A phenomenon that happens to everyone after long distance plane flights. If the difference between the time zones of the origin and the destination is above 4 hours, jet lag will set in.

Jet lag consists of your internal body clock screwing up completely. It thinks it is day when it is really at night. So you're basically perpetually tired. The worse thing about jet lag is that even if you do manage to get to sleep (it is like trying to fall asleep right after you get up), when you get up, it is probably at the worst possible time (9pm) and everyone else is about to go to sleep.

The worst possible scenario of jet lag is when the time difference is 12 hours. Unfortunately, my two current homes is in Ithaca, NY and Shanghai, China, and the difference is about 12 hours. It takes about a week for your body to adjust to the time change. You're basically in bed during the day and prowling around at night. Like a vampire or something.

Results from disruption of circadian rhythms in the body. It is much worse going east than going west, and this is why:

Westbound It takes about 75 minutes to fly one time zone - give or take 10 minutes depending on how straight you fly. When you fly west, you usually end up landing only shortly after the time you took off. This means stretching out your day with additional hours; a five hour flight westbound - four timezones - will make your day about 28 hours long. No big deal.

Eastbound Flying east is another story. For the same reason as above, you lose one hour for every hour of flight. After a five hour flight across four timezones eastbound, the time is nine hours after the the time you took off. This screws your day up big time, usually by making the day about 40 hours long.

In a death bed interview, former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles admitted that he felt that his decision on the controversial Aswan Dam in Egypt was one of the greatest mistakes of his life, and that he might have taken a more conciliatory stance with the Egyptians had he not been so weary from jet travel.

From Overcoming Jet Lag, by Charles F. Ehret

Having jet lag is like being a small rat hit several times by a big bus. It's so much more than just being tired and it's beyond simple exhaustion. It is as if every ounce of energy, every bit of will to live is sucked out of the very marrow of your bones, almost as if it was vaccumed out. You are rendered completely useless until you overcome it and there are no pills or potions you can take to make it all go away. You are alone with your suffering, staring out at the rising sun, incapable of producing a single coherant thought after a sleepless night and you are a cause for emabarrassment as you fall asleep in your casserole at your welcome home dinner. Chances are you look like hell and feel worse than you look. Welcome to the nightmare of jet lag.

The symptoms of jet lag include broken sleep patterns, dizziness, disorientation, fatique and irrationability. Let me illustrate with some personal examples from my recent return to Canada from a hellish 30 hour journey from Japan (this including taxis, subways, trains and shinkansen). When I flew into Vancouver airport, I prompty got a buggy and took a choice position at the luggage carosal marked for flights coming from Tokyo. I stood there bleary eyed and watched as other passangers from the plane walked past me and over to another carosal. Dumbasses! I thought to myself and continued to gloat over my own intellectual superiority in between hallucinations. It was about five minutes before I remembered that I had flown in from Osaka, not Tokyo. That is disorientation for you.

After my third and final flight, I arrived to Toronto to find no one waiting to pick me up. I proclaimed into the phone, in between obscenities, that I wanted nothing at all to do with my family ever again and that I was getting on the next flight back. For about five minutes I completely meant it.

The Causes of Jet Lag

The most obvious and attributed cause of jet lag is the crossing over of more than four time zones. The greater the time differnce and the longer your flight, the worse your jet lag is likely to be. There are however, other contributing factors that determine how badly and how long for you are derailed.

  1. Your pre-flight condition: The mental, physical and emotional state that you are in before you board a long haul flight has a lot to do with how you are going to be feeling at the end of it. The idea of getting wasted before your flight to help you through the ordeal is the biggest mistake you can commit. The effects and stress of a high altitude flight will only worsen your hangover and your hangover will only add to your jet lag. It is important to get enough sleep before you get on the plane, since your sleep on board is unlikely to be a good one.
  2. The air quality: The air in an airplane tends to be dry and recycled. In one word: gross. Someone coming from a humid atmopshere will feel the effects even more. The poor air quality can cause headaches, nausea, dry skin and throat and increase your chances of catching a cold or flu.
  3. Cabin Pressure: The change in pressure for people who live close to sea level is also a contributing factor. The cabin pressure is usually pressurized to 8000 feet.
  4. Alcohol: Drinking while in flight might make you drousy, more confident of hitting on the cute guy in the next row or reduce the torment of a 12 hour journey, but it is playing with the Devil. Alcohol is three times as potent at high altitudes than on the ground, increasing your chances of a hangover upon arrival three fold.
  5. Food and Drink: Airline food simply isn't good and generally isn't good for you. While you might be hungry, your body has little need for food since you are not exerting very much energy.
  6. Lack of Exercise: Not moving around for a long period time and being cramped in a small chair is akin to a ancient form of Chinese torture. Yet you pay for the privilege.

