How to prepare against Jetlag

I’ve been flying to SF regularly for 4 years now, and with much increased frequency this year. I hate being tired, and get really grumpy, so I’ve developed a pretty well working model of how to prevent and treat jet lag. It’s based on experience, and this great research, from which I learned that:

  • Your body is able to adjust its internal clock by about 1.5h per day going West and 1h going East (internal clock is not sleep rhythm but depth)
  • You can use melatonin to trigger sleep (larger doses) and to slowly adjust your circadian rhythm (small doses)
  • You can use bright light to trigger wake time (daylight or a daylight lamp)

Here’s a rough schedule for going westwards (i.e. EU to US).

Roughly 1 Week before taking off

  • Stop drinking coffee. Why? It messes up your internal clock and despite how well you metabolise coffee (I’m bad at it), it will have an impact. To avoid headaches, ween yourself off by reducing by 1cup/day from your normal levels. You want to be at zero caffeine (no tea or Mate, either) about 5 days before you take off.

3-4 days before you take off

  • Go to bed 1.5 hours later each day, and spend the last hours in bright light (e.g. fully cranked up laptop displays, lights on, etc.).
  • Don’t kickstart the mornings – sleep in, slowly wake up, exercise later in the day

On the flight

  • Try to take an early flight and sleep the first few hours, so you can get through the rest of the day.
  • Skip the first meal if possible.
  • Choose a window seat so you can sit in daylight for the second half of the flight.

Landing & first day

  • Eat a healthy meal when you arrive. Plane food sucks and bloats you, and light, healthy food will give you energy to make it through the day.
  • Exercise if you can, or spend some time at work to keep busy.
  • Go to bed as late as you can, I usually keel over at 10 o’clock when in SF.
  • Take some Magnesium and/or Melatonin to make sure you sleep through the night.
  • Sleep in a room as dark and quiet and possible.

Day 1-3 Depends on how much you preslept

  • Don’t worry about getting up early as long as you have at least 6 hours of sleep.
  • Spend time in bright (sun) light in the mornings to readjust your clock.
  • Go to bed later by the day until you’re on normal time (if it’s short stay, just get up and sleep early)
  • Follow your normal routines for exercise and food (lots and healthy)

Before you go back

  • Start going to bed earlier 3 days before you leave (eastwards you can only adjust about 1 hour/day)
  • You can take small doses of Melatonin (.5mg) in the late afternoon (I haven’t been that disciplined yet)
  • Make sure you’re very tired on your last day: go out (don’t drink too much), exercise, or just work hard

Return flight

  • Have a healthy meal before you fly so you can skip the bad plane food
  • Late afternoon is the best time to fly, as you can go to sleep quickly
  • Sleep as fast as you can (Melatonin or a sleeping aid is a must)

When landing

  • Eat a good meal as soon as you can to readjust clock, drink lots of water
  • Unpack your bags, run errands at home
  • Keep lights low so you become tired
  • Go to bed late, take Melatonin to sleep through the night

First days at home

  • Don’t book too many early things, give yourself time to readjust
  • In the mornings, expose yourself to bright/daylight
  • In the evenings, keep lights low.
  • Slowly use less Melatonin each day until you don’t need it to fall asleep (I start at 5mg, going down to 1mg over 3-4 days).

After 4 days back home

  • Welcome to your life.

I managed to return this Monday from SF, and be back on track by Wednesday. It works.

This schedule is obviously easier if you have a flexible work environment, but you can decide how much you want to prepare yourself, adjust to local rhythm at all, and how much you are prepared to suffer upon your return.

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