© 2003 Max Lent
Jet lag is talked about as the only source of sleep
deprivation for travels. Unfortunately, there numerous other
sources of sleep deprivation for travelers.
Jet lag is caused by traveling to a different time zone
quickly and attempting to adjust to the day/night rhythms of the new time
zone. If you haven't noticed you are an animal, a mammal to be more
specific. Your mammalian body has found a kind of new age harmony with
what times the sun rises and sets where you live. When you disrupt
that harmony by telling your mammalian body that you have changed the times
for sunset and sunrise and that you are going to go about your business
using the new times, your internal animal clock goes screwy.
Eventually your mammalian body will adjust, but it will take time and there
will be consequences.
Eric Anderson M.D. of the NASA-Kennedy
Space Center in his scholarly Microsoft PowerPoint presentation entitled "Managing
Circadian Rhythms" states the following:
"Deprivation causes fatigue and irritability
hand tremor, ptosis,
thick speech, incorrect choice of words, and mispronunciation." (The links
Knowing that the pilot of your aircraft might be
experiencing these symptoms creates another set of symptoms for you.
It's called paranoia. Try not to contemplate this concept on your
transoceanic or transcontinental flight. If you think I'm trying to
exaggerate and frighten read what else NASA's Dr. Anderson has to say:
"Airline studies reveal out of phase crew [experienced]
Decreased sensorimotor task performance
Decreased physical strength/mental ability
Irregular menstrual cycles
GI disturbances, etc."
"Sensorimotor task performance" refers to coordinating what
you see and feel to doing something with your limbs or fingers. An
example could be landing an aircraft where you have to read instruments,
look out the window, and manipulate lots of buttons, levers, and the yoke
(steering wheel). A flight attendant handing a hot cup of coffee to
the second passenger next to you may also be experiencing jet lag, so be
Enough about your flight crew. What you will most
likely feel when you fly from NYC to Paris, France is all of the symptoms
mixed and combined to create a state of mind you won't forget anytime soon.
Yucky is word I've used to describe what I feel like when I arrive in Paris
in the morning after an all night flight.
There is still even worse news from Dr. Anderson when he
describes how long jet lag lasts. "Typically, 1 day to adjust for 1
time-zone change. Less for westward, more for eastward travel."
These estimates suggest that on a trip from NYC to Paris, France, having
changed 5 time zones, you will need at least five days to overcome jet lag.
This not good news if you stay in Paris is only a week. Just about the
time you are overcoming jet lag it will be time to return home through six
more time zones in the opposite direction and start your adjustment all over
again, to slightly lesser degree. Dr. Anderson uses a term that I love
the sound of when spoken: Zeitgeber. Zeitgeber is an environmental
cue, as the length of daylight or the degree of temperature, that helps to
regulate the cycles of an organism's biological clock. There is no
reason that you should know this word, I just mentioned it for enjoyment.
Extrapolate Dr. Anderson's estimates for flights from NYC to
New Delhi, India which is eleven time zones away and requires eleven
days to overcome jet lag. At the end of the second week in New Delhi a
business traveler might be able to make an uncompromised business decision.
Could it be that places described as exotic are really
normal places seen through the eyes of someone with severe jet lag?
Perhaps that is why the Caribbean seems so normal and India or Japan seems
From a vacationers perspective jet lag is an annoyance.
For business travelers who must make important decisions after a multi-time
zone flight the effects of jet lag could be disastrous. Corporate
travel agencies should recommend that their international business travelers
who cross multiple time zones take extra days at each end of their trips to
adjust for the jet lag factor. Business appointments should never be
scheduled within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of the arrival of an
overnight east/west flight.
I've tried a variety of methods to counteract jet lag
diet manipulation, masks, sleeping pills, vitamins, and behavior
modification. I have, at last, found a solution that works for me.
This solution may not work for you and should not be considered medical
advice. Ask your whether you should accept the recommendation of
anyone regarding pills you might take. Chances are that your doctor
has never heard of the solution I use and you will have to make up your own
mind anyhow, but now I have satisfied my legal responsibility.
On a transatlantic flight I set my watch to the destination
time. I then modify my behavior so that I am sleeping at the
destination night time and awake during the destination day time. It's
hard to do this because of when the airline meals are served and when
seatmates need to get passed you, but I do as best as I can.
When I want to sleep on the airplane I cover my eyes with a
sleep mask. These are often made available to passengers for free on
better airlines. They can also be purchased from online sources like Walmart.
Arriving at my destination I stay awake until it is time to
go to sleep in the context of the destination time, not my home time.
I eat meals that match the destination daily cycle, not my home cycle.
When I arrive in Paris in the morning, I eat breakfast, such as is
available. I stay awake until bedtime Paris time.
When it is time to sleep I take a time-release
and an over the counter sleeping pill,
Unisom, and put on my sleep mask. On a trip to India I find that
this combination of pills and behavior results in my adapting to the new
day/night cycle fairly quickly. Within a few days I am able to act
normal enough so that people on subways and busses will sit next to me.
Even Gypsies are less afraid of harassing me within two to three days.
Within five days I'm normal enough to be dismissed as a crazy tourist.
Having your Zeitgebers messed up is just the tip of the
iceberg when it comes to possible sleep inhibitors. Other factors that
can keep you from sleeping are:
Reorienting your body on a different magnetic axis
Eating strange foods and different times
Drinking alcohol excessively
Different nighttime noises