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:
  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
  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:
Sources: and a lot of personal experience.