As a veteran flyer, one of the most common questions I get is “How do you deal with all of those time changes?” As a flight attendant, I developed my own rules that seemed to help me whip jet lag. Though there’s no panacea for everyone, a lot can be said about putting a few rules in place.
Change your watch to local time before you leave. Once you’re gone, you’re gone -and you have no choice but to adjust. People say, “Well it’s (insert time) at home, no wonder I’m tired, hungry, thirsty, etc.,” and it may be a valid observation, but it’s just a source of frustration. And well, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. So psychologically, just focus on the time zone you're in.
Coffee. If you are a coffee drinker coffee at the first possible moment when you arrive at your destination. That is, as soon as practical, if you are not napping or as soon as you wake up from your nap. Coffee is so essential; I am listing it before water. The worst, most insidious headache is the caffeine withdrawal, a head-pounding headache that creeps up on you in the middle of the night in a strange hotel room.
Drink lots of water. The airplane environment is quite dry, and can also be quite drying on your sinuses. Making sure that you stay well-hydrated is one of the best ways to avoid that traveler’s headache as well. I am not against a glass of wine by any means, just make sure you don’t drink to excess (sip slowly!) and stay hydrated. The rule of thumb is six to eight ounces of water for every hour of flight time. And keep the hydration going when you arrive.
Food is Fuel. Make sure you bring some of your favorite treats— small bags of nuts, protein bars, or buy a little light snack along the way. Having snacks is essential to stave off hunger so you can wait until the local meal time. Whatever you do, make sure you ”eat a little something.” This is not just advice from my Jewish mother, but eating when you’re tired does make you realize that “Food is Fuel.”
Sleep Aids. If you are not one of those people who can sleep anywhere, anytime, a bit of melatonin can make a difference. I prefer the “melts” or the liquid melatonin. In my experience, these really work. For chronic poor sleepers, there are prescription drugs. Of course, don’t take anything without first consulting your doctor. Sometimes taking these at the beginning of the trip gives you a jumpstart on getting on the local time-zone.
All in all, there are little tricks you can do to put jet lag in its place, but an essential element is not to give in to it. Forge ahead and enjoy the wonder of a new locale. Just accept that you might be a little bit tired. I always think back to my flying days, when a fellow flight attendant on maternity leave said to me, “Having a baby is really like having permanent jet lag. You just always feel a little bit tired.”
Wendy Sue Knecht is the author of Life, Love, and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir. Since her career as a Pan Am flight attendant, Wendy has become an inventor, on-air spokesperson, and product entrepreneur. Wendy has appeared on QVC hundreds of times as the on-air spokesperson for her multi-functional line of travel bags, Beyond a Bag, as well as numerous other products. She also created a line of bags for hospital patients called the KareBag. She continues to travel and scour the world, looking for adventure and new ideas. Wendy also serves on the international board of World Wings International, the philanthropic organization of ex-Pan Am flight attendants.