Before and During Your Flight

  1. Water: Drink lots! Staying hydrated keeps you strong, healthy and sane. Bring a large bottled water with you and accept all offers of this liquid from the in flight staff. If they don't offer, ask them to.
  2. Sleeping Aids: Bring any items that will make you more confortable in your seat like inflatable neck pillows, slippers, eye masks.
  3. Exercise: If at all possible, get out of your seat and get the blood flowing. There is often enough room near the toilets to stretch your legs and swing your arms about. You might look like a dork, but you will be thankful.
  4. Shower: If there is a chance to have a shower during a lay over on a long haul flight, take it no matter what the cost. Your sanity is worth the ten bucks, surely.
  5. Brush your teeth: I always travel with a toothbrush and tooth paste in my carry on luggage. There is nothing to breathe a little more life into you when you are traveling than cleaning your teeth.

Debatable methods

  1. No Jet Lag: This is a homeopathic remedy from a company in New Zealand. You take one pill on take-off, one every two hours afterwards and one upon arrival. If you are sleeping, it is OK to miss taking a pill for up to four hours. I have tried this remedy twice. The first time, going from Vancouver to Japan, I found it quite effective. The second time, from Japan to Toronto, I am having less success, but this is probably due to the fact that I have not even tried to establish a normal sleeping routine.
  2. Melatonin: Is a controversial and as yet unproven aid for preventing jet lag. The timing of when each pill is taken is crucial and a missed dose can lead to an increase in symptoms. A little bit more info can be found here: http://www.journeywoman.com/journeydoctor/jetlagmelatonin.html
  3. Argonne Anti-Jet Lag Diet: This takes a lot more planning and time on your part during the four days before your flight. If you would like to read more about the diet, check it out here http://performance.netlib.org/misc/jet-lag-diet.
  4. Sleeping Pills: To help you sleep, you can try any variety of sleeping pills that you can get your hands on. Gravol, an anti-nauseau medication, contains enough sedatives to knock you out should you not be able to get your hands on anything stronger. However, be warned, that taking sleeping pills will do little to prevent jet lag and might only serve to disturb your body clock even further.
  5. Light and Dark Therapy using Circadian Light: Check out this web site for this alternative method, too lengthy to describe here and to calculate the treatment for your trip: http://www.bodyclock.com/
Sources: http://www.nojetlag.com/index.html and a lot of personal experience.
Okay. Let's talk about "jet lag," and more importantly, one of the simplest ways to avoid, or at least ameliorate, it's effects on the human body.


The Cause of Jet Lag

The cause of jet lag is a disruption in the human body's circadian rhythm, which is better explained in other nodes, but basically involves hormones, the brain, and sunlight interacting to produce an internal "body clock" that dictates when people become tired and how much.

Actually to be perfectly truthful, what I just said is a lie. Jet lag is really caused by the artificial human construct of "time zones" and the annoying human custom of "meetings" for which we must be "on time." Without these we could just go to sleep and wake up whenever and our bodies would gradually adjust through exposure to sunlight. But if I had only told you that it wouldn't really help you wake up the morning after your flight to Mongolia, now would it?

As for other purported causes of jet lag, such as alcohol consumption at altitude and shitty airplane food, I think it would be apropos to ask yourself: Are these really causes of jet lag per se, or are they just things that would make anyone feel like crap under any circumstances, and even moreso when combined with jet lag?


How to Defeat Jet Lag

And now the important part of this writeup - simple strategies to avoid jet lag. Yeah, yeah, of course you should drink water, get up and walk around the plane, take a shower, avoid alcohol, blah, blah, blah, but these are things I would hope you would do anyway. Otherwise you are a dirty, fat, drunken, thirsty bastard, and that's just gross.

So let's think logically about jet lag. Quickly we can see that there are three obvious facts...

Fact #1 - You are going to be tired.


Get used to it. Anyone who thinks they are going to get up at 4 am, catch a bus to a distant airport, wade through security checks, fly 18 hours on three planes to Ulaanbaatar, wrangle through customs, and navigate a sea of goats in an autorickshaw to a stone-age hotel and then take a homeopathic pill or something and be good as Sunday morning is probably on some sort of hallucinogen.

Fact #2 - It's a lot easier to stay up late than to go to bed early.


If you take even a few moments to contemplate your own personal experience, you will quickly realize that this is true - it is much easier to stay up late when you are tired than it is to fall asleep when you aren't tired. This is the real reason why it is easier to fly west than it is to fly east. Because of the way time zones work, when you fly west you are effectively flying backwards in time. This means that you will have to stay up longer to go to bed at the locally correct time. Meanwhile, when you fly east, you are effectively flying forward in time, meaning that you have to go to bed earlier than your body wants to, to get on the local schedule.

Fact #3 - Tiredness can work against you, but it can also work for you.


This "fact" is the key to minimizing jet lag. Jet lag messes you up because it makes you tired at the wrong time. To defeat jet lag, you have to create a situation in which you are really tired at the appropriate time. The simplest way to do this is to remain awake for a long period of time leading up to the new local time you want to go to bed. You will not surprisingly find it rather easy to go to bed at this new time, because you are so damn tired.

