Given the fact I am about to jet off to Italy for the Duathlon World Championships, I find myself doing my yearly Googling on the latest trends and research in jet lag and how to beat it. I have had many long flight trips: Japan, Australia, Italy, Hungary, Denmark.. and more; all in the name of racing. So, it is imperative I conquer the jet lag issue ASAP upon arrival so I can get my game face on and be prepped and rested for the race I have generally spent 6 or more months prepping for.
This years research turned up a very timely article on MSNBC given I am about a week from jetting out of here. But first, a little jet lag education. Research suggests that the key causes of jet lag are 2 fold: It is not the number of hours traveled, but the number of time zones crossed and the direction of travel. The greater the number of zones, the worse the effects. Effects that range from Interrupted sleep, irritability, disorientation, lack of motivation, fatigue, swollen limbs (not if you use Skinz compression tights), gastrointestinal problems, and dreaded dehydration. As for direction, traveling east is harder than traveling west, simply put, “because it is easier for us to delay our clock than to speed it up.” The experts explain that, “changing time zones throws off the body’s circadian rhythms, which control the release of hormones and chemicals that let you know when to eat, sleep and wake up” and that “rapid travel between time zones temporarily disrupts this biological clock and results in the set of symptoms known as jet lag.”
All this being said, here are some tips:
- Hydration – On the airplane, stay hydrated, stay hydrated, stay hydrated, stay hydrated. On a monster long trip to Australia for a race, I bought and took on the plane about 2 gallons of water. I attribute that fact with feeling less out of it than most others as airplanes are oppresively dry and suck the moisture out of you.
- Set your watch to your intended time zone – Another great trick I use is to set my watch to my location and adhere to it on my plane flight the moment we take off. This is true even if it is counter what everyone else is doing. This means at times on the plane, I eat while they sleep or vice versa. It helps to give the body a jump start on the new time zone. I put this tip, along with being hydrated before gettng on the flight, at the top of the list for me. The goal is to eat & sleep on the plane to match your final destination.
- Exercise – Experts say that moderate physical training leads to an increase in sleep length and nighttime alertness. Try to exercise a few hours before bedtime or engage in aerobic activities immediately after waking up to get the best results. This is where the website AirportGyms.com comes into play. This plays a huge role when arriving at your destination the first day.
- Drugs – Since plane travel is known to interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms, taking a melatonin (0.5 mg dose) supplement before bed in the new time zone ‘may’ help you adjust to new sleeping patterns. This is one I have not used in recent years. I am leery of drugs unless absolutely needed & melatonin is not proven and research shows very dependent on correct timing in taking it.
- Stay chilled out – Too much excitement, stress and disorganization can worsen your symptoms.
- Diet – Eating light meals at regular times in the new time zone so as not to stress your digestive system. Try fasting before travel, avoiding heavy food on the plane – eat light – if possible, then eating as soon as you land. Research also shows best to do high protein breakfast and launch to stimulate body and high carbo dinner to relax body for rest.
- NO alcohol or caffeine – It dehydrates you, a bad move after getting off a dry plane. No problem for me, I use neither.
- Sunlight – Expose yourself to sunlight and social interactions as the worst thing is to go into a dimly lit hotel room and watch TV. This is one of the reasons I always – as a rule – book flights that allow me to arrive in early morning or at least in daylight.
- Naps – Taking a nap upon arrival can indeed help the body deal with jet lag, but only if you limit it to 30 or 40 minutes. The worst thing you can do is hop into bed the minute you arrive and stay there for hours as it can confuse your biological clock and make the readjustment to the new time zone worse. Also, try to get to sleep at your normal bed time BUT according to your new watch setting & time zone!