[/custom_frame_left]The Jetlag Rule of Thumb is for every time zone crossed, it takes one day for your body to adjust. Beijing to Boston spans 12 time zones, meaning almost two weeks of adjustment. By the time you’re done , it’s probably time for your return flight home and to suffer another 12 days of jetlag.
Like you, I can’t afford to deal with jetlag. Traveling between the US and China five to six times per year, I’ve tried just about every trick in the book. From melatonin and other various pills and tonics, to staying awake all night or napping the day before, along with drinking alcohol before, during and after the flight (this was certainly the most interesting jetlag cure to try). Yet, despite each of these experiments, my jetlag persisted for 4-6 days.
During my second trip to the US this year, I stumbled upon the end-all, be-all defeater of jetlag and now preach this to every weary traveler I meet. You don’t need to buy anything, it’s completely natural and it only takes a little self control while traveling.
What you do:
It’s stupidly simple really. All you need to do is not eat anything for at least 16 hours (this is where the self-control comes in). This may sound hard, but skip breakfast or lunch before your 11-14 hour flight to China. Instead of eating, just drink water. Some coffee is okay between the hours of 3 and 5pm. Luckily, this is an easy task with the quality of airline food.
Why does this work?
You’ve no doubt heard of circadian rhythms: your body’s cycles for regulating your internal clock. Well, our internal clocks tick not only in time to day and night, but also to when and what we eat.
When you’ve fasted for at least 16 hours, you’ve effectively short-circuit your feeding rhythm and your body switches into “scavenger mode.” During the flight, you might notice that you are more alert (great for reading and getting work done). This is your body’s natural reaction to being hungry, you become more alert so you can find food. This does make it more difficult to sleep on the flight, but wouldn’t you much rather get a full night’s sleep in a hotel bed, than a few hours on the plane and a few restless hours in your hotel?
The good news is that when you arrive at your destination, you can eat whichever meal your destination is having and go to sleep when they go to sleep. Flights from Chicago, DC, and Newark usually arrive in Beijing in early afternoon, and those from SF and LA a little later in the afternoon, so I wait until dinner to have something to eat. With this meal at your new destination, your feeding clock resets and you are ready for a good night’s sleep.
Other tips for defeating jetlag:
- As soon as you get on your flight, reset your watch, phone, iPad and computer’s clock to your destination’s time and begin thinking you are already in this time zone.
- Have a high-protein breakfast when you arrive at your destination.
- Keep a book with you in case you wake up in the middle of the night. Don’t start working or watching TV! Light fiction puts me back to sleep in 30 minutes or so. You might find your body sleeping in four hour cycles, but this is actually how humans naturally sleep .
- Don’t worry about trying to stay awake or sleeping on the plane, either is fine.
I find traveling to Asia is much easier and with the Jetlag Diet, it takes a little over a day for the symptoms of jet lag to subside. Coming back to the US, you can expect about two days before you are back on track.
Have a happy and productive travel season!
*If you are interested in learning more about the research, you can read a report from this technique being tested with U.S. soldiers traveling to and from Korea. Their fast is a little bit more involved: gorging days and fasting days before your day of departure, alternating high protein and high carb meals, reducing/timing caffeine intake. I’ve tried it both ways and find similar results with simply fasting the day of travel.
To learn about the intricacies of the full “diet” check Antijetlag Diet’s website where you can input your itinerary and it will send you an eating schedule. This is not a free service, but it is easy to estimate your own schedule based on the example itinerary.