You Can Suffer From Jet Lag...
You Can Do What This International Airline Captain Does
Like a cure for the common cold, jet lag remedies vary considerably. Entire books have been written on the subject, pilots have been studied, and there are diets, supplements and many published lists of tips.
Your big overseas trip- is it your dream vacation or for an important business meeting?
Whatever the reason for your travel, you've made a considerable investment. It costs you time and money. If you're stuck in a hotel room suffering from jet lag symptoms, you're missing out.
Obviously, you'd like to make the most of your trip. You will get the greatest return on your investment if you're out of your hotel room enjoying your destination. I can help you achieve this.
What follows is an expanded list of "tips and techniques" for avoiding jet lag symptoms.
So why read this and follow my jet lag advice?
Because avoiding jet lag and jet lag remedies are a big part of my life.
Hi, I'm Pilot Paul. I am a long-haul international Airline Captain based in Chicago. My most recent trip was to Honolulu. The one just before that was to Paris. Yes, I know that might seem exciting, but it can also give me a lot of jet lag.
The schedule I flew that gave me the worst jet lag symptoms was a nine day period in which I made six Atlantic crossings. There was a 24 hour break between flights. I had to get the equivalent of two nights sleep during each layover.
Being alert and rested when I'm in the cockpit is one of my biggest responsibilities. Avoiding jet lag and minimizing let lag symptoms are a high priorities. I schedule my life accordingly. For example, the other afternoon in Hawaii, I would have loved spending the afternoon on the beach. Instead, I was resting in my room in preparation for the all-night flight home.
My family, my airline, and you, my passengers, expect nothing less than a well rested pilot-one who is not experiencing any jet lag symptoms. It's a professional responsibility.
"What's Special About This Article?"
In addition to my own experience and continued study of avoiding jet lag symptoms, I've also had countless conversations with other crew members about it. I try to learn about their jet lag remedies and strategies. I've studied jet lag extensively and attended briefings on Crew Alertness and Rest conducted by NASA.
Some of what you read here might contradict what you've heard in the past. In fact, several of the articles I've read contradicted each other. But I live this and my hope is to teach you some things that will benefit you.
Warning! Don't just print this out for future reading. I know that this is lengthy. I'm trying to provide thorough information to help you the most. To my knowledge, this is the most comprehensive jet lag article available on the Net.
You might think it would be good to study this during your flight. If you do that, you'll have missed some important pre-flight preparation. There are also a few relatively inexpensive travel accessories I'll recommend. I'll explain why and how they can help you, and tell you the best places I've found to get them. At Pilot-Pauls-Travel-Accessories, we want you to have a wonderful travel experience.
If you'd like to know the one thing that helps me more than anything else in dealing with jet lag,
"What Is Jet Lag?"
In simple terms, jet lag is the disruption of your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This clock sets your sleeping and waking times. It is complex and sensitive. Flying east or west messes it up. That's because you cross time zones much faster than your body can adjust.
What are common jet lag symptoms? They include:
- Impaired Coordination
None of these are much fun, especially while traveling. I'm sure you don't want your flight crew experiencing any of these jet lag symptoms either.
Without taking steps in avoiding jet lag or implementing any of the following remedies, your body will adjust to these time zone changes at a rate of 1 hour/day. That means if you flew across seven time zones, it would take you seven days to be rid of your jet lag symptoms.
Studies show that it takes even longer if you are:
- Middle-age or older
- Out of shape
- Eating an unhealthy diet
Which Way Causes More Jet Lag? Flying East or West? Several articles mention a huge debate over whether flying east or west gives more jet lag symptoms.
I'll settle this for you:
Flying east gives you more jet lag than flying west.
That's been my experience and a NASA study proved it with "clear evidence".
"Are There Any Proven Jet Lag Remedies?"
Is there a pill, a diet, or secret formula to get rid of my jet lag symptoms?
In a word, "No". There is not a single individual thing that you can do or take that will eliminate all of your jet lag symptoms. While you can't ignore the effects of jet lag, you can minimize its impact on you. There are many strategies that will help.
