Jet lagged, the feeling known by most of us as the post holiday feeling we get after a week of downing tequila and straddling strangers surrounded by your equally intoxicated friends. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat and your body doesn’t respond the way you need it to. When asked how do you feel about jet lag….
” I’d trade all of my favourite possession just to have a jet lag free week” I replied whilst cradling a tub of Sun Pat peanut butter, table spoon in my mouth and the remains of the empty tub smeared across my face.
(Image: April Harvey)
This is an average day for me, I’ve found a spot on the sofa where I sit in my hedonistic state, have mastered the foetal position in this spot and recently have found that the tone of Jeremy Kyle’s shouty voice is strangely comforting I’m so accustomed to it. My nearest and dearest are well aquatinted with the unconscious look I sport on occasion and more often than not my moms attempt to feed me fails. Its become second nature so much so that I’ve developed a coping mechanism which allows me to get from A to B safety whilst zoned out.
I have a one touch, minimum effort speed dial set up on my phone that calls either my mother, The China Panda (my local take away) or my best friend incase things get seriously bad. I’ve memorised the routes in simplest form from the airport to my house where I turn on auto pilot for the journey, I avoid eye contact and pray no one wants to talk to me on the tube. Then there’s the harsher reality which come with Jet Lag, it lead to the break down of a relationship, the birth of many strange habits ( yes, I turn to Sun Pat peanut butter by the jar for comfort) and some remarkably funny stories, all plausible of course and completely acceptable because it’s beyond my control, right? The small part of me that wants to remain positive and to believe I can cope with this long term has always thought ….
‘Maybe it’s all psychological, if I pretend it’s not there then maybe the feeling will disappear and won’t affect me?
Whether it is or it isn’t, We all have one thing in common with jet lag, we all suffer from it in some form and we all wish we didn’t. But how much is too much before we become permanently zoned out by this neurological disorder/ myth?
Having spent most of the month in and out of a daze due to a heavy schedule of visits to Nairobi, Las Vegas followed by Beijing, again followed by another Las Vegas, I found myself questioning my constant bewildered state. Would it ever go? Was this how my life was going to be? How much longer could I put up with it? It’s agonising when you realise your missing out on friends birthdays, Holidays and even your own birthday just to get a few hours sleep. So after lots of thought and waking up from a 15 hour sleep realising that what should of been a Met Gala Monday, had now rapidly turned into sleep all day Monday and Tuesday because of jet lag, I decided to write this post.
Bank holiday Monday for me used to be about the Met Gala, Id either be in NYC sat in a hotel bar awaiting the first media coverage to show up on my phone or I’d be celebrating with a margarita and E! News coverage live at my friends. However I’d reluctantly spent this one in a foul daze bought on by a 10 hour flight home from west coast America and I was annoyed to say the least.
Life before the great haze.
About two years ago, before I belonged to the ever graceful flight attendant community I traveled to New York for a week away with friends. We drank, we ate and most evenings I don’t remember getting back to the hotel, 9 times out of 10 I woke up smelling like Vodka or Gin unwillingly hugging my friends. We had a good week. I passed out on the flight home for 7 hours and made it back to my apartment in East London In one piece at around 1pm. Thankfully I didn’t have to go back to work for 2 days when I arrived home, I was tired and nauseous from what I believed to be the after effects of all the alcohol I’d consumed. So I lay down in bed for a quick rest with the good intention of getting up and washing a weeks worth of clothing within the hour. The next thing I remember was waking up in the same clothes I’d travelled home in and it was 11am the next day, I’d slept for more than 20 hours! Suitcase was still in the same place unpacked ( like I expected someone to un pack it for me) and my house mate had been to work and come back!
Was that jet lag, or was it just a weeks worth of hangovers all at once? Well it wasn’t until I became a flight attendant that I realised how real and how bad jet lag actually is. I believe I’ve experienced three types of jet lag during my flying career, depending on where I travel to. I’m sure that the magical circadian rhythm has some type of biological name for them, either way I’ve been victim of three.
The first being mild, you look relatively normal, can function and have a coherent conversation with others but you’d rather subconsciously spend the day in bed watching Netflix and eating cake. This for me usually come after I’ve been to any east cost American city. Sleep for 8 hours and you’ll be right as rain the next day. It’s safe to say you probably won’t hallucinate or make any regrettable decisions. I’d say it’s even possible to open and sort out your suitcase before you attempt to sleep.
Then there’s mid severity jet lag, mostly felt when I’ve been to South Africa. Your bodily functions work, you can get yourself into bed. It’s pointless trying to talk to anyone though, you won’t digest whats being said, your mind is focused on sleep. You look tired and can open your eyes although your not taking in much of what’s going on around you. Providing you get around 10 hours straight sleep with no interruptions you’ll survive and be back to normal eventually. My mom once caught me mid sleep walk, stood in front of the fridge freezer with a fork in my hand and my eyes closed after returning from Cape Town. Admittedly not one of my finer moments. She walked me up to bed closed the door and said good night. It was 1pm in the afternoon.
