Sunday Mailbag: Jet Lag?

October 1st, 2017 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: You have already been to China and Germany this year. How are you dealing with jet lag? Especially when coming home and having to meet deadlines.

A: I thought this was an interesting question even though it has nothing to do with art. I’ve dealt with let lag many time with all my trips to the middle east for the USO, travels to Australia and Europe for cartooning events and trips I’ve taken for pain old fun.

There are many opinions about how to deal with jet lag and some people will swear by certain methods and remedies to help with it. Some can help but many others are as ineffective as the latest fad diet. The bottom line with jet lag is that your body needs a few days to get over it. I’ve found you can do things to help you function better during this adjustment time, but nothing will replace that adjustment period.

I find it a lot harder to get adjusted to a new time zone when I travel east from the US to Europe or points beyond. There is something about traveling a long way and then getting to your destination early in the morning with a full day ahead of you that is hard to overcome, no matter how much sleep you manage to get on the flight. On the westward trek home I usually arrive sometime in the afternoon with only a few hours to power thorough before an appropriate bedtime hour rolls around.

I’m lucky (if you want to call it that) in that my deadline-driven career often calls for late nights or long periods of not sleeping in order to get work done on time. As a kid I had a hard time turning off my brain and getting to sleep, often laying in bed until 2 or 3 am until I finally fell asleep. As an adult I’ve discovered the ability to fall asleep within minutes at almost any time, whether I am tired or not (I once took an hour nap while wearing Kevlar armor, strapped into a Blackhawk helicopter flying over the Iraqi desert in a war zone). During tough deadline runs I take a lot of “power naps”, which are 30 minute quick sleeps, and a couple of one to two hour short sleeps within a 24 hour period can keep me going for several days.

Those power naps help a lot with jet lag. The trick is to force yourself to get back up after that quick sleep. It’s hard to do… your body wants to stay asleep. However once you get up and get moving, especially if you get some sunlight, you’ll get back to wakefullness quickly and be able to function well for some time. If you sleep too long you will then have a hard time getting to sleep in your new timezone at bedtime, and spend a lot of the night staring at the ceiling. Don’t try to completely fight through being sleepy during the day. If possible try and plan an hour nap sometime after arrival (if the time equates to the middle of the night back home). Just keep it to a max of one hour.

Another big help is to drink a lot of water. Actually drinking a lot of water cures many woes in life, but staying hydrated really is important and most experts agree it helps with jet lag. Most people will chug a lot of coffee/caffeine and that’s ok but caffeine is a dietetic and will cause your body to dehydrate quickly. Drink extra water if you resort to caffeine to compensate.

Spend as much time in the sunlight as you can in your new destination. The presence of the sun tells your body it’s daytime and you are supposed to be awake, and sunlight on your skins causes a number of physical reactions that signal “daytime” to your body. It’s not a cure all but it helps. So does exercise. If you are a runner or do some form of cardio exercise plan on getting some in upon waking up your first few mornings in the new timezone.

Finally reset your watch to your new time immediately upon DEPARTURE and try your best not to try and think about what time it is back home. That’s a purely mental thing, but if you are obsessing about how it’s 3 A.M. back home your brain isn’t accepting that it’s 11 AM here in your new location.

I’m no expert, but those things help me deal with jet lag.

Thanks to Dominick Zeillinger for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


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