Saturday, May 5, 2007

Hints on Planes, Airports, and Jet Lag


v If you have a lot of luggage you can drop everyone off at the departure gate curb and then drop off your car. Airports roads always have a circular layout that takes you back to parking or rental car return with a minimum of trouble. This reduces the amount of lugging of luggage, enables everyone else to get in line, etc. This works when you are picking up a rental car at an airport too (have everyone wait at the airport until one person picks up the car and brings it around). If the rental place is a long ways from the airport you should probably skip this idea and just drag your stuff onto the rental shuttle.

v For domestic flights aisle seats are more comfortable (more room to stretch, less hassle to get up and walk around), but you may be interrupted a lot by your seatmates. Window seats are definitely better if you want to take a nap. For international flights I definitely prefer window seats.

Jet lag

Ø What is it? It is the understandable desire of your body to continue existing in the time zone you were in, until you recently strapped yourself into a plane and flew east or west. In mild cases you feel sleepy and lethargic for a couple hours during the day (for me it usually between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, regardless where I am). In the bad cases your sleep patterns are totally disrupted, and you feel lousy when you are awake, and you can’t sleep at night. A fairly common pattern is for people to wake up around 2 AM and then not be able to get back to sleep for 3 to 4 hours. When you get up the next day you are not only tired but usually have an “fuzzy, out-of-sync” feeling.

Ø What seems to work well is to switch to local time as quickly as possible. This means avoiding long naps on the plane when going east until you are into the short “night”. When going east (e.g. US to Europe, China to US) it is very helpful to get a few hours sleep on the plane because you often arrive early in the day and need to stay up all day to sync up with the local time. Buy some ear plugs (I like the foam ones). I also use a blindfold to shut out light and a blow-up pillow that goes around my neck. My kids pretend they don’t know me. I take a mild, over-the-counter, sleep inducing medicine (Tylenol PM) about 20 minutes before I try to sleep. Every time I wonder if it will work, but I have always managed to get at least 3 or 4 hours of sleep. On trips to Europe you'll have to skip the movie and try and sleep, this typically comes around 3 to 4 hours into the flight. Skip caffeine and get plenty of liquids--it's very easy to get dehydrated. I try to bring a 1/2 liter plastic bottle of water along (I bring it empty to the airport and fill it up once I pass through security); it is much easier than asking the stewardesses or going to the bathroom to get water out of the tap.

Ø Plan a fairly busy day the first day to keep you awake and active. Plan to get an overview of the area, or go see one of the key sights. Do not hang around the hotel--you'll end up napping and getting off to a really bad start. If you weren’t able to sleep at all on the plane then a nap is pretty hard to avoid, but try to get it early in the day and limit it to no more than 2 hours. Set several alarms/wake up calls and if you can arrange it, go somewhere with someone. Stay up to your normal bedtime or later if possible and don’t get too much sleep that first night (maybe 10 hours or less). Unless you had a long nap in the daytime most people sleep fine that first night—it is that 2nd or 3rd that you have to worry about. Try not to get too much sleep the first couple of nights, at most 8
hours so that you are tired enough that your "old" sleep patterns don't reassert themselves. A long walk or some light exercise during the days really helps your sleep patterns too. I take Tylenol PM on the 2nd and 3rd nights—it isn’t overpowering, but I find it really helps me get back to sleep when I wake up.

Ø Kids present special challenges. When our kids were younger it seemed like at least one of them stayed awake the whole flight. An early nap is unavoidable in that case, but it works best to not let them sleep more than around 3 hours and then get them moving again. This isn’t easy. Getting them really tired physically is very important to them sleeping well those first few nights. If you don’t wear them out during the day they will be raring for action at 2:00 am.

Ø Going west you usually don't lose a night, so heavy-duty efforts to sleep on the plane are not needed. Nap if you feel like it and after arrival just go to bed close to your normal bedtime--after having a really long day. Again avoid getting too much sleep those first few nights. I tend to take a Tylenol PM on the 2nd, and 3rd nights.

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