Wednesday, May 24, 2017

JET LAG: How to Prevent and Minimize

I cross time zones a decent amount. Sometimes it's just a couple of hours as I go from coast to coast in the US. Other times, it's across the Pacific to Asia, where there's a 15 or 16 hour difference. Whenever I'm traveling (or just in general), I don't like wasting days on being tired and exhausted if I don't have to. I've tried various strategies, all that have been recommended by various sources of various degrees of credibility. 

Grounding (walking barefoot on dirt, grass, or beach)
Sunshine/light manipulation 
Wait it out
Sleep a lot
Fast (don’t eat)
Keeping busy and staying awake despite feeling like shit

When I need sleep, my body does this thing where it gets cold, I get headaches, and my brain stops working for anything other than keeping myself alive and operating at irritated zombie level. No amount of caffeine will help, and in fact makes feel ill on top of feeling discombobulated. This can be a big issue if I am traveling for work (which is often the case), and just plain annoying if I'm traveling for fun (who wants to spend their vacation feeling like shit?). 

I'm having so much fun on this vacation, 
I swear I've spent so much quality time with my family....I think.

The only thing that has consistently worked for me is simply to manage my energy so that it is appropriate for the time I arrive at the new time zone. 

For example, if I'm flying from San Diego to Washington D.C., there's a 3 hour time difference where I lose those hours. No matter how long it takes me to get to D.C., I manage my energy so that I am somewhat tired if I arrive at night, or fully rested if I arrive in the morning/early afternoon. 

Or, if I'm traveling from San Diego to Taiwan, there's a 15 hour difference, and the travel time can range anywhere from 12 hours to 19, depending on layovers. I normally like to plan my flights so I arrive at my destination in the late afternoon or evening, because I want my body to get some good rest after all that travel. The 12 hours before I leave, I stop caring about my normal sleep habits for the evening and plan to have a good strategy for when I'm on the plane, so I can sleep a bit, but not too close to my arrival in Taiwan. This ensures I am sleepy when I arrive so I don't stay up too late. 

The next step is to just wake up the next morning at my normal time frame: 6-6:30 am. If I feel a little tired later that day, I can either get a lightly caffeinated beverage or take a QUICK nap early in the day. It’s key that that nap is early in the day and quick (like a power nap to help me “get through” the day), otherwise, if I wait too long, the nap becomes an ill-timed several-hour snooze-fest which will mess everything up.

After managing my energy for the first night, for the big time differences, I will tend to feel just slightly tired the first full day there, but it's nothing more than as if I had a busy couple days at work normally. I usually end up going to bed a little earlier that second night (around 8 or 9pm). 

Second full day, I'm right as rain and operating fully on the new time zone. 

I went to bed early like a grandma, 
but I don't care because I'm not a zombie, and I feel great!!

But this doesn't account for the rare, but still prevalent occasions where I am not able to sleep when planned or something happened where I couldn't manage my energy properly. The last time I went to Taiwan in November, I didn't sleep or wake when I was supposed to, and then I ended up taking a "1-2 hour nap" that lasted 7 hours. I woke at 9 pm local time. Needless to say, I screwed myself over, big time. I should have gotten up when my alarm went off the first time. No snooze button when you’re adjusting for jet lag! The more strict you are with your wake up times, the more effective. 

Sometimes your plan just doesn't go the way you intended it to 
and you feel like Noah being cornered by a T-Rex on his ark in the middle of the ocean.

On the occasions I need to actually FIGHT jet lag and not just prevent it, it's a bit trickier, but the principle is still the same: energy management. The only difference now is once jet lag has hit, it takes a lot more willpower and strategy to reverse it. This is where the caffeinated drinks, exercising, and strategically-planned events are allowed. I do whatever I need to do to be able to WAKE UP at the time I want to (6am), not go to sleep by a certain time. Physical play, easier computer work (nothing that requires math), going for a walk/hike, hanging out with a friend (NOT just sitting/couching), climbing a tree (requires you to be alert so you don’t fall off), well-timed caffeine, cleaning/unpacking/organizing, energizing music/dancing, going in the water, etc. I’ll make sure that I don’t go to bed any earlier than 8 or 9pm, so I don’t accidentally wake up at 3am. I’m ok with waking up an hour (hour and a half at the most) before my normal 6am, because it’s not that difficult to extend my waking hours by that amount of time without affecting energy levels the next day), but not more than that. I know I’ll need to take more strict precautions that day if I’m up at 4am or before. 

If you’re one to travel often (or even if you don’t), I find that maintaining a strict wake up time wherever you are in the world, no matter what day of the week, is a really great way to manage your energy and keep your circadian rhythm evened out. And yes, that means weekends and holidays as well. It’s the consistency that’s important. If I sleep in (which is rare), it’s only for an hour or so. When energy level management via sleep and physical movement is made a priority, you will find that you won’t need external energy aids such as caffeine, even on a daily basis. 

Well, that's enough to frighten anyone...just don't drink them ALL the time, you should be fine. 

Most of these can be prevented/eliminated by better energy management. 
Save yourself a bunch of money and stress. Prioritize your sleep.

And because the last 2 photos can be quite frightening, 
here's some pictures of cute animals to give your emotions a happy ending....


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