I'll break this discussion into three sections:
- Before Your Trip
- During Your Flight
- At Your Destination
Help Prevent Jet Lag
You Leave Home
These first strategies in avoiding jet lag symptoms begin a few days before your trip. Huh? That's why reading this now, before you go, can give you the maximum benefit.
1. Get Plenty Of Sleep. NASA found that getting as much sleep as possible beginning two days before your trip is significant in minimizing jet lag symptoms.
That's often easier said than done and you will have to plan accordingly. Most people get extremely busy before a long trip. There's packing and tying up all those "loose ends" before they go. What often gets cut short is your sleep.
If you think it is OK to arrive at the airport exhausted so you can sleep better on the plane, think again.
2. Reduce Your Stress. All that running around can make you more stressed. That too will cause more jet lag symptoms.
3. Exercise. If you exercise regularly, make it a priority to keep that routine just before you travel. Also continue it at your destination.
Doing these first three will take planning and discipline. But if you succeed, you'll be well on your way in avoiding jet lag symptoms.
4. Diet. There is an official "Jet Lag Diet" designed to beat your jet lag symptoms. I've seen articles promoting it.
But according to NASA: "Recent scientific studies have clearly demonstrated that the "Jet Lag Diet" is not effective in facilitating circadian adaptation" (Source NASA Technical Memorandum DOT/FAA/RD-93/18 pg. 52).
Many of the articles I read did recommend eating lots of starch, greens, and carbohydrates before traveling. I can't attest to their validity.
However, being healthy will help in avoiding jet lag symptoms and good diet is a part of good health.
Things You Can Do During Your Flight To Aid In Avoiding Jet Lag
1. Arrive Early At The Airport. Not rushing to make your flight will help reduce stress and make you more relaxed. That way you'll rest better on the plane.
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Wearing airport security friendly shoes (ones without metal that won't set off the detectors) is a good way to streamline the screening process.
Note- Unfortunately, the new August 2006 restrictions (from the British terrorist arrests), now require that all passengers remove their shoes for screening. My hope is that this restriction will soon be removed. You still can use airport friendly shoes for other places that require screening (courthouses, national park exhibits, etc.).
Click here for the best place to get airport friendly shoes.
Popup Blocker Help
2. Begin Adjusting To The New Time Zone And Schedule. When you get on the plane, set your watch to your destination's time. Then think about when you'll eat and sleep there. Try to begin eating and sleeping at those times.
Use the travel time as a transition to the new time zone. This simple strategy is one of the best ways of avoiding jet lag symptoms. I always do this.
It's important to get as much rest on the plane as you can (more on this in a bit). That's why I say to begin adjusting to the new schedule.
Try to eat at your destination's meal times. The flight Attendant's food service schedule likely won't align with this.
But you can control when you eat on the plane if you bring some food of your own.
Note- You will need to consume or dispose of any fruit and unpackaged meats before you enter the new country. The customs form you fill will specify what you can bring in.
I recommend not watching the in-flight movie. You want to be free to sleep as much as possible. If you really want to watch a movie, you could bring a portable DVD player. Personally, I bring a cassette player and listen to audio books. This allows me to rest my eyes while relaxing. It's also nice to have someone read me a bedtime story.
One important factor with this strategy: Keep your mind on the new time. Don't think about what time it is at home. Don't think about what you'd be doing right then if you were there. This kind of thinking will mess you up more.
Remember, it's all about adjusting to the new time.
3. Sleep As Much As You Can On the Plane. This is a key factor in avoiding jet lag symptoms. I'll explain some good ways to sleep in those airplane seats.
If you have a routine you normally go through before going to bed at night, try to do this on the plane too. For example, if you brush your teeth, wash your face, and then read for a few minutes before retiring at home, then do it on the plane too. Studies have proven that this is also helpful for settling in to sleep when you arrive at your destination.
