Many a hardships are constantly plaguing the hard working IT folks. For example, you may find out that the nearest fridge is out of your favorite drink! But among the so-called First World Problems, there are few that constitute actual, you know, problems – even if you should consider yourself very lucky facing them.
The prime example is this peculiar situation when you’re standing bathed in glaring sunlight, while your body is clearly telling you it’s the middle of the night – or the other way around. I’m talking, of course, about the physiological condition known as jet lag.
It’s pretty stubborn beast, too. There isn’t really a way to avoid it, short of reverting to old fashioned and slow means of transport. And you cannot count on having many innate adaptation to deal with it, either. It would require for our savannah ancestors to have been hopping continents in a few hours on regular basis, which – as far as we know – is not something they used to do.
Nevertheless, the symptoms of jet lag and their severity may vary greatly by person, so most of the advice about dealing with it will not necessarily work for everyone. But among the dubious statements you can find around the Internet, there are also some solid facts here and there.
Although it’s not technically the cause of jet lag, spending many long hours in closed, cramped, crowded space (also known as “taking a flight”) is certainly a factor that could make its symptoms worse. To reduce that impact, there are few things you can do.
The air in aircraft’s cabin is typically very dry. In such an environment, you will lose body water faster than on the ground and eventually experience dehydration. I suspect this is also the reason why many people feel the jet lag as a condition similar to hangover.
The solution is, obviously, to drink more. You should never refuse a cup of water whenever the flight attendant offers you one, and you may actually want to actively bug them for even more. This isn’t likely to win you friends but it’s totally worth it, and also conveniently coincides with the next point.
While on the plane, your options to move around are naturally quite limited. It’s never a bad idea, however, to get up, take a few steps and do some stretching. But what’s more important is to actually move around way before stepping on board.
As you probably know very well, the average airliner has a hermetically sealed cabin that keeps the air inside of it at much higher pressure than the surrounding atmosphere it soars through. Unfortunately, the pressure cannot be kept too high, lest the strain on fuselage’s integrity would be too severe and risk implosion. As a result, the density of air (and thus oxygen) in the cabin is usually comparable to that of about 2 kilometers above the sea level.
Unless you live at least that high up and are used to reduced oxygen pressure, you may experience some adverse effects which are curiously similar to the effects of jet lag. Though moving into some elevated area to make your breathing and circulation more efficient is certainly an option, the less radical way is simply to exercise regularly to achieve a comparable effect.
This is hint is a bit more controversial, as some people will recommend staying up for the whole travel. Personally I envy those who are in the position to even consider this as an option. But even then, getting into the more relaxed state by closing your eyes works as acceptable substitute should you choose to do so.
The practical effect of moving rapidly to a far away time zone is to make your “day” artificially shorter or longer. Coping with that change therefore requires a temporary adjustment period with altered sleep pattern. To put it simply, you will need to either sleep when you normally don’t, or stay awake when you normally do.
While this is really a matter of your typical habits, I’d wager that for the average reader – who is likely no stranger to coding sessions that drag well into the night – the latter path would be the one of less resistance. Note, however, that especially on eastward flights the total duration of “daytime” may exceed 30 or more hours. Taking a nap while still on the plane would then serve to cushion the blow of having the “evening” moved well past the normal time.
Or you could take up polyphasic sleep and consider the day/night cycle as only a part of the weather. Problem averted!
I hate sleeping in aircraft. Every time I fell asleep my ears hurt.
@Kos: According to few of my friends who tried it (and failed), making the switch is absolutely fucking brutal: way beyond any possible jet lag in severity, with transition period lasting for weeks. No way I’m inflicting that on myself.
Plus, having a sleep schedule more or less in sync with people around you makes social situations easier.
@dynax: Ears? I can understand being sensitive to the engine’s sound and getting a headache from it. But ears would indicate a pressure change, which shouldn’t really happen once the plane completes ascent.
Hmm.. I don’t know. Maybe because I used to fly in old Boeings chartered from arabic airlines.