I’ve always struggled with the effects of jet lag. There’s something about changing time zones that just seems to mess up my head and leaves me feeling groggy. Since my ME diagnosis in 2012 I’ve found that even putting the clocks forward and back each Spring and Autumn is enough to make me feel ill for a few days afterwards. So when we booked a trip to the Caribbean back in April I suspected that I was going to have to come up with a plan to combat the jet lag.
A big part of living with ME is pacing my energy. If I have an event to plan for, big or small, outside of my day-to-day routine, I know that it will take up more energy than I have to spare so it is important to try and store up energy beforehand by resting. Also after the event I know that I am likely to feel ill as a result (which many ME sufferers term ‘payback’). This means I need to plan to minimise activity as much as possible afterwards to give me time to rest and recuperate. As I only have a small amount of energy to spend I need to be disciplined about how much to do in the first place. Often I have to accept that certain events unfortunately are not worth the potential payback.
Anyway in this case there was no way I was turning down a lovely holiday in Antigua! So I was prepared to rest, plan and accept the inevitable payback with the added ‘bonus’ of jet lag thrown in!
My 6 tips for beating Jet Lag:
Try to clear your diary as much as possible after the trip. I know this can be difficult when plunging back into busy day-to-day life, but any chance to cut down or postpone activity in the week following the trip is a chance for more rest and relaxation. I made my diary as clear as possible for two weeks after the holiday. Luckily it didn’t end up taking quite that long to get over the jet lag but I found that this removed any pressure to be functioning normally and gave me more time to rest.
This can be tough! I’ve had to work on acceptance quite a lot since I’ve had ME. Acceptance of something out of your control, like the symptoms of jet lag (or ME), is important. It can completely shift your perspective from stress that these symptoms are happening to you, to something that you’re prepared for which is much easier to tolerate. The symptoms themselves are then less likely to cause you stress, which is great as stress is a huge energy-sapper and is not particularly conducive to feeling better.
3. Let your standards slip!
Sometimes the pressure we put upon ourselves is greater than that put onto us by others. This is the ideal time to give yourself permission to slack off a bit after your trip! For me this meant allowing myself to be disorganised with the unpacking, post-holiday laundry and housework for a couple of weeks and just get away with the bare minimum. Normally living in a slightly disorganised or messy state would be something I find quite stressful. For me it was important to accept this temporary state rather than being stressed by it.
4. Set an early wake up time
This is relative obviously! The problem with jet lag is that your body is confused about when it should be asleep or awake. Trying to get back into a good sleeping routine where your body knows when to sleep and wake is crucial. One of the most popular techniques to do this is to set your alarm clock half an hour earlier than your normal time. The thinking behind this is that after a couple of days of getting up a little earlier, you feel more tired than usual and become sleepy earlier in the evening; making it easier to go to bed and fall asleep earlier. I adapted this a little as I found I was really struggling to wake up in the morning so I didn’t bother trying to get up any earlier than normal, more to try sticking to my usual waking time and get my confused body back into a routine.
5. Sunlight in the morning
A great way to tell your body that “this is morning” is to be in the sunlight. Light and darkness have a big impact on our circadian rhythms and are the natural way of letting your body know when it should be asleep or awake. The sooner you can be outside in the natural sunlight after waking, the sooner the message that it’s daytime will be reinforced. This helps your body get obvious signals about when to be awake and asleep. I planned on having a short walk around the block first thing in the mornings but felt so rubbish that most mornings I only just managed to take my morning cup of tea outside and sit in the garden, but I did my best to get some sunlight!
6. Darkness in the evening
The flip side of sunlight in the morning is to allow the brain to register darkness before bedtime. This signals to the brain and body that it is time to go to sleep. For a couple of hours before bed it is best to avoid bright lighting, and backlit screens like computers, smart phones, tablets etc. I have to admit I’m not so good at this and often end up looking at my phone in bed (must try harder!). As it turned out I didn’t need to put much effort into this at all as my main problem seemed to be how to keep my eyes open until bedtime.
When all else fails…
Looking through the holiday snaps doesn’t fail to brighten my mood! Oh, that view! Antigua’s beaches were like stepping into paradise. I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to visit this beautiful place 🙂
This plan is just what I came up with to help me get through the jet lag and it seemed to work for me. How about you? I would be interested to hear other tips and tricks that have worked for you. Please let me know in the comments below.