On the long-haul international flights that I fly, we bring an extra pilot. This is so we can rotate out and take rest breaks. We have a crew rest seat in the passenger cabin. I'm very adept at resting in passenger seats.
While on our rest breaks, we take our rest very seriously. That's because our job is to be at our peak while at the controls. Our 2-3 hour rest break is critical because that is all the rest we get during those over-night flights. You depend on us to be as fresh and alert as possible for the approach and landing. Anything else would be negligent on our part.
That said, there are some travel accessories that will help you get this important sleep enroute. These are things that many crewmembers use on our very important rest breaks. I don't like to leave home without them:
4. Wear Comfortable clothing.
- Travel Pillows I use two. One to support my lower back and one for my head. Without these, I usually can't sleep on a plane. They're great for car trips too. I'm a big fan of the ones that wrap around your neck to stabilize your head. They really help you get as comfortable as possible. Without one, your head might flop around, which may wake you up.
Without one of these, I've tried leaning against the window. I never seem to get comfortable, and if I am able to sleep, I usually wake up with a very stiff neck or back.
Having your own travel pillow is more sanitary than using the airline pillows. Those are moved around everywhere and the covers are not necessarily changed before every flight.
For a review and recommendations of the of travel pillows click
here on travel pillows.
For a different approach, you can use a full body travel pillow. This is an inflatable, full length seat liner.
Click here to learn more about this full body travel pillow.
- Sleep Masks. An important low cost and effective travel accessory for avoiding jet lag symptoms is a sleep mask or eye shade.
These are great for sleeping on the plane. One difficulty that many people have sleeping enroute is that the light level changes frequently.
Passengers turn on lights, the movie scene brightens which brightens the cabin, people open their window shades, or the galley curtain opens flooding the area with bright light. Wearing some good eyeshades will make you oblivious and immune to all that.
For reviews and recommendations of sleep masks,
Click here for sleep mask information.
You can treat yourself to luxurious comfort with an Airline Comfort Set. In contains your own silk blanket, pillowcase, and sleep mask. They all fit into a 12" bag and weigh less than a pound.
To learn more about this great set, click here for the Airline Comfort Set
Popup Blocker Help
- Noise Canceling Headphones. To sleep on the plane, you need to have it quiet. Since you can't control the noise level around you, you have to bring the quiet along with you.
How can you do that? Two ways- earplugs or noise canceling headphones.
Ear plugs are terrific for some uses. I always wear them in noisy areas, like on the ramp when I check the jet before flight. While they are small, light, and inexpensive, the drawback is that I find them difficult to sleep with. Something stuck in my ear disturbs my sleep. Every time my head moves and the ear plug is bumped, it's annoying.
For successful sleep during my important rest breaks, I always use noise canceling headphones. (Note- for successful sleep in hotels, I use a white noise machine. These two devices make a huge difference for me in avoiding jet lag symptoms and sleeping soundly. More on white noise machines later.)
I really love these headphones and think that they are one of the best inventions in years.
Many airlines provide these headphones for their first class passengers. But they have to give them back at the end of the flight.
If you bought yourself a pair, you'd get one of the best first class perks at less cost than a first class upgraded ticket. Then they're yours to keep and use whenever you're in a noisy place and want to slip on some peace and quiet.
Warning! Once you've tried these there's no turning back. You'll be hooked on them and will want to use them regularly.
For more information, reviews and recommendations of good noise cancelling headphones, click here:
Noise Cancelling Headphones.
Comfortable clothes, warm socks and a sweater will enable you to sleep better.
5. Drink Plenty of Water. Not soda, not alcohol, not caffeine, but water.
The humidity in many airliners is around 2-3%. That's like being in the desert. Even though you might not feel thirsty, you will become dehydrated. This also adversely affects your sinuses and skin, but the water helps them too.
On a long flight, I drink about a gallon of water to remain hydrated. One article I read recommended 6-8 ounces of water per hour of travel. Another said 8-12 ounces. You can't count on getting this much water from the flight attendants, so plan on bringing your own. Bring a large water bottle.
