How to avoid jetlag

Melatonin, water and paper bags on your feet

Words: Lee Tulloch

A few weeks ago I was making coffee and put the coffee grounds in the soap powder compartment of the washing machine, instead of into the French press. Luckily, I worked out what I had done before I turned the machine on and dyed everything a soupy brown.

Hello, Jetlag my old friend!

It’s very possible that I live in a permanent state of jetlag in which the days I am not yawning and ready for bed at 7p.m. are in fact the odd ones out. I travel frequently, but not so often as international flight crews, who are probably permanently so lagged they have time to catch up with themselves.

For me, there are weeks when I am grounded long enough for my body to get back into its regular routine, only to be jerked out of the complacency of eating breakfast at actual breakfast time by another long flight, another set of time zones, and more heavy Chinese banquets at an hour when it’s usually soundly sleeping. My body is not thanking me right now, I can tell you.

But sometimes I rather enjoy being jetlagged. It’s the perfect excuse for most anything. If I can’t recall someone’s name, or don’t finish the article I’m writing by the end of the day, or have to leave a boring party early, I put it down to jetlag. In fact, I probably won’t finish this now, because I’m still jetlagged from Istanbul.

I am making light of it, but in fact the woolly-headedness it causes is sometimes dangerous. My almost-mishap with the coffee is minor. But stepping out on the street looking the wrong way at traffic is serious and common. As is leaving vital documents or your wallet on shop counters or in taxis in the first few hours of arriving at your destination.

Sometimes I rather enjoy being jetlagged. It’s the perfect excuse for most anything.

I’m always being asked, “How do you get over jetlag?” as if I’m some kind of guru. The truth is, I don’t really know. Sometimes I get it so badly I’m knocked out for more than a week, yawning constantly and feeling as if I have a sack of potatoes tied to each foot. Other times, I skip it altogether, even when I’ve flown across three time zones.

There’s a difference between jet lag caused by your body adjusting to unnatural alterations to its circadian rhythms and being tired from a punishing trip and lots of time hanging around airports. The latter, sleep fixes. If it’s the former, then sleep at the wrong time can really screw you up.

I’m no advocate of drugs and lots of people prefer to avoid them, but I do have to use light sleeping pills on the flight, otherwise every bump wakes me. The first time I ever flew long haul, my doctor prescribed Valium and warned me not to drink alcohol with it. Finding myself alone in the back of a 747 with the entire New Caledonian soccer team, I gratefully accepted the champagne the crew offered. It was the best sleep of my life. But I’m smart enough not to do that again.

Melatonin changed my travelling life. It’s not for everyone. It can give you lurid dreams and night sweats, although I’ve discovered that anything over about 1 mg is probably too high a dose. I take a time-release Melatonin the first couple of nights when I reach my destination and it resets my body clock pretty well. It has to be prescribed by a doctor in Australia.

Apart from that, I have no fancy tricks. I’ve heard a few doozies over the years, including the concept that wearing paper bags on your feet during the flight completely negates jetlag. I do think the time of day your flight leaves and arrives makes a big difference. Try to leave and return in the evening, rather than mornings. It’s a cross we Australians bear that so many of flights arrive back at an ungodly 6 a.m.

Plan your flight strategically. Don’t drink alcohol in the air but do drink lots of water. Eat very little and avoid rich meals at times when you’d be asleep at home. Take a long walk when you get to your destination and soak up lots of sunlight. Only nap for 30 minutes if you have to. Don’t overdo the coffee as it can be counter-productive. And don’t overstretch yourself – jetlag is like a mild illness that has to be nursed.

By all means try the paper bags.





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