Fighting Jet Lag

One of the biggest physical issues with being a student in this program is being alert and awake for the in-person sessions; as you can imagine, it’s especially difficult for people who are traveling across many time zones to meet for class. Besides concentrating on staying awake for long days of intensive class meetings, students are also catching up with one another and finding bits of free time here and there to see something new. (Some students prefer to fully concentrate on classwork, and that is okay, too!) How does one effectively fight jet lag to be able to do everything in those six days together? Program director Dr. Sabrina Chong provides advice on how to get that done.

  1. Deprive yourself of sleep either the night before departure or on the plane, regardless of what time your flight arrives at its destination. 
    This isn’t feasible for everyone, but I make a point to sleep only three to four hours before a long-haul flight so that I am absolutely exhausted by the time I get on the plane. Then, I will fight the urge to sleep for the flight. For me, it is impossible to stay awake for the entire flight, but if I know I’m landing in the morning or afternoon, I will do my best to sleep as much as possible on the plane. (And as little as possible when arriving at night.)
  2. Drink only water during the flight. 
    This is a critical step to fight jet lag, probably the most important one after #5 in my opinion. Coffee, tea, sodas, and alcohol dehydrate you faster, which exacerbates jet lag. I always buy a big bottle of water at an airside shop in the terminal and try to finish it by the time I land.
  3. If you arrive at the hotel during the day, do everything you can to spend no more than one hour in your room and to avoid lying down in your bed.
    Throw the curtains open, take a shower, change your clothes, brush your teeth, and get out of your room. Go outside, and get some fresh air and some sunshine. If you are tempted to lie down on your comfortable, inviting bed, you must resist! The worst thing you can do is take a nap at this point, so if you arrive the day before an in-person session begins, take advantage of this free time to get moving and out while exploring.
  4. If you arrive at the hotel at night, settle into your room quietly.
    Close all the curtains, fully unpack, eat dinner, then retire to your room. Keep the TV or laptop volume to a minimum. Do your best not to dive into emails or work. Stay awake until 9pm; this is the golden hour for me as the time to be tucked in bed and ready to fall asleep.
  5. Take melatonin about two hours before you want to fall asleep, but make sure that you give yourself a solid eight hours of sleep ahead of you.
    Melatonin is a natural hormone that we all produce that regulates sleep and makes you tired at night. I swear by melatonin, and I cannot travel without it. I take 10mg of melatonin every night I’m traveling; I find that a smaller dose does not work well for me. Proceed with caution, though. Make sure that you’re not lying down completely just after you take a pill; when I do that I get mild heartburn or nausea. This is why I take it two hours before I want to fall asleep so that I don’t have to worry about the side effects when I lie down for good. Also, you need to make sure that you get at least eight hours of sleep. Otherwise, you will be groggy all day after you wake up. When I use it, I can either sleep through the entire night or easily fall back asleep after relieving myself in the middle of the night. On a recent overseas trip, the first night after having flown from Los Angeles to Helsinki (via London) consisted of 10 solid hours of sleep. I’m making melatonin sound really bad here, but it has been the key for me to fighting jet lag so well to the point where I don’t get it anymore- going and coming back. If you have never taken melatonin before, I recommend that you test it out at home by taking it four hours before you normally go to bed and seeing if it makes you drowsy before your normal bed time. It’s not for all people, but it works like a charm for those who use it.
  6. Take 400mg of ibuprofen BEFORE you go to bed for the first night.
    This is what I call “clearing the cobwebs”, or clearing that fuzzy feeling when waking up after the first night of sleep. This is not for everyone, but if you feel a dull headache coming on as you crawl into bed that first night, some ibuprofen will help.
  7. Drink a lot of and only water within the first 24 hours in your destination.
    The same principle about not drinking on the plane applies here. Staying hydrated is key to fighting jet lag, and it is crucial to stick to water for the first 24 hours. I often find that I simply cannot drink enough for the first few days; I am constantly thirsty so if you have to give in and drink coffee after you wake up on the first morning, make sure to drink at least triple the amount in water.
  8. Take a hot bath before bed.
    This is not for everyone, but taking a hot bath does wonders in calming my mind and for relaxation.
  9. Eat three square meals, even when you’re not hungry.
    This helps your body get into its new rhythm and ensures that you don’t lose steam during class or important site visits.

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