As I get older I’m always discovering more and more things that I can’t do anymore due to my old age. I know, I know – I’m not old! I’m just not as young and limber as I used to be. This list includes but is not limited to: partying like it’s 1999, staying up all night eating popcorn and watching Friends and waking up at a reasonable hour the next day and putting my leg behind my head. This last bit might be reversible with some intense yoga training though.
A new thing to put on that list is traveling without jet lag. In 2008 I flew for 17 hours from London to Bangkok via Abu Dahbi, arriving really early in the morning, and after a short power nap I was out and about exploring. The same year I flew to Montréal straight after work, went out partying with some locals as soon as I landed and didn’t go to bed until noon the next day or some 36 hours after I had woken up. After a four hour nap I was out rollerblading in the sun. Admittedly I didn’t win any prizes for good form that day but I was there. On 8 wheels.
This year, last week to be more exact, I flew from Vancouver to Reykjavík which is a seven hour flight arriving around 6am at Keflavík Airport. The time difference between Reykjavík and Vancouver is 7 hours and I never really got used to the time difference during our 2 weeks stay out there in the west. I was fine, for the most part, when I landed in Keflavík and once I got home I worked for a few hours answering some of the 770 e-mails that awaited me in my e-mail inbox upon our return. Yes. That’s seven hundred and seventy e-mails. In two weeks.
But then I committed the cardinal sin of eastbound time zone travel: I took a nap. I wasn’t going to sleep long, only an hour or two but of course I didn’t hear the alarm when it went off and then I slept for four hours. Since then, until today, my circadian rhythm has been all out of whack.
We arrived on Tuesday. On Wednesday I did a tour and couldn’t remember any words in English, which is funny since we just got back only speaking English for two weeks, and my mouth couldn’t make all the sounds I needed so I sounded like a intellectually-challenged stroke victim for most of the tour. On Thursday I slept till noon (I NEVER sleep till noon), had some breakfast and the next thing I know I wake up on my bed with saliva all over my face, three hours later, with one leg in my trousers and wearing a top inside out. My guess is that I had gone to the bedroom to get dressed and that’s how that ended.
I’ve been struggling with insomnia, loss of appetite (which isn’t altogether a bad thing after two weeks of beer and American portions) and serious daytime fatigue. And then I got a cold. All in all I’ve had better weeks. And I blame it all on jet lag.
Because that’s just who I am I decided to google jet lag this morning and get some answers to what I could do to fix this only to find out that everything I could have done I should have done during or just before and after the flight. So for future reference, and for all of you heading over to Iceland soon from North-America, here’s what I found out.
My complete list of everything I know about jet lag from a quick google research, my own experience and reading not necessarily scientifically endorsed articles. Read at your own risk.
Apparently it’s much worse to fly east to your destination as that way you lose time instead of gaining it. In our case, for example, we left Vancouver around 4pm and landed in Keflavík at 6am 7 hours later. In Vancover it was only 10pm when we landed so it’s understandable that we weren’t particularly tired.
The best thing you can do is to stay awake until it’s time for bed at your destination. I actually knew this and give this advice out to people all the time so I don’t understand why I thought this didn’t apply to me when I took that nap of doom. The boyfriend had to got to work as soon as we landed and I was on his case like some evil prison warden from the moment he came home, making sure he wouldn’t go to sleep. I’m sure he loved me a little less that afternoon but I also think he is thankful now because he hasn’t been dealing with any of my problems.
I should mention that I think it’s a little bit different coming home than starting your vacation this way because at the beginning of your trip you are all pumped about going out to explore which gives you extra energy, not wanting to waste a minute, whereas you allow yourself to wallow more in your fatigue from the comfort of your own home.
When I travel I always make the same mistakes. I leave packing till the last minute and then scramble last minutel late at night the evening before the flight so when it’s finally time to take off I’m already exhausted. So to prevent jet lag you should try to rest well before the flight if you can. Apparently it also helps to sleep on the plane if you are arriving early in the morning at your destination, even though you’re not tired, so you should probably do that. I can’t sleep on planes and I would probably need some sort of sleeping aid to do that but sleeping pills scare me to death so I’m not a big fan of that. If you are more comfortable with sleeping pills (I hear you can also buy melatonin pills that can help) maybe that’s something to look into. If you flying when it’s day time where you are headed, like when you are going back home from Iceland, you should try not to sleep as that can mess with you going that direction.
I also read somewhere that making sure you are hydrated throughout the flight is also good (I probably should have saved the links where I read these things so I could share them with you. Don’t judge, I’m sleep deprived and I have a cold!)
They also say that it helps to be exposed to daylight at your destination to remind your body that it’s indeed daytime and not nighttime. You can even start training your body with one of those daylight lamps at home before you leave but that to me sounds a little excessive. Just try to stay awake as long as you can and instead of going straight to your hotel and close the blinds you should go out and explore. Maybe you could do my walking tour for example, the timing of it was designed for those coming in with the early morning transatlantic flights, but almost every morning I have people on my tour specifically trying to beat the jet lag.
I sometimes recommend that you do the Blue Lagoon on your way from the airport, both because it’s on the way and also because it’s a way to kill time. However I know for me personally that I would be extra tired after a soak in the lagoon so it makes more sense to do the Blue Lagoon on your last day on the way to the airport. But everyone is different.
So to summarize: try to rest before your flight, stay hydrated, try to sleep on the plane and no matter how difficult it is – try to stay awake until it’s night time in Iceland. Seriously, you’ll thank me later if you do.