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What You Can Do About Jet Lag

What little you can do about it is what this next section is about.

Bad news first. The only real “cure” for jet lag is time passing, as your body acclimates and resets itself to the new day-night cycle. Kids can be whacked much harder than adults by jet lag because they are not as dumb as we are trying to stay up when every cell in your body is remembering that for ten zillion years humans have slept generally when they are tired.

It is even worse for very young children and nursing mothers. The worst few days of our parenting life were spent in a Seattle motel on our way to grandma's in Ohio from Japan. Our oldest was nursing 100% and my wife's milk was still stuck on the Japan day-night cycle. This meant my daughter wanted to sleep in the Seattle day and wanted to be awake and nurse during the Seattle night. My wife's body adjusted faster to the new time than the kid's, and so the milk let down in the Seattle day while the little one cried hungry in the Seattle night. Sorry, no happy ending here"€we holed up in the hotel and toughed it out. It was, I must confess, a low point for my support for the family as the jet lag had me sleeping on the bathroom floor, exhausted from exhaustion.

With that laid out, you are likely with me when I state that jet lag is not fixed but overcome. Here are some things that have over the trips made it easier to deal with jet lag:

  • Sleep When Your Kids Sleep: Consider (by which I mean do it) sleeping when your kids sleep if you can. You rested and more able to enjoy a few hours of sightseeing is probably better than you being awake all day but in such a foul mood that bus drivers won't pick you up. Besides, your kids are gonna be asleep anyway.
  • Sunlight is Good: Sunlight really helps. Exposure to sun light is the means by which your body adjusts. Be outside if at all possible. A little time outside is better than none. Sleep with the shades open if you can so your body sees the morning light.

Once when we were on our way to Africa, we had a layover in London. It was just long enough to head into the city and see some sights. I also figured getting out in the daylight would help with the jet lag. Unfortunately, it gets dark in London seemingly around 1 PM in December. Add in a solid rain and my wife was completely miserable. Oh well. At least we can joke about it now.

  • Diversions: If you find yourself or your children getting really sleepy at the wrong time and want to try and tough it out to help your body adjust faster, the best thing to do is engage yourself or the child. Go for a walk. Go out for ice cream. Window shop. Anything active might help, while anything passive (like TV) usually does not work.
  • Mind Tricks: With older kids and some grownups, you can try mind tricks. I always set my watch to the final destination time as soon as I get on the plane. It is a small thing but over time I find it acts as a trigger to my body psychologically to get ready.
  • Diet: Some folks have reported that following a specific diet can reduce the effects of jet lag. By some folks I mean me, ‘cause it seems to help me. My wife reports far less success, so we leave it up to you to decide which of us is right. Talk to your doctor and follow this link for the details on the jet lag diet. By the way, my friend who is a doctor says this diet thing is largely a placebo thing, which is why I included right after “Mind Games”. That it works seems more useful to us at this point than why it works.
  • Schedule around Jet Lag: Plan your trip if at all possible to allow some time for adjustment. It will be a big help if you can avoid an important meeting right off the plane if one business. Schedule the trip to Tokyo Disneyland for the second or third day in Japan or later. Think ahead where your body will be home time at destination time and set your schedule to fit the jet lag effects. In other words, traveling from the U.S. to Asia more or less reverses the day-night cycle. You will likely get up very early (like 3 am) and not be able to get back to sleep the first few days. You will also start to nod off by late afternoon. So, if you can, schedule activities for earlier in the day and avoid anything if you can in the late afternoon. If going from the U.S. to Europe, your body will go the other way, and you should plan things for later in the day rather than earlier.