This strategy is comparatively easy to do flying west. Do everything normally, and try your best not to fall asleep on the flight. Fortunately, this is not too difficult, given they way they cram you in on those sardine cans known as the modern airliner, and the increasing variety of in-flight entertainment options, such as playing solitaire on the seatback entertainment system, viewing some Freddie Prinze Jr. movie three times, or watching Matt Lauer babble pretaped "news" on the "NBC skymagazine."

When you arrive at your destination, resist the temptation to crash immediately. Instead, set a target time that you want to go to bed - 9 or 10 pm local time is good one - and make yourself stay up until that time. Again, this shouldn't be too hard, as you will be busy appreciating the amazing sights of your new surroundings, such as goats and autorickshaws.

Here you will encounter...

Fact #4 - Most people cannot sleep for more than 12-14 hours at a stretch, no matter how tired they are.


You will wake up a little late the next morning, but from then on, you will be basically on the new time zone's schedule. Going to bed on the early side the next few nights will help. Sure, you will be a little tired in the day, but nothing compared to the full-on jet lag caused by crashing in the middle of the day and waking up in the middle of the night for several days. Refer to Fact #1.

Going east is a little trickier, because you may have to go to bed earlier than your body wants to, or else face the possibility of having to stay up a really long time to make the strategy outlined above work. The solution here is to wake up super early the day of your flight, again to create the requisite tiredness at the target time you wish to go to sleep. Depending on the length of the flight and the time difference, a trick that has often worked for me is staying up really late or all night the night before the flight, which seems counterintuitive, and contradicts the common advice to "get a good night's sleep before a big flight," but has worked wonders when I have to go to bed 6 hours before my body wants to.


Summation

To sum up, here are some basic steps you can take to minimize the effects of jet lag. In all cases, the main idea is to adjust to the new local sleep schedule as quickly as possible, by intelligently managing your own exhaustion.

  1. Plan Ahead - Know your flight time and the time difference between your current location and your destination. Set a target time of when you want to go to bed at your destination, and stay up until then. Most people stay awake for 16-18 hours a day. A good guideline is to have been awake another 6-8 hours beyond this (i.e. about 24 total hours) before your target bed time. Plan to stay awake or wake up earlier accordingly.
  2. Rest Up Before You Leave - With the possible exception of the night before, try to get a full night's sleep at the normal time for several days to weeks before you leave. This will ensure that you won't have accumulated sleep debt which will kill your attempts to remain awake on the plane or in the hotel until the new target bedtime. Don't do what some people do and try to readjust to the new time zone by going to bed early or staying up while still at home. This is really hard to do, not to mention impracticable for most people who, say, have a job or a life.
  3. Stick to the Plan - Sack up and stick to your plan. The people who have the most problems with jet lag are the people who have no willpower and get stuck in a cycle of crashing whenever they get tired and then go party all night because they can't fall asleep, only to crash all day again the next day, all the while moaning about why they feel like shit due to "jet lag." Stay up until it's time to sleep and wake up when it's time to wake up (even if it means you have to watch that handsome devil Freddie Prinze for hours on end). In the end you will still have to do something that's a bit difficult, but you will feel much better much sooner.

I

If people were meant to fly
God would have given us wings

Mom hates flying and saying goodbye

But if we were cursed in our creation,
grounded by gravity, this longing
wouldn’t follow us into our dreams.

You know the one
that starts innocently
in the back yard
or that empty field,
and you look up,
blinded for a moment,
lost in the glare,
and the sky grows.
Somehow it gets bigger
until looking down
you finally realize
you are a part of it.

Sometimes you have wings,
sometimes you float slowly,
like rising in an old elevator.
And sometimes we soar up
to better feel the fall.

II

At night the cities below
resemble white and yellow pins
in the black cushion of the earth
Random at first, in swarms
of nameless constellations
in the warped mirror of the sky
but soon white lines form
and in the dark descent
pilots are sewing by candlelight

And these glowing assemblies
too quickly are the artifice
of airports. Filling out forms
and waiting in winding, crawling lines
of stamps, badges and labyrinths.

Even my luggage struggles
to catch up. The sun rises
at awkward moments and sleep
comes slowly, in small spells,
like courage to a wallflower

III

Jet lag, a businessman breathes
into his coffee, is a lost soul
trying to find its body again

IV

And my mother’s words return
with a price tag, as I hit
cruising speed, my soul unraveling
like a ball of string rolling
across the empty sky
its faint vibrations fluttering
the wings of migrating birds.

As these chords are pulled taut
what sounds do they make
when plucked? What twangs
escape from the jet stream,
and which lingering chords
remind the survivors of beauty
within the eye of a hurricane?

It’s been said a note played high
enough becomes a beam of light,
but few know that it works in reverse
And so I unrolled myself
willingly to find you, here
on a lawn chair. All blankets
and hair, atop this mountain
with the airport below
spitting and swallowing
its metal insects as we wait
for the rays of sun to greet us
with the days first burst of song




dedicated to an ink-stained goddess

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