Affordable Travel Guide to Crossing Time Zones

Jet lag is inevitable when going in east/west directions, but it can be reduced

Crossing Time Zones

Traveling north to south generally involves a change in temperature, but when you cross lines of longitude, and therefore time zones, even one hour of difference from your home time zone can give you jet lag. And that can interfere with your business travel agenda or your family vacation time.

Jet lag, or any type of lack of sleep, can be dangerous. Car accidents peak in North America during the week after the clocks are adjusted to daylight savings time around the first week of November because people’s body clocks, also known as circadian rhythms, are confused.

Among the people most prone to jet lag are Formula 1 and IndyCar racecar drivers, who travel the globe every two weeks during the racing season schedule, often going between distant places like Europe and Australia or South America and the Orient. Jet lag and lack of sleep for people who risk their lives driving very fast for a living have been the subject of much study. The Human Performance Institute, Daytona, Florida, has been deeply involved in researching and studying jet lag, especially its effect on people like racecar drivers.

Oddly, what has been discovered in experiments is that the human body clock is set to 25, not 24, as you might imagine, hours. Subjects allowed to go by nothing but their circadian rhythms were tested in windowless rooms without clocks; they retired for the night about an hour later each day when they did not know what time of day it was. This might seem odd, since we have no choice but to live by the world-standard 24-hour day, but the good news is that when you are traveling to a destination that is one hour behind, jet lag will barely exist for you.

Trips that span numerous time zones are another story. Going from North America to Europe, for example, gives you jet lag, but it depends on which flights you take and your body’s ability to sleep on an aircraft as to how badly you suffer jet lag. And, by the way, traveling eastward is always harder on your circadian rhythm than the opposite direction! Overnight flights that leave from places like Toronto or Chicago in the early evening and land in Paris or London early the following morning work well for people who sleep during a flight and are able to fall asleep quickly, right after take-off. Better for those who don’t rest as well in an airplane are daytime flights, but those are generally more expensive.

How to cheat jet lag, or at least minimize its impact?

Because your body’s circadian rhythm is attuned not only to your sleep patterns, but the times of day that you eat, you can begin to merge into your new time zone before you catch the flight.

For example, if you live in New York and are heading to London, England, for a week, and will have about a six-hour time change (England is ahead of the U.S.A.), start about two weeks (that is rule of thumb) before your departure date and begin, if at all possible, to merge into England’s time zone, by about 15 minutes a day. Go to bed 15 minutes early, and take all of your meals 15 minutes early the first day; your circadian rhythm will barely notice. The next day, add another 15 minutes, and so on until you are either right at the new time zone, or close to it by the time your flight lifts off. Returning is never quite as hard, as aforementioned, but you can do the reverse, too, even a week before you’re scheduled to come home. Every little bit helps.

And one more tip. Don’t use alcohol to make you sleepy or drink excessive caffeinated beverages to keep you awake; they can tamper with your circadian rhythm more severely than the jet lag itself, and there is little worse than thinking you have settled into a great sleep and being woken up in the middle of the night with a caffeine kick or sugar rush, and then can’t get back to sleep. Drink alcohol and coffee or tea as you normally would, and respect your body’s message. A power-nap in the afternoon when your circadian rhythm is out of whack shouldn’t be enough sleep to mess up your body clock.

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