After a long flight, most people feel lousy and tired. I think that half of this is due to being dehydrated. Try this on your next flight, even a shorter one.
Drinking all that water leads me to my next tip...
6. Get Up and Stretch Frequently. If you drink lots of water, you'll need to use the bathroom a lot. That's OK. Getting up allows you a stretching opportunity. If you have to stand in line to use the lavatory, don't just stand there, do some stretching!
Aisle seats are best if you'll be up frequently.
You can also stretch while in your seat.
I get up and stretch in the cockpit every hour. Don't worry, there's always another pilot at the controls and I only do this when the autopilot is engaged.
7. Avoid Alcohol. Consuming alcohol before or during the flight will give you more jet lag. It increases jet lag symptoms two ways by:
- Dehydrating you
- Slowing the adjustment of your circadian rhythm (body clock).
It is best to avoid alcohol from 12 hours before the flight until you're at your destination.
Flying first class just for the free drinks is not a wise plan.
8. Avoid/Manage Caffeine. Like alcohol, caffeine both dehydrates you and also slows your body-clock's adjustment. This will give you more jet lag symptoms.
If you are able to get by without using caffeine as one of your jet lag remedies, that's great.
If you must use caffeine to combat your jet lag symptoms, then use it strategically. How?
NASA's recommendations are:
There is an energy drink that I find helps me much better than caffeine. It is healthy for you, travels well (powdered form), and makes me feel much better than when I drink coffee or diet colas. For more information,
click here for A.C.T. energy drink.
9. Use a Footrest. The first and business class seats have these, but even in coach you can benefit from using a footrest.
Using a footrest helps in two different ways:
- If you're tall, it takes strain off of your lower back.
- If you're not so tall (or a child), and if your feet don't touch the floor, this helps prevent cramps behind your thighs.
There is an excellent folding foot rest available that works very well. To learn more about this, click here on
travel foot rest.
You likely don't know this, but all airliners have foot rests for the pilots. They're at the bottom of the instrument panels. These are great for our backs. In cruise, when the autopilot is on, we can take our feet away from the rudder pedals and put them up on the footrests.
10. Loosen Your Shoes. I often untie my laces to get some extra circulation to my feet.
Some people even take their shoes off. The first class amenity kits at many airlines include heavy socks to be used like slippers for just this reason.
You'll have to make up your own mind about the social implications of taking off your shoes, but here's something to ponder:
I once flew England's Princess Margaret from St. Lucia to Miami. She was sitting in the first row of first class. She was uninhibited enough to take off her shoes and ride with her bare feet on the carpeted bulkhead. So if it's good enough for royalty, then...
11. Pills and Supplements. In a word...
There are two main reasons that you should avoid taking pills or supplements as jet lag remedies:
1. It Can Be Dangerous! Again this is an area where some "experts" say one thing, but studies say the opposite.
I just read two articles that recommended taking over-the-counter sleeping pills to aid in sleeping on the plane.
Here's the danger of taking sleeping pills in flight as a jet lag remedy: There was a study reported in England's Lancet Medical Journal. It blamed 18% of deaths during long-haul flights from blood clots in the lungs. Sleeping pills cause you to sleep without any body movement. This reduces your circulation and increases the chance of blood clotting.
2. It Is Not Necessary. As a pilot, I simply can't take any substances unless they are approved by the FAA and our Aviation Medical Examiner (the Doctors who give us our flight physicals).
Without pills, we are able to minimize or avoid jet lag symptoms by doing what I'm describing in this article.
You can do it too.
Supplements. I just saw several articles promoting the use of Melatonin. When this supplement first came out, many touted it as the "greatest of all jet lag remedies".
At the last NASA fatigue briefing I attended, they said to stay away from Melatonin.
At a medical lecture, I once asked a renowned physician about taking supplements. His response was, "The problem with supplements is that they can make any claims they want and there is no requirement to prove it."
Supplements are not like medications that need FDA approval. Receiving FDA approval requires long, stringent evaluations and clinical trials.
