Tidewater Traveler - October 2009

Jet Lag


George W. Sellers

   As this issue of Tidewater Times is being circulated to readers, the wheels of our Boeing 747-400 touch the runway, screech and produce puffs of smoke. United Airlines flight 896 returns to the USA from Hong Kong. The weight of the monstrous air machine is transferred from wings to wheels as the whole framework seems to breathe a sigh and relax.
    And now, as though in a time warp, my body and head must come to some agreement with regard to the clock and calendar as shown on my cell phone. Wow! Is it morning or night? (All the shades near me are still closed). Is it time to go to bed or is it time to go to work? When I reach home should I force myself to stay awake or succumb to the urge for a nap?
    During the 14-hour trip from Washington Dulles Airport to Beijing, China, just fifteen days ago, somewhere over the far northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean, our plane crossed a line on the globe as imaginary as the equator or Arctic Circle.
    When we crossed the international date line a little before midnight on Monday, September 14, like magic, it became a little before midnight on Tuesday, September 15. It was like twenty-four hours had disappeared from my life in a poof! It was like I had aged a whole day in the time it takes Mickey to swish his tail. This sounds depressing and makes me wonder what would happen if I continued to circle the globe indefinitely from east to west, crossing the make-believe date line that runs all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole. Would I grow old prematurely? This is the stuff that excites science fiction writers. But, what if?
    Perhaps there is comfort in the realization that the trip back home from the Orient crosses the date line in the opposite direction. And again, like magic, it becomes the previous day instead of the next day. In this case it’s like a do-over; a moment ago it was Tuesday and now – Zapp! – it’s Monday!
    This sounds like a fantasy worth pursuing. What if? What if I could continually circle the globe from west to east? Would I grow a day younger with each orbit? How many orbits before I become a gray-bearded teenager?
    These inane ramblings may lead many readers to suspect that far more than jet lag is affecting my thought process! But now as you are reading this, I’m trying to put into practice some of the jet lag avoidance techniques that I have quoted for years to other travelers. So, let’s review some of the ideas often cited to reduce the effects of desynchronosis (jet lag) on the human body.
    First, everyone is different. Some people suffer insomnia, fatigue, disorientation and other symptoms for a week or more following a trip that crosses several time zones. Others hardly notice any effect at all. Although there is no way to completely avoid jet lag, there are a number of ways to help your body adjust to a new time zone.
    Try to go to bed a little earlier a few days before you leave and get as much sleep as you can during your flight. Before leaving home, set your watch to the time of your destination. Think about it being that time. But don’t miss your flight by thinking about the wrong time!
    Many side effects of jet lag are the result of dehydration, so avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages. Drink plenty of water and juice during your flight.
    Use massaging stockings while on the flight. Stand up every hour or so. Stretch at regular intervals and walk up and down the aisles of the plane from time to time. Exercise feet and legs while seated. Exercising on a long flight will help alleviate such common discomforts as backaches, swollen legs and feet and general fatigue.
    Eat lightly on your flight and forego rich or exotic foods on the first few days of your trip so that your body can use its energy to adjust to the new surroundings rather than to digest unusual food.
    Throughout the flight, when you look at your watch, make sure you are seeing the current time at your destination, not at your present location. By doing so you can gradually reset your body’s clock rather than forcing it to experience time shock when you arrive and deplane.
    Folks who know they will suffer serious effects from desynchronosis should consider flying to their destination a day or two before engaging in any touring, cruising or other scheduled activity and just take it easy. Give the body and mind a chance to acclimate at a leisurely pace and establish a routine in synch with the local time. If possible, take time off from your job or responsibilities a day or two longer than your trip so that when you return home you do not have to engage immediately into a scheduled routine.
    Earlier I had said there is no way to completely avoid jet lag. Actually there is a way – if you really want to avoid jet lag, then avoid the jet and consider cruising to your destination! Oh yes, cruise ships cross both the Atlantic and Pacific from the USA and offer access to hundreds of the most incredible destinations in the world.
    Hooo! Yawnnnnnnnn! Not sure what time it is, but I’ll see you in the morning – zzzzzzzzzz....

   May all of your travels be happy and safe!

   George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel Web site and travel planning service SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Traveler articles may be directed to George@SellersTravel.com.