Seriously?…jet lag?

Oh, it’s here…I’ve been up since 3:11 am, and yes, the “11” is important because I just couldn’t sleep till 3:12…because of jet lag….

So since I’m up, I decided to do a little research on jet lag. As it turns out, I should have done this little project BEFORE I left…but alas, I didn’t…soooo…

Like the cure for the common cold, jet lag remedies can vary. But let’s start here..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.  So let’s sit back and let Pilot Paul tell us what to do:
What are common jet lag symptoms? They include:

Impaired Coordination

I’m getting a little lethargic reading these symptoms. Ok…your body can adjust to these changes at a rate of 1 hour per day. So if you flew across 4 time zones, it would take you 4 days To be rid of your jet lag symptoms…..super.

Then I read that flying EAST gives you more jet lag than flying WEST! What?? Then why am I so tired? Maybe it’s the stack of laundry that greeted me when I came home…or maybe I’m faking it to keep from cooking…maybe both.

Here are some tips I found from a pilot…

Help Prevent Jet Lag Before 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” (found it here) 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.


1.  Arrive early at the airport…Not rushing to make your flight will help reduce stress and make you more relaxed.  That way you will rest better on the plane.  Also wear ‘airport security friendly shoes’ to streamline the screening process.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ok… I didn’t follow a lot of these guidelines and that is probably why I’m a little loopy…

So, next time you fly, try to remember these tips from a pilot! He HAS to be a expert! For more of his info, click here.  I just wish I had seen this earlier!!!

3 thoughts on “Seriously?…jet lag?

  1. Thanks, very informative and helpful post!
    One tip to add from many many time zone crossings: When you arrive at your destination, no matter how tired you are, attempt to stay awake until around 10 pm on the first day.
    This particularly works when traveling east. It should force your system into the new time zone. It worked for me in Australia, Japan, Korea, Jakarta, and almost everywhere else except Thailand. I think the Thailand flights were too many time zones away so it just didn’t work. It just worked yesterday flying into New York from Rome though. It’s 7:30 a.m. New York time and I’m ready to go, although the city that doesn’t sleep and my family and friends are not on said morning schedule.


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