NASA advises against using pills or supplements as jet lag remedies.
The Mayo Clinic says that there is no single pill for treating jet lag symptoms.
That said, there is one specific energy drink, that comes in powder form (so it travels well), that I love and use instead of caffeine.
For more information,
At Your Destination
There are also some things that you can do at your destination to help handle your jet lag symptoms.
1. Try To Eat On The New Schedule. This helps your body clock adjust to minimize your jet lag symptoms. To achieve this, you'll be most successful if you have a stash of nutritious snacks. As you make this transition, a snack can help you gain energy and make it to the next meal time.
I always bring my own snacks along. I also try to get to a grocery store sometime before I sleep the first night. Especially after flying east, it's common to wake up hungry in the middle of the night. A handy, quick snack gives you the best chance of curbing the hunger before you wake up so much that you can't get back to sleep.
If you don't have your own food for this, you're stuck. Restaurants are often closed and waiting for room service (if it's available in the middle of the night) will take so long that you'll likely awaken fully.
2. Try To Sleep On The New Schedule
"To nap or not to nap, that is the question..."
If it was a westbound flight, you're better off staying up until night time and trying to sleep the entire night. Most flight schedules will have you arriving later in the day than if you had flown east. That makes it less time from arrival to bedtime.
If it was an eastbound flight, you often arrive in the morning and it is a real challenge making it until night without sleeping.
The determining factor should be how well you slept on the plane. If you got adequate rest aloft, then it is best to "tough it out" and stay up as late as you can. Try staying up until the normal bedtime in the new time zone.
If you didn't sleep well on the plane, then I suggest you try what the crewmembers do after eastbound flights-
Crewmembers aren't able to rest the entire flight like passengers can. Because of this, most of us nap for two or three hours when we first arrive and then force ourselves to get up. Getting up then can be hard, but it is less painful than trying to stay up until night time.
Our friends at NASA also conducted extensive research on fatigue, rest, and naps. Their findings revealed some very useful information. That is:
If you are going to nap, you will have the most success if you nap either less than 45 minutes or more than 2 hours.
This has to do with the cycles of sleep. Basically, if you wake up during that 45 minute to 2 hour timeframe, you have been in a much deeper phase of sleep. Because of this, it will take you much longer to wake up. They call this "sleep inertia". The bottom line- if you plan your naps you can gain the most benefit from them.
Exercise. This is also among the important jet lag remedies. If you have a regular exercise routine, you'll want to continue it now. It picks you up and helps you after all the sitting on the plane.
For the most effectiveness in combating jet lag symptoms, the Mayo Clinic recommends exercising either in early morning or late afternoon.
Here's what I do:
- After an eastbound flight: I exercise right after my 2-3 hour nap. This perks me up considerably. With this nap and exercise combination, I have no problem staying up until the new bedtime.
- After a westbound flight: I exercise as soon as I get to the hotel.
Sunlight This is another of my favorite jet lag remedies and it's simple to accomplish as long as you have a sunny day.
Studies have shown that exposure to bright light helps shift the circadian rhythms (body clock), and therefore reduce the jet lag symptoms.
Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, a professor at Harvard Medical School, recommends that you expose yourself to bright daylight as soon as possible upon arrival. This should be for at least 15 minutes and without sunglasses.
Sleeping Well At Your Hotel
There are many things that you can do to increase your chances of getting lots of rest at your hotel.
Since this information will be helpful to all travelers and not just those seeking jet lag remedies, I've placed this information on a separate page.
If you do many of these things, your jet lag will be minimized but not eliminated. Help yourself by expecting it and planning for it.
Don't plan a big meeting or special engagement for the first day you arrive. Give yourself a day to adjust. This will also reduce your stress level if you encounter travel delays.
If you can, schedule any meetings for the times that your body is feeling the most awake.
By taking these steps, you will save valuable time at your destination. You'll be able to start enjoying your trip more quickly.
To learn how to sleep better in any hotel, no matter how noisy it is, click here.
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