Our body clock is regulated in large measure by sunlight, which acts like a reset button to keep our body clock on schedule. When we cross one or more time zones, our daily world of light and dark is mixed up, and fatigue and all its friends arrive to plague us. It isn't a lot of fun beginning a tour feeling like you are sleepwalking! What's worse, some travelers experience this state for days.
For more on light and its effect on our body clock, click here
So, can we prevent jet lag? Maybe not entirely, especially if crossing multiple time zones, but we can definitely take steps to minimize its onslaught.
1. Flying west to east (US to Europe, Africa, or Asia)? You need to wake up and go to bed earlier. Begin adjusting your schedule at home at least a week before your trip. During the day, enjoy the morning light, but taper your light exposure as the day goes on. On the plane, wear sunglasses, use a sleep mask, and close the window shade.
2. Flying east to west? (Coming home from Europe/Asia or heading for the South Pacific). You'll need to get up and go to bed later. Tours run early each morning, so no help there: however, you can try staying up a bit later the last day or two of the group's trip.
For a great read on how to accomplish the above, see what Dr. Smith L. Johnston, for instance, chief of the fatigue management team at NASA, says here
3. If you are accustomed to falling asleep to the radio or television playing, train yourself to fall asleep without them. You won't necessarily have them on tour.
More to do:
- As soon as you buckle your seat belt on the plane, set your watch to the destination time zone. Everytime you glance at it, your brain will be working behind the scenes to adjust your thinking. I can attest to the efficacy of this little trick!
- Drink lots of water before, during, and after your flight, at least 16 oz before you leave, and 1 quart for every hour of flight time not counting beverages with meals.
- Eat smaller meals beginning a day or two before the flight. Avoid foods which cause gas and bloating (cucumbers, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, colas, etc). Remember, gasses rise. As you gain altitude, the gas within you expands, and you experience bloating. With the ever more cramped seating in planes these days, you don't want to feel even more wedged in.
- Before, during, and after the flight, avoid alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and carbonated drinks. Motion sickness medications can also add to jet lag, so try not to use these, as well.
- Resist the urge to "crash" into bed upon arrival. On tour, you can catnap on the motorcoach. Touring or not, keep naps short - no more than 25 minutes at a time, so you will be able to sleep at night when you should be sleeping.