Today, I present to you a post about jet lag. Seeing as I am currently overseas attending a training camp in the beautiful mountain town of Font-Romeu, France, I figured a post about the joys of jet lag and some of my own personal strategies on how to best beat it would be appropriate.
So first, what is jet lag? Jet-lag occurs when you a quickly transported to another time zone that is either far ahead or behind the one you currently reside in. Therefore, your circadian rhythm is thrown off and your body thinks that it is day when in fact, it is night, or vice versa. The primary symptoms of jet-lag are not being able to sleep and the side-affects of sleep loss or sleep deprivation such as lack of energy, grumpiness and general lethargy. Although not being able to sleep, or feeling sleepy in the middle of the day is never any fun, it is especially troublesome for athletes as we need to be fully alert and awake in order to perform at our highest levels. It is for this reason that many athletes have spent much time and effort coming up with strategies to combat the effects of jet-lag.
Everyone has their own best method. Some swear by staying up late the night before traveling. Others like to use copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake upon arrival. Some prefer to turn to the brilliance of modern pharmaceuticals and use sleeping pills or melatonin to help them sleep when its night. Personally, I like to use a very basic method that helps me regain a normal schedule as normally as possible.
The first step in my own personal jet-lag battle plan to be as caught up on my sleep as possible before I leave. That means making sure that I go to bed as early as I can and sleep as much as I can before I leave. I do this because I am not the best sleeper on planes and I prefer to rely on my nice comfortable bed for sleep instead of hedging my bets on an uncomfortable airplane seat. By doing this, I also virtually assure myself of being exhausted from a long travel day when I arrive, and thus can have a good first nights sleep.
Secondly, I make sure to try and bring my own healthy snacks on the plane with me, as well as drink a lot of water while on the plane. This helps to make sure that I keep me healthy since its easy to catch something when you are inevitably tired in the first few day.
Upon arrival, I like to get some exercise. I normally do a light jog, combined with a good long stretching session since my muscles are always tight from sitting in a plane for way too long. I find that this helps tire me out a bit so that I can sleep better that first night and also lets me see some of my new surroundings and exposes me to natural light (or darkness) thus helping my body figure out what time it really is.
All that helps me get through the first night. But the hardest nights are often the second and third. At least for me anyways. My key to sleeping on the second and third nights is quite simple. NO NAPS. I always want to nap on the second and third days. Always. My eyelids will get heavy as I enjoy a quick sit down after a meal. I think, oh I'll just take a 15 minute power nap. Then bang, I wake up and I have slept for an hour or two or more. By night time, I'll be wide awake and end up falling asleep at 4 am only to have to wake up a few hours later. Its also important to go to bed at your normal bedtime. After I manage to not take a quick nap, 7:30pm rolls around and I think, I'll go to bed now, I'm really tired only to wake up at 3am with nothing to do, nowhere to eat and my roommate sleeping so I can't even watch crappy late night TV in Russian (or Chinese, or whatever language may be spoken in that particular country). With any luck, I manage to get a solid block of sleep each night and by the fourth or fifth night, I fall into a nice rhythm of sleeping and eating at the proper hours.
So that's that. My jet-lag strategy. Does it always work? No. Some places are easier to travel to. I find Europe is easiest on the trip out, but harder on the way back. Asia is hard no matter which direction you travel in. Sometimes I am lucky and it works well, sometime its tougher. Beating jet-lag isn't an exact science, but if anyone out there has a foolproof method, let me know!