The third – this is by far the most horrific, It’s usually caught when traveling Far East, or California for me, having not been able to get any sleep whilst their either. Firstly you look like crap, your eyes can’t focus and are going in different directions until you close them to sleep. Your hair is in knots and is mostly piled on top of your head, tied up with an elastic band you found on your desk, Which You know isn’t coming out later without a serious fight and epic head pain. You’ve just about managed to find clothes to change into, these garments could be Tesco carrier bags for all you care. Eating is impossible, your hand to mouth coordination doesn’t work and you’ll just hit yourself in the face with whatever you’ve got in your hand. Don’t even attempt to have a conversation, if you can talk, you’ll just say things you don’t mean, make promises you can’t keep, make no sense, cry or have a fit of rage. This will lead to a break down followed by crying. Of course this will all pass, but probably take about 3 days.
I once traveled back from Sydney landing at 5am in the morning. When I arrived back at base there was a television crew from a popular British morning TV show waiting to film me, supposedly looking perky for a segment about flying the British Olympic team home from Rio.
Firstly, I didn’t fly them home so why I needed to be on tv I’ll never know, secondly my hat was covering the majority of my face because I didn’t have the strength to hold my head up to look at the camera, to which the woman behind the camera repeatedly shouted at me for looking at the floor. Thirdly, the bastards televised the segment at 9am regardless of my fragile state.
There’s no real way to avoid all of the above, but there are somethings you can do to make it a little bit easier on yourself. I feel I’ve now come to a point after 2 years of non stop flying where I can say, what will work and what won’t. I’ve experienced every type of it, the mild to the worst, I’ve tried every remedy the expensive to the time consuming. Trying to constantly avoid disappointing people and maintain some form of normality in my life, I’ve put a list together of thing that bring me comfort in my hours of need
. Tell people your going to be jet lagged in advance.
I’m aware that this sounds like your setting yourself up to be avoided, but it’s kind of the best thing you can do for yourself. Shut the doors, close the blinds and take the time you need to recover on your own. Those who love you will understand and be waiting with open arms when your done.
.Don’t set an alarm with the thought that you only need minimum sleep to recover.
You can’t fight it, your body needs what it needs unfortunately. Trying to prevent this will only make it worse. Allowing your body to naturally overcome the feeling will see a much faster recovery.
. Don’t eat a lot, or at all
You can go without food for one day, it won’t kill you. You will sleep more comfortably and when you wake up you’ll be more grateful for what you eat and genuinely enjoy it rather than just eating for the sake of eating.
. You don’t have to “avoid alcohol”
Obviously don’t drink yourself into oblivion on the plane or before a flight as alcohol becomes more potent in the air. It won’t help you sleep but you know your body and if you suffer from bad hangovers, don’t drink. It’s simple, but remember if it’s your holiday, enjoy yourself. Personally alcohol doesn’t affect the severity of jet lag for me, it’s just bad either way.
Wear lip balm, moisturise your face and drink adequate amounts of water, but remember there’s a fine line between a lot of water and what you actually need. You don’t want to be getting up to use the loo every 3 minutes, It won’t help. All aircrafts are different, some have better air conditioning, humidity than others and will leave you feeling less dry. It’s worth checking out which your flying on before you go.
. Forget the Internet
Think about yourself, don’t get distracted by Facebook, Instagram or Twitter….it can and will wait. It will still be there when you wake up too.
. Don’t apologise for being tired and missing a whole day
This kind of ties in with the first, you’ll just end up feeling guilty because of something you can’t control. It’s not worth loosing sleep over. I used to spend the first 30 minutes after waking up messaging the boy I was dating saying ” I’m sorry, do you mind if we stay in” or I’m sorry for being too tired to speak to you yesterday”
.Once you’ve landed….
Get as much fresh air in your lungs as possible, brush your teeth, take your makeup off and smile. It will make you feel instantly better for about 30 minutes. Try not to go to sleep feeling like a Womble if you can. The fresher you feel the better you will sleep.
. If you can’t sleep….
Do something that requires no effort, I’d say don’t socialise at the risk of crashing mid date. Maybe watch a movie, walk the dog, the dog loves you unconditionally, something along those lines.
(Image: April Harvey)
Without boring you about circadian rhythms and technical names for jet lag, my conclusion is that it can’t be avoided, it’s very real, not a myth. For some of us sadly this is life, it may ease up, it may not. As is often the case, there are lots of strange myths on the Internet regarding a cure, such a shining a light at the back of your knees which was a theory tested by the BBC in the 90’s (idiots) staying on UK time for your whole trip, they even considered Viagra as a remedy! or simply that there ‘are’ ways to avoid it. None of which are true, plus who has free time to spend shining a torch on the back of your knee every day?
Happy Flying, from a surprisingly awake April x