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How To Survive Jetlag

It’s not fun. It’s not pretty. And it’s certainly not easy to deal with.

We’re talking jetlag: scourge of the frequent (or infrequent) traveler, enemy of the energetic globetrotter, bane of the life of anyone who’s tried to take a flight through even one time zone. It makes you tired, it makes you irritated, it can cause the delicately-euphemistic condition known as, um, gastric distress, and it really just isn’t the best way to start (or even end) a trip.

You can find countless tips and ideas for dealing with jetlag all over the Internet, but the following is what I try to stick to every time. And I just got off an 18-hour flight from Singapore and am currently dealing with a 15-hour time change, so trust me, I know what you’re going through.

Before you go:

* Pack a plane kit with things you’ll need during the flight (I’ve written before about how to make one) and keep it at the very top of your carry-on bag.
* Don’t have a heavy meal, but do eat something.
* Get enough sleep the night before your flight; sleep deprivation is cumulative, so if you get onto the plane feeling tired and crummy, you’re only going to go down from there.

During the flight:

* If it’s more than five or six hours, I try and sleep as much as I can. I sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. And if I wake up? I try and get back to sleep again. Even if the toddler behind me insists upon kicking my seat. Hey, at least he’s not screaming. (Yet.)
* Sure, it’s hard to resist on an international flight (free booze!) but try to lay off the alcohol. Try, even, to lay off the caffeine. Boring but true: drinking as much water as you possibly can will help you stay hydrated in a dry atmosphere, and if you stay hydrated, you’re likely to feel a whole lot better once you land.
* You, uh, might want to ask for an aisle seat too, seeing as you’re going to be drinking all that water and all. Unless you like climbing over your neighbor to get to the restroom. There’s nothing worse than having to hold it because you’re too polite to tap your seatmate on the shoulder and ask them to let you out.
* Did I mention you should sleep? You should sleep. I don’t care how good your book is.

Once You Land:

* This is key, particularly if you arrive before, say, 8pm: STAY AWAKE AS LONG AS YOU CAN. Yes, it’s horribly tempting to crash as soon as you get home or to your hotel, but you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you take a nap now; you’ll wake up groggy and awful-feeling, and you’ll make it harder for yourself to get (back) onto the local schedule. Stay awake. Prop those eyes open with tooth picks. You can do it. It’s worth it, I swear.
* Once you can’t stay awake any longer, go to bed—try to make this as close as possible to your usual bedtime. The jury is out on whether or not it’s kosher to take sleeping aids like Tylenol PM to help you drift off; I usually don’t, because if I’ve done my job and stayed awake as long as I can, I tend to zonk out as soon as my head hits the pillow anyway. If, for some reason, you can’t fall asleep—have you been napping? Naughty!—I don’t see the harm in taking one or two, just to get you back on schedule. Make sure you have eight hours to devote to sleep, though, or you’ll be waking up groggy and unrefreshed.
* Keep it light on the alcohol and food front. Keep drinking as much water as you can.
* Above all? Be kind to yourself. Cancel plans if you’re feeling awful. Read those trashy magazines you couldn’t read on the plane because you were sleeping. Ask your boss if you can work from home for the day, if the act of getting to the office makes your bones hurt. Take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard. You’ve come a long way, baby. Literally.

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