February 20, 2013

Up in the Air: Five Tips to Beat Jetlag

Hello! You may be wondering why this post is coming to you at 3am. No, I haven’t gone on a Tuesday night bender – I’m in Rome! (Or, I was when I started writing this post – now, as my Twitter profile says, my location is “up in the air.”)

The last week or so has been a whirlwind – despite having an amazing time celebrating Theodora‘s birthday in Puerto Rico, I’ve been working like mad to try to get all my work stuff wrapped up before vacation. (Hello, Friday spent feverishly working on my laptop indoors instead of working on my tan by the infinity pool with the girls.) It’s so rare that I take a week of vacation instead of just one day off to make a three-day weekend, and now I remember why. Way too stressful to get ready for it!

But now that I’m finally on my way, I feel like I can relax. (At least for the most part – I am a bit nervous about my bag getting force-checked and whether it made our tight connection in Rome, but trying not to worry about it until I actually get to baggage claim and find it missing.) This eighteen hour period involves lots of traveling, since we went from JFK to Rome and now are in flight from Rome to Madrid before we hop on our final flight of the outbound. That’s a lot of travel!

Fortunately, when it’s all over, we’ll be in the Canary Islands! Although owned by Spain, the Canaries are technically part of Africa, so I’m quite excited for my first visit to the continent (though yes, I realize the Canaries aren’t as typical as mainland Africa). From Gran Canaria Island, we’ll fly back up to mainland Spain on Friday and head to Seville, where I’ll be running the Sevilla Marathon. And finally, it’s one night in Madrid and one night in Rome before our return flight back to New York. (At which point I then immediately catch a connection to Dallas to get back to work!) It’s a busy trip, but one that I am quite excited about.

I have to say, though, I genuinely don’t mind all the flying. It’s giving me a chance to catch up on books/magazines/TV shows (check out my Pinterest for tons of magazine clips and things I’m finding interesting), get away from the stress of phone/email, and even let me catch up on sleep. I know, that last one is probably very surprising. But honestly, I sleep pretty well on planes compared to most people, and I’m usually able to make the transatlantic trip with little to no jetlag! So, I thought I’d share my tips for doing the same.

Image credit: CyanocoraxImage credit: Cyanocorax

1. Live ahead of your time. A plane is basically a big metal time-traveling tube, with little to no natural cues about what time of day it is. Therefore, as soon as I board, I reset my mind to whatever time it is at the destination, and act accordingly. Sure, it may have only been 6pm in New York when I was taking off, but it was midnight in Spain – so after eating the oh-so-nutritious-and-delicious airline meal (/sarcasm), I immediately went to sleep.

2. Plan ahead. I know it can be tough to fall asleep at a weird hour like 6pm. If you can plan ahead to start subtly adjusting your routine a day or two in advance, that will work wonders. For example, on Monday night I tried to go to bed an hour early, and I intentionally got up extra early on Tuesday morning so I’d be tired enough to sleep early that night. You don’t want to make such crazy adjustments that you’re not living the last few days of wherever you are in a different time zone, but start slowly progressing toward where you’re going.

3. Adjust your seat. At mealtime, it’s incredibly rude to put your seat back; at other times, it’s probably fair game to recline, as long as you do it slowly to avoid hurting the person/laptop behind you. But did you know your seat can (probably) adjust one other way as well? So many people tote those U-shaped neck pillows around, and I used to be one of them, until I learned this little known-trick that allows me to sleep perfectly comfortably while sitting straight up. Try reaching up to the headrest of your seat and checking for flexibility. Many airline seats (especially on large international planes) have adjustable headrests where you can pull the sides forward like wings. If you are able to move these, you don’t even need a window seat to lean on the wall; you’ve got mini-padded walls right on your seat! Pulling them forward gives you neck support and makes it possible for you to lean your head to one side without risking falling on your neighbor.

4. Use sleep aids. Of course you can take some form of sleeping pill (melatonin seems to be relatively safe), or have some wine to help knock you out (though that’s very dehydrating when you’re already going to be dried out from the flight). More importantly, though, turn your cramped coach seat into a good zone for sleeping with the use of environmental sleep aids. Try putting on some earbuds with peaceful music. I have a playlist called “Sleepy Time,” and have used it for so many years that now even hearing the opening strains of Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest” makes me yawn. Invest in a good eye mask that blocks out all the light (these are tough to find; I eventually fell in love with a foam version from Omni Hotels that has a sculpted nose instead of being a flat pad), and use that to help.

5. Force it. If you’ve tried all the tips above, plus all the usual sleep tips (avoid electronic blue light and caffeine beforehand, write down stressors so your mind stops worrying, etc), and still can’t fall asleep, all is not lost. Just sit there with your eyes closed, mask on, and lullabies playing. You’ll probably get lucky and fall asleep sooner or later, but even in the rare case that you don’t, the act of being in a dark place with soft music playing will help your body clock to reset. One night of missed sleep isn’t going to kill you, but setting your brain up with the expectation that you should be sleeping right now will greatly help you make the transition from one time zone to another.

And with that? Buenos dias de Madrid!


3 thoughts on “Up in the Air: Five Tips to Beat Jetlag”

  1. I am so excited for you and all your traveling! Especially with running the Sevilla Marathon, I cannot WAIT to hear about it!! I am looking forward to all of the pictures I know are coming and I sincerely hope you enjoy your vacation as I live vicariously through you

  2. Niki, so glad it works for you! I randomly happened upon it when I saw someone else do it, but NO ONE seems to know about it.

    Emily, pics definitely coming soon! We just got to Las Palmas and it’s GORGEOUS!

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