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Published: January 22nd 2023
What is the real truth about jet lag? Well, I know it is real, as I have suffered greatly over the years. And for a while, it got worse with age.
One secret, which is not really a secret, is to time your flights to fit your sleep schedule. This, of course, assumes you can sleep on a plane or train. A red eye to the east coast was my normal flight for many years. I would have a nice dinner at home, take a little nap, shower, then head to the airport for a late night/early morning flight to Washington, DC, Boston, New York, or Hotlanta. But truth be known, I was not always at my best the next day, often falling asleep before, during, or after dinner!
Another secret is that I am really good at falling asleep while watching movies. And it happens at home, the movie theater, and on the plane! Lucky me. I usually find a movie I have seen before, and it works like magic.
Of course, flying in Business Class on long flights helps exponentially. Whether a real lie-flat seat, or a decent reclining seat, I am able to get four to five hours
sleep. Daytime flights are problematic, but a nap after a nice dinner and some champagne usually works well.
According the NASA and Travel & Leisure, there are some scientific studies to beating jet lag.
"Regulating light exposure is critical to resetting your circadian rhythms and stopping jet lag in its tracks. “It's a timing issue to reset your circadian clock. So, based on the day-night cycle, when to see light and when to see dark allows you to shift more expeditiously,” he shared.
And there’s plenty of science to back this up. As Scientific American explained
, light exposure can assist someone in either advancing or delaying their circadian rhythm. It pointed to a study by a team at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago
, which had participants expose themselves to light in the morning, causing their circadian rhythms to shift by 2.1 hours, which the researchers concluded would make the participants feel either less jet lag or fully adjusted two days earlier than if they skipped the light therapy."
No doubt, caffeine can affect your sleep cycles, as, of course, does taking melatonin.
“Melatonin is a natural substance that we have in our body that tells us that it's time
to sleep. Scientists have found it best to “take small doses.” The Mayo Clinic
explained, “The latest research seems to show that melatonin aids sleep during times when you wouldn't typically be resting, making it beneficial for people with jet lag.” The Mayo Clinic adds that when you take melatonin matters. If you’re traveling east, Mayo Clinic said you should take melatonin in your new time zone to adjust to your new local time. However, if you’ve flown west, take melatonin in the morning, to help reset your internal clock to a later schedule.
I use both melatonin and a prescription sleeping pill when necessary. And I use them once I arrive at my destination to help me sleep at night, for the first few days in the new time zone. And I stop the champagne or wine at least 3 hours before taking ANY sleep aid. I rarely drink coffee on short or long flights. The stories that you hear about the airplane's water supply are true!
My last flight from Europe was relatively easy on jet lag. I caught a 7am flight from Istanbul (a long 12 hour flight) and arrived home around 10pm. I had very little to no jet lag.
But I do bend the rules a bit. I do have a glass of champagne on board. And I limit my water intake so that I do not have to run to the water closet as often.
So, how does one really know when to take sleep aids, when to avoid caffeine, and correct the exposure to light. Well, NASA has come up with an app, called Timeshifter. Just input your travel schedule, and the app creates a plan for sleep, light exposure, melatonin, caffeine, and more. I think I will try it on my next transoceanic flight.
Each of us has our little secrets. Mine are: upgrade, sleeping aid, time of flight.
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