What is it?
Everyone talks about jet lag but what does it all mean, Basil? When traveling outside of your home time zone, your body will take longer than your mind to adjust. For example, if the time in your current destination is 6pm but your home time zone is only at 1pm, it may be harder to go to sleep at a reasonable hour and just as difficult to get up in the morning at your destination. Knowing jet lag exists, and training your body to deal with it are big challenges. Fear not, we don’t just pose questions here at Pen & Passport, we provide answers.
On short trans-Atlantic flights eastbound to Europe from the US where flight times might be as
short as six hours, the key in any class of service is to get to sleep right away. Eat before you get on the plane and let the flight attendant know you aren’t interested in “plane food”. At best you will have a chance at five to six hours of sleep, but getting a head start is key.
Here are the rules for getting some shut-eye in coach:
1) Don’t eat the food. It’s full of sodium, it will keep you up and it’s just not good for you. The meals are rarely worth raving about so you won’t miss out on much, however, it is worth noting that you should eat a full meal before you get on the plane to induce rest.
2) Don’t drink the booze. Sometimes a cocktail can hep you sleep, but alcohol will keep you up before it puts you to bed, try some water instead. In the airport before you board you should acoid caffeinated drinks but consider an herbal tea to relax.
3) Adjust a couple of days before. If you are flying to Europe on a Friday night and there is a five-hour time difference go to bed five hours earlier a few days before to start reprogramming your biological clock. By training your body that bed time has changed in advance of your trip, it will be easier to sleep on the flight and when you land it will be easier to adjust. For some people it takes a few nights to get into this new habit so plan accordingly. You will also need to get up earlier in the morning, and while five hours early might be a stretch, rising a little early each morning will further cement your biological clock to the new time zone.
4) Bring something comfortable. Don’t wear pajamas to the airport, that’s weird and you aren’t five years old. However, bring those pajamas onto the plane. I have a standard pair that bring for flights and change just after take off. It helps me relax and refocus the next morning when I change back into my clothes. Part of this is truly a comfort issue, jeans are not conducive to a restful night. There is another advantage, covering your body properly – sleeping in public is awkward and pajamas make this easier. The reason why I do not put these on until after takeoff is in case there is a delay or the plane has a technical fault and returns to the gate – repeat after me: It is never appropriate to wear pajamas in an airport.
5) Start your day right. When you wake up after sleeping on the plane, get changed out of those pajamas and back into normal clothes. Pack a new change of clothes so you are as fresh as possible. I always pack at least one day (if not two) in a carry-on bag that will not leave my side. Why? To change into new clothes when I arrive, and to have a back up set in case I am unexpectedly delayed without my bags when I arrive in my destination. Do what you normally do when you wake up at home. Go brush your teeth, wash your face, put on a little cologne or perfume. Give yourself every chance to feel refreshed. You can pack a little amenity kit for yourself (like they give you in business class) with toothpaste, a toothbrush, mouth wash, a wet napkin, hand sanitizer, and other items to get you ready in the morning.
6) Unlimited coffee breaks. After a short and disrupted sleep, you will still likely arrive tired despite your best efforts. Excuse yourself for a coffee break as much as you like. Whatever it takes to keep you awake and coherent until bedtime is fine. While Coca-cola and other sugary drinks might help for a little while, the sugar crash is more detrimental than the sugary help it provides initially.
7) No naps, firm bedtime.The first sign of jet lag is a strong desire to take a nap. You will rationalize it with phrases like, “naps are good for you” and “a twenty minute snooze never hurt anybody” – pay these retorts no mind. A nap will only draw you into further rest and rarely lasts just 20 minutes. Be firm with your bedtime, do not go to sleep before 10pm. By keeping yourself awake all day on this (possibly) longest day of your life, you will enjoy a long and restful sleep and wake up at an appropriate time naturally. If you take only this note seriously you will successfully defeat jet lag.
8) Upgrade. Whether you use miles, cash, or sweet-talking get to the front of the plane, it is the best way to beat jet lag. You will have more space, the bed (yes the seat folds into a bed) will recline to nearly or fully flat. As part of your business class seat, the airline will provide a sleep mask and noise canceling headphones – and it’s the way you were meant to fly. Sometimes there are great deals on the day of your trip. Check with the front desk if there are any options to upgrade. You never know, the plane may have oversold coach but have business class seats still available, you could score it for free just by asking – I have more than once.