Some of us will be traveling long distances this summer. I'm always envious of my European friends, whose families are a mere four hours or so flying time from here. Those of us who travel to North America or Asia know what it's like. It's hard enough being squished into in a sardine-can sized seat for a 12 hour or more flight. Then, when you finally arrive, you're exhausted during the day and wide awake at night.
The usual (and sound) travel advice is helpful: Set your watch for the destination time at the start of your trip. Try to get a head start by eating and sleeping in that time zone during the flight. Drink a lot of fluids during the flight, but avoid alcohol and coffee. Try to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible, by eating and sleeping when everyone there does.
Upon arrival, I find that a brisk walk outdoors in the morning and a cup of coffee helps. I force myself not to take a nap.
There may be another way to cope with jet lag: fasting.
Circadian rhythm (our internal pattern of sleep and wakefulness) is influenced by exposure to light. But it's also influenced by food. At least in mice. Studies of mice (whose brain circuitry is similar to ours) show that when food is available to them, they are alert, awake and ready to eat, even if it's the middle of the night. When they're deprived of food for many hours and then fed, their brains re-acclimate to the correct time.
This information may be helpful to long-distance travelers. Here's what you can do:
Don't eat for 12-16 hours before you want to be awake. In many cases, that means starting to fast before you leave home and for the duration of the flight. (That shouldn't be too hard given the quality of airline food!) Break your fast with a healthy meal, preferably at your new "morning" time.
Here's another way of planning it: Figure out when breakfast time will be wherever you're landing and fast for 12-16 hours before this.
We're not certain that this is a sure fix for jet lag, but it's certainly worth a try. And, except for a few calories, there's nothing to lose.
N'siyah tovah – Have a safe and healthy trip!