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Jet lag - when your biological clock is no longer in sync with the clock on the wall.

While some people report no problems with jet lag, sleep research indicates no one is immune to it. For some people, failing to take the proper steps to adjust to a new time zone can mean drowsiness for their entire vacation.

The people that take Jet lag well, have a little brain fogginess for a couple of days but adjust quickly to sleeping during the night hours and are at full energy by the third day. On the other end of the scale are a few people that never recover from jet lag during the entire duration of their trip, they are foggy brained during the day and have difficulty sleeping during the night.

Not surprisingly, younger people tend to adjust to time changes better than older people.

Your direction of flight can effect how hard you are hit by jet lag. Most people find the jet lag they get due to flying to Europe, from the USA (west to east flights) effects them more than the jet lag they get on their return flight (east to west). But, a substantial number of older people have more problems with east to west flights (return flights) than west to east flights (going to Europe).

I find the more I experience jet lag the better I have become at adjusting to it.

In planning the first few days of your travels it is important to keep in mind how jet lag will effect your experience.

If you are heading to Europe for an important meeting you might want to arrive a few days ahead of time or schedule the meeting during a time you would normally be awake in the USA.

It is best to avoid renting a car for the first two or three days. Jet lag often has the same effect on people's driving as being slightly intoxicated. In major cities there is no advantage in renting a car to see the sites, use the mass transit system or take taxis. If you want to get out of town quickly, try using a train.

The first day I arrive in Europe I usually take it very easy. Arriving in the AM we will drop the luggage off at the hotel and then I get my family out on the street. I always ask my hotel for a map and they usually will give me a quick orientation to the near by area. On the street, we will spend a little time getting oriented to the city. Jet lag usually will effect my sense of direction, so about 30 - 45 minutes out it is usually time to hit a cafe, get a little coffee in us and study the map. Our preference is to select a table with a window. Setting by a window not only gives us the sunshine needed to reset our biological clocks but we can linger a little and do a little people watching. After a little more time orienting ourselves to the city and getting in a little more walking we will head back to the hotel to refresh. Invariably, my family will insist on a nap.

If you must take a nap try not to let it last too long, get up while the sun is still shining. Sunlight exposure is the key to resetting your biological clock. Daytime napping during your first days in Europe can result in you having problems falling a sleep at night and remaining groggy during the day.

After letting the family take a nap, and then with a lot of prodding, I get them on the street again. Now we will head off to see a major sight of the city. I have learned I should not bother to visit an art museum during the first few days I am in Europe. That part of my brian that can appreciate art, particular abstract art, just does not function that well under the influence of jet lag. Instead, I will take the family to a palace, castle, plaza or historical section of the city. The more physical activity involved to see the sight the better.


Sunshine will reset your biological clock. Physical activity will help keep you awake and alert during the day time.

Use these Tips as a guide.

Tips for resetting the biological clock :

  • Before you leave home start Adjusting your sleeping time to your destination by 'slowly' changing your bed time (and wake up time) over a number of days. A bed time adjustment of just an hour or two can help when you need to make the big change in your biological clock.
  • If flying from the USA to Europe on an evening flight try to get a nap on the plane. Even a 15 minute nap seems to help with adjusting to the time difference.
  • The day of your trip, on the plane, and at least during the day after your arrival, limit (or eliminate) smoking, alcohol and caffeine. Ok.., if you have arrived in Europe early in the morning, you can have some caffeine. but do not have any caffeine later than 2:00 pm in the new time zone. You might also want to consider avoiding alcohol until you have gotten over your jet lag. Alcohol disrupts the restfulness of sleep. Do drink non-caffeine drinks during your air-flight, do not allow yourself to become dehydrated.
  • As soon as you leave your last American airport, set your watch to the time zone of your destination.
  • On your arrival in Europe, if it is day time, get out in to the sunshine and walk; the more activity to keep you awake the better but the sunshine is the most important thing.
  • If you must nap during the first day, keep it short, best to avoid sleeping until night time.
  • On the 2nd day, do not sleep in! Get out in to the morning sunshine for at least 45 minutes. Combine the 45 minutes with some walking and do some exploring. The key to resetting the biological clock is getting that early morning sunshine.
  • When night does approach, try to keep to your regular nightly routine. If you normally watch a little TV before bed time, do the same at your hotel. Even if you do not understand the language a little TV before bed may be all you need to fall asleep.
  • Finally, the most important thing for getting a good nights sleep is being relaxed. Do not get all stressed out about following these tips. Just get as much activity in as you can during the day and get the sunlight exposure.
The information above comes from my own experience and the input of others, including input from the book to the right.  


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This page last updated February 2008