Travel often comes up in conversations with friends. It cracks me up when they tell me they just got back from California and they are “jet lagged.” It’s true that travel is tiring and a 2-hour difference can cost you some sleep, but you haven’t experienced jet lag until you’ve traveled overseas.
My most recent experience with jet lag was in June when I went to Asia for 10 days. China’s East Coast is exactly 12 hours ahead of EST. That makes it easy to know what time it is back home, but extra hard for your body to adjust.
Discussing jet lag is interesting because everyone seems to have a different strategy to minimize it (it’s impossible to avoid it). Special drink concoctions, herbal medicine, prescription drugs meant for other things, strange sleeping patterns, etc. are all things people have suggested to me. I’m not really one for all the voodoo, so I try to keep it simple and it usually works out. Now, I’m not going to claim that my method is the best option out there, but it is easy and it works for me.
Here’s an example of my recommended approach:
Start trying to adjust to your destination’s time zone as soon as you board the plane. Traveling to Asia, I left Chicago at 10:40am CST. That means it was almost midnight in China. I immediately went to sleep and slept for 4 hours. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped my internal clock start moving. When I woke up, it was about 4am, Shanghai time. I stayed awake for the rest of the trip watching movies and arrived in Shanghai around 4pm. I kept myself awake until 8pm, went to bed and woke up feeling pretty good around 7am. Note that no matter how much or little sleep you get the first night, you’re going to hit a wall around 3pm. I drank a 5 Hour Energy and it helped enough to get me through the work day without becoming a full-fledged zombie.
The return from Asia is different; it’s much more difficult. I’ve always heard that traveling east is worse than going west. I’m not sure why, but it has certainly proved true for me. My advice for coming back is to stick with a strict routine for about three days. When you get home, have prescription sleeping pills ready and take one to knock you out at 9pm. Wake up the next day, don’t nap, and repeat that process the next night. If you can do that for 3-4 days, you should be feeling better.
When I returned from Asia, I made a huge mistake. I followed my plan the first night, then the weekend hit and I had birthday parties to go to on Friday and Saturday night. I hit a second wind around midnight and ended up staying up until 5am both mornings. After all, it felt like 5pm to me. This made my transition horribly painful and dragged it out for 2-3 weeks.
Feel free to try all the gimmicks and fancy tricks (some may work), but I believe the most important thing is to stick to a schedule. Help your body build back its normal routine and get into a pattern. If you derail, you’re going to regret it, so develop a strategy you can succeed with and stick to it.