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Dealing with Jet Lag

One of the biggest challenges of traveling long distances for business or pleasure is adjusting to the new time zone at your destination, a condition known as "jet lag." There are several factors that influence jet lag, some of which you can control to a certain extent and others - such as your body's own internal clock - that you cannot control.

If you are going to be in the new time zone only two or three days, unfortunately there is little you can do. However, if your trip is longer, the following tips can help minimize your feelings of jet lag and get your body readjusted as quickly as possible:

1. Before you leave, talk with your physician about using a short-acting sleeping pill when you arrive at your destination. There are some very short acting sleeping pills that may help you fall asleep the first few nights in the new time zone and will not leave a "sleeping pill hangover" in the morning. However, it's important to talk with your physician first to ensure that this is compatible with your overall medical status.

2. Start your journey well rested and not sleep deprived. If you start off sleepy, it's going to be even harder to get adjusted at your destination.

3. Drink lots of water and juice on the plane. Being dehydrated seems to complicate jet lag, so drinking non-alcoholic, caffeine-free beverages helps to compensate for the very dry air on the plane. Alcohol and caffeine can have the opposite effect, drying your body out and making your jet lag more severe.

4. Consider eating high-carbohydrate, low-protein foods on the plane. Some experts believe this may be a beneficial diet to help fight jet lag.

5. Exercise your arms, trunk and legs while you're on the plane. Do some static exercises in your seat and try to walk in the aisle as often as possible. This can help you avoid the stiffness and cramping that sometimes comes from sitting too long.

6. When you arrive at your destination, take a short nap if you are excessively tired. Don't sleep longer than 20 to 30 minutes. If you take a longer nap, you may go into deep sleep and wake up feeling "drugged."

7. Follow the rules for good sleep hygiene.

8. Get out in the sunshine. Bright light therapy in the morning is one of the best ways to adjust your biological clock. Walk or sit in the sunshine for at least an hour. Incidentally, you cannot accomplish the same effect with room light; it takes sunshine. Some people actually need several hours of bright light exposure and more than one day for their body clock to adjust.

9. Avoid scheduling important events to take place right after you arrive. Be aware that your alertness and coordination will be impaired. Ideally, you should wait one to three days to conduct any important business, make important decisions, take part in sports competitions and so forth. It can take up to five days for the symptoms of jet lag to substantially diminish when you cross nine or more time zones.

10. Time your meals to fit into local mealtimes as soon as possible. Some experts believe that protein meals for breakfast and carbohydrate meals in the evening can be beneficial. But don't eat too late at night.

11. Have a quiet time before going to bed to ready your body for sleep. You may read something light and short, listen to some quiet music or watch a "calm" TV show.

12. Sleep in a comfortable, noise-free environment. Make sure the room is dark. Some experts believe a warm tub bath shortly before going to bed promotes relaxation and sleep.