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Ready for Travelling Again? Strategies for Coping with Jet Lag

With the border regulations easing, many people are itching to start travelling again, perhaps crossing several time zones.

Travelling across time zones sounds great, but for most of us this also means spending days dealing with jet lag, and not enjoying the vacation as much as we could. This inconvenience unfortunately cuts into our vacation. What can you do to preserve your precious vacation time?

When I travelled regularly from Vancouver to Montreal or Toronto in the past for work, I learned that the best strategy is to immediately place yourself in the destination time-zone the moment you leave your home.

Now let’s travel for pleasure (since I no longer need to travel for work). Let’s say we are leaving Vancouver on a 2 PM flight to Paris, France. 2PM in Vancouver would be 11PM in Paris. Based on the strategy, you should make sure that you sleep on the flight to match the destination time.

Once you are on the flight, change your watch to Paris time and fall asleep as soon as you are settled. Forget the inflight food services because they don’t taste all that great anyways, and normally you wouldn’t eat at 11PM, would you?

Try to sleep for at least 7 hours on the plane. When you wake up it will be 6AM Paris time. Not a bad wake up time on a normal day. And don’t even think about what time it is in Vancouver. You don’t need to remind your brain that your time is off!

Here is the important part: a few tricks to help you adjust:

  • Starting 3 days before the trip: wake up earlier and going to bed earlier, by 1-2 hours.

  • The day of the trip: Get up even earlier. Maybe 4 AM? I know, it sounds awful. But you will appreciate your own efforts later. Do not drink coffee or tea! Caffeine stays in your body for a long time, and it will prevent you from feeling sleepy at 2PM. Exercise can be very helpful on the day of the trip. So go to the gym in the morning, and double down with a Zumba class to get yourself physically tired.

  • Have an early lunch, perhaps around 10AM. Remember you are trying to go to sleep at 2PM. Going to sleep with a full stomach is not the best way to get a good sleep! Go for a walk after “lunch” so you can work off some of the food energy. Also wear blue light blocking glasses after lunch to try to fool your body into believing it’s getting late and start producing melatonin.

Of course, as a pharmacist, I also have some suggestions to help you as you get close to your flight time:

  • Phosphatidylserine 300mg. This supplement helps to lower cortisol level. Cortisol level usually rises to a peak in mid morning, the slowly tapers down to a low level at bedtime. Lowering cortisol helps to mimic sleep time cortisol level.

  • Melatonin Slow-Release 3mg. Although you may be wearing blue light blockers, this supplement helps to make sure you have adequate amount of melatonin to prepare your body for rest.

  • Magnesium Glycinate 600mg. Magnesium Glycinate is well-known for its ability to relax your muscles and helping you to feel more relaxed. Make sure it’s magnesium Glycinate as the glycine component will also help your brain to stay calm, giving you a better sleep.

  • Best Rest Formula. This is a combination of herbs that have long been used in herbal medicine to help you feel relaxed and sleep. This product contains GABA, l-theanine, valerian, lemon balm, hops, passion flower, and chamomile, and a small amount of melatonin.

Prescription Drugs: I don’t usually recommend the use of prescription drugs unless there is a true need. But for one time travel purpose, some meds may be worth testing out. As a caveat, I’d recommend testing out a dose prior to travelling so you know how you will respond to the medications, and not suffer from side effects while you are out of country.

For sleep, the usual suspects are of course sleeping pills. Keep in mind of the length of your flight: Use longer acting products for long haul trips, and shorter acting products for shorter trips (ask your pharmacist about the pharmacokinetics of these drugs). I am not a fan of benzodiazepines though. Sure, one-time use will not cause physical dependency, but these drugs just don’t provide quality sleep. And quality of sleep is very important for us to feel rested after sleep.

There is a new medication on the market called Lemborexant (Trade name Dayvigo). Unlike conventional sleeping pills, Lemborexant helps to “turn off” the waking switch in the brain to help you to sleep. Research have shown that Lemborexant provides better quality of sleep compared to conventional sleeping pills.

For waking up, Modafinil promotes wakefulness and may help you to stay awake on day 1 after landing. This drug is used for treating narcolepsy and Shift Work Disorder. Modafinil is not a stimulant for most people (although about 10% of people find it stimulating), so likely taking this medication won’t cause you to feel anything except that you don’t feel tired, and you won’t have trouble falling asleep later that day.

Talk to your doctor and pharmacist to see if these prescription medications are suitable for you.

It’s now 6AM Paris time and you wake from your in-flight sleep. But your brain will still think it’s nighttime as it would be 9PM Vancouver time. Now is the time to drink coffee or take a dose of Modafinil to keep you awake for the next 12-15 hours. If food service on flight is decent, have some breakfast. You are probably hungry by now.

You may also want to turn your computer/tablet/smart phone on and set it on the brightest setting to give your eyes a good dose of blue light and trick your brain into believing that it’s now morning. This is exactly the reason we avoid blue lights at night! Keep this in mind when it is 9PM Paris time, as you are thinking about getting ready to go to sleep.

And here is a tip from my well travelled friend Nancy: if you have a long layover and the timing is right, just book a hotel and get some real sleep! Your body will thank you for that!

I hope you enjoy your trip the moment you land at your destination. Have a great time on your well-deserved vacation!

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