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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Everywhere is Local: How to skip 8 time zones without jet lag

[Also available as a Podcast]

Jet lag? I just don't do it anymore. And many that I work with don't do it either.

Whether you are a frequent traveller, or doing a long-haul flight for the first time, these tips can help you make the trip easier, seem shorter - and not have you wiped out when you arrive. And with over 900,000 lifetime personal flight miles and counting, I can tell you that this really works. 

Note: Although it is impossible to completely avoid all effects of jet lag, by following these tips you can dramatically reduce its effects down to recovery time of less than a day, and that be minimized as well. Flying east or west, here's how I regularly manage a 24+ hour trip spanning 8 timezones and keep on going.

A Few Simple Rules
1. Before you take off - think local time. Act as if the destination were your normal local time. When you board your plane, set you watch for your destination after you buckle your seatbelt. If you transit through another airport, set your watch to that timezone first. And this is important - you need to think in the destination time. You can actually make yourself tired by trying to translate everything back to "home" time - this will actually convince your body that you should be tired, or in bed, whatever. Think in the destination time - as if it was your "home" time. If you need to plan a call for when you arrive back to home, translate back from destination to "home" time to see if they are up, instead of the other way around. Seems silly perhaps, but this makes a difference.

 2. In flight - sleep as much as you can. Not only does it help spend time on long flights, but it does help you build up a positive sleep balance against any deficits due to the actual time difference and what time you arrive and can (eventually) get to bed there. However if you say you can't sleep on airplanes - still give it a try, I would not recommend sleeping pills, but try to nap. If you are completely unable to sleep, then although these tips will still help, you will not be as refreshed or in as good of shape when you arrive.

3. In flight - drink water. Alcohol, coffee/tea and soft drinks dehydrate you, so minimize how many you have.

4. In Transit at an airport - move around. Walk. See some sights, or just explore the terminal. Sit if you are tired, eat if you are hungry, but in general, keep active. It helps the bloodflow, staves off fatigue, and you will probably be sitting for a few more hours soon anyway, right? So why not go for a walk.

5. When you arrive - do everything local time.  No matter if it is 7am at home, if it is dinner time where you arrive, have dinner. Keep your routine.

6. Don't think about it! It is mostly in your mind. You can actually make yourself more tired by thinking too much about the time difference. It does affect your physiology. Ignore "home" time and live in the present timezone. Carpe Diem!

7. Don't take that nap! It is important to push through and do things local time. Even if you have been flying for 24 hours and arrive at 5am at your destination - do not go to bed. Be local, like you just got up. Bedtime is at bedtime - for you, time for breakfast if you arrived in the morning. Of course if you arrive at night, go to bed, as close to normal time as you can. Set your alarm for local time - and in the morning, you should have little to no jetlag effects at all for most of the second day.

Some tips on surviving the day:
If you do feel exhausted at any point during the first or second day [typically this is in the mid-afternoon of the first day of arrival (if you arrived in the morning), or on the second day (if you arrived late at night)], do the following:

- Get up! Walk around, go for a short brisk walk, do some exercise. It does wonders and gets you past any fatigue periods in the day. This helps you adapt more quickly.

- If you are absolutely, completely wiped, take a short nap - no more than 24 minutes. Set your alarm. (If you nap more than 24 minutes you go into REM sleep and you will wake up groggy. If you nap 24 minutes or less, you get a refreshing power nap.)

- Bedtime normal time - almost. If you arrived in the morning, it is a long slog. After talking a few walks, perhaps a nap, you may find that you are tired and ready for bed early. But don't do it too early. At most 2 hours before your normal bedtime, no more. If you normally go to bed at 11pm, it is ok to go to bed at 9pm. If you normally go to bed at 9 - hang in there, or go to bed at 8. If you give in and go to bed too early, you will wake up too early and throw off your body, which will delay your adaptation to the local timezone by at least another day.

 - Dont' stay up too late. You need to work with your body to make it feel local, and attuned to your normal routine.

That's it!
If you follow these guidlines, you should have a more restful trip, and be in great shape on arrival and make it through the first days at your destination with style.

Bon Voyage, and Be Local!

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