine if you take an hour’s sleep akin to a siesta but if you plan to sleep 7-8 hours you will wake up at dinner time say at 9:00pm. Since its dinner time in New York you will force yourself to have your meal but try as much as you can, you will not be able to sleep. You will wake up in between and when it’s morning time, you feel like sleeping and this sleep continues well through the day…in the office or wherever you go. This is because the body has not adjusted to the new time zone and still tries to follow the one back home. The situation is bad when you travel West to East since the date changes too as you land at the destination unlike in the case of travel from East to West.

My personal experience: I once travelled to Lima from Bengaluru and celebrated the longest birthday of my life. I was booked by an Emirates flight at 4:30am in the morning; reached Dubai at 6:30am UAE local time (3.5 hours flight duration). From Dubai I boarded the flight to Sao Paulo (Brazil) at 8:30am and it was the longest flight of my life till date – 15 hours non stop. The flight reached at 4:30pm Brazil time. The last leg of the flight from Sao Paulo to Lima was at 7:00pm and it was a 5 hours flight. I reached Lima at 10:00pm Peru local time. It was still 17th June 2012 for me though I travelled more than 18,000 kms and spent close to 23.5 hours of flight time plus 4.5 hours of waiting time, total of 28 hours. When I reached Lima at 10:00pm on 17th June it was 8:30am on 18th June in India ! When I checked into my room at The Westin it was almost midnight. I had some fruits to eat and straightaway hit the bed so as to remain fresh in the morning for an important client meeting. And I enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

How did I manage all this: Well, I have a small trick which I have been following for more than a decade now. The moment I enter the aircraft and settle down on my seat, I change the time on my watch to the local time of the destination. Since Bengaluru to Dubai time zone difference is less than 2 hours, I did not bother. However when I boarded the A380 aircraft from Dubai to Sao Paulo I changed the time on my watch to Brazil local time which was 1:00am early morning. I started behaving as if it was 1:00am and not 8:30am UAE time. I went off to sleep immediately though forcefully, after briefly watching an in-flight movie. I avoided breakfast that was being served and instead woke up for lunch when the time at Brazil was around 8:00am. I faked lunch to be breakfast and stayed awake for rest of the journey.  When I boarded the flight at Sao Paulo for Lima I changed the time on my watch to 5:00pm Peru time though it was 7:00pm Brazil time. The time difference was not significant, yet I changed this time. I did catch up with some sleep though managed not to extend for more than 60 minutes, as if it was a siesta. When I reached Lima I was very tired and since I hadn’t slept when it was day time in Peru I could easily catch up with my sleep. My body clock was being fooled with this simple trick.

Does Jet lag apply only for long distance flights: Some people get affected by jet lag even if the time zone is less than 4-5 hours. For example the time zone difference between India and  Continental Europe is 4.5 hours (Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland etc). While some people easily manage to beat jet lag but those not used to travelling long distance flights (greater than 6 hours duration), feel the affect of a jet lag. They too can follow the same trick as suggested above.

Conclusion: Though it is easy to say  it is extremely tough to follow such a regimen. You need to have discipline and self control.

  • You need to drink lot of fluids especially water and avoid caffeine based drinks.
  • For long flights it is equally important to stretch your legs and take a walk especially when food is not being served to avoid being a hindrance to the flight attendants.
  • Chat up with fellow co passengers when you want to stay awake.
  • Wear loose clothes on long flights.

Try to follow these simple steps and make this a habit if you are a frequent traveller.

Shubh Yaatra (Bon Voyage) !

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