How to (not) deal with jet lag

There are many theories about the best ways to deal with jet lag, but do any really work?
There are many theories about the best ways to deal with jet lag, but do any really work? Photo: Getty Images

I've been thinking about jet lag a lot lately because, well, I've got jet lag. And when you've got jet lag, there's little else you can think about but your jet lag.

This isn't an especially bad case, not the kind that'd have you staring at the ceiling at 3am, or unable to operate complicated apparatus like a toaster or microwave.

Mine's one of those subtle cases where you don't think you've got jet lag at all until you're told that half an hour ago you walked straight past a friend in the lift lobby who was about a metre away from you saying, "Hey Ben. Ben? Ben! BEN!" and you didn't even notice him. The kind where you write an email and then re-read it a few hours later and notice it sounds like it was penned by a four-year-old.

Thousands of gigabytes of web space have already been taken up with advice on how to avoid jet lag, and I don't plan to add to it, because I'm yet to find anything that works.

Jet lag is going to get you. It's just a case of how badly.

(Actually, there is one way to avoid jet lag: fly business class. The one time I managed to blag my way into the pointy end of the plane I arrived in my destination clear-headed and beautifully jet lag free. But that's not very helpful for most of us, is it?)

I've read advice like adjusting your meal and sleep times a few days before you get on the flight, eating and resting a few hours earlier or later than you normally would, but it's usually all I can do to stuff a few clothes in a bag and get to the airport on time, let alone have the organisational skills and willpower to eat my breakfast at 3am for a week leading up to it.

Some advocate the use of a light box to get your body adjusted early. Um ... a light box? That sounds about as likely as just teleporting yourself overseas.

Then you're told not to drink alcohol on the flight, because it dehydrates you. Fine. But if you're trying to force yourself to go to sleep at three in the afternoon with your knees in your armpits, you could do worse than chug a couple of beers.

I've found taking the hormone melatonin is about the best way to knock yourself out on a flight, save for some dodgy over-the-counter South-East Asian 'Valium', but it's still not foolproof. It doesn't seem to stop the fuzz-head feeling that descends upon arrival.

So what we're left with is not a way to defeat jet lag, but ways to manage it.

Most long-haul flights seem to land early in the morning, making your challenge to stay awake for a whole day without having to do anything meaningful, then sleep for a whole night. Achieve that and you've won the battle.

If you get to the hotel or home and think to yourself, "Oh, I'll just have a little nap for half an hour", you're gone. You'll either wake up after that half hour and feel like hell, or you'll wake up feeling magnificent and ready to start your day – at about 7pm.

The best thing I've found to do is get outside in the sun. Sit indoors and watch TV and you'll be snoring in no time. Get out and about, however, and you've got a chance.

Don't set yourself any difficult or brain-teasing tasks – go for a walk, or even just sit there in the sun.

Better yet, go to a beer garden. Sink a couple of drinks, have a chat to some people, have something to eat, sink a few more drinks, and all of a sudden it's the evening and you can go to bed and enjoy a sweet, beer-induced slumber.

Then you'll wake up with no jet lag at all. Just a hangover.

How do you deal with jet lag? Or do you have a method for avoiding it?

Email: bengroundwater@gmail.com

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