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My transition from proprietary programmer to open-source programmer definitely increased my travel. And with travel comes jet lag. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid jet lag, a few of which are discussed below.

When devising algorithms for parallel hardware, understanding the capabilities of the underlying hardware and software is critically important. When devising ways of avoiding jet lag, understanding how your body and mind react to time shifts is no less important. Although people are not computers, and thus do vary, most people can shift one timezone east or two timezones west per day without ill effects (and perhaps you have noticed that it is easier to go to bed late than it is to get up early). Your body and mind will no doubt vary somewhat from the norm, so you will need to experiment a bit to learn your own personal limits.

The typical limit of one timezone per day east and two timezones per day west means that the most difficult trip is eight timezones east, for example, from Oregon to England. Regardless of whether you adjust your body eight timezones east or 16 timezones west, you are looking at an eight-day adjustment period. In contrast, the 11.5 timezone summertime westward shift from Oregon to India requires only a six-day adjustment period.

The key insight is that you can often schedule the adjustment period. For example, on my recent trip to Italy, I set my alarm clock 45 minutes earlier each day for the week prior to the workshop. This meant that on the day of my departure, I woke up at midnight Pacific time. This is 9AM Italy time, which left me only a timezone or two to adjust upon arrival. Which was important, because I had to give a 90-minute talk at 9AM the following morning, Italy time. This pre-adjusting period meant also that on the night before my departure, I went to bed at about 5PM Pacific time.

This pre-adjusting approach clearly requires the cooperation of your family and co-workers. Most of my meetings are early in the morning, which makes eastward adjustments easier on my co-workers than westward adjustments. On the other hand, fully adjusting the roughly eight timezones westward to (say) China requires only four days, two of which might be weekend days. That said, there will be times when you simply cannot pre-adjust, and on those times, you must take the brunt of a sudden large time change. More on this later.

Especially when pre-adjusting eastwards, I feel like I am inflicting mild jet lag on myself. Exercising when I first get up does help, and the nearby 24-hour-per-day gym is an important part of my eastwards pre-adjustment regimen. Shifting mealtimes can be difficult given the expectations of families and co-worker, but in my experience is of secondary importance.

As I get older, it is getting easier to go to bed early, but sleeping earlier than normal on an airplane is still quite challenging. In contrast, getting to sleep two hours later than normal (when travelling westwards) works quite well, even on an airplane. Some swear by various sovereign sleeping aids ranging from alcohol to melatonin, but when travelling eastwards I often simply stay awake for the whole trip, in effect skipping one night's sleep. This approach will likely become untenable at some point, but it currently has the good side-effect of allowing me to get to sleep easily in the evening local time when I do arrive.

But what if you cannot pre-adjust? It is possible to tough it out, especially with the help of caffeine. However, keep in mind that the half-life of caffeinne in your body is about five hours (your mileage may vary), so unless if you are already a heavy caffeine user, taking it late in the afternoon can be counterproductive. I am quite sensitive to caffeine, and normally must avoid taking any after about 9AM—as little as an ounce of chocolate in the afternoon will disrupt the following night's sleep.

The most difficult time will be that corresponding to about 3:30AM in your original timezone. For example, if I were to travel from Oregon nine timezones east to Europe, I would be very sleepy at about half past noon, Europe time. It can be very helpful to walk outside in full daylight during that time.

All that said, everyone reacts to time changes a little differently, so you will likely need to experiment a bit to arrive at the approach best suited to your body and mind. But an approach informed by your own personal time-change limitations can be considerably more comfortable than toughing out a large time change!


Jul. 30th, 2012 07:27 am (UTC)
Jet lag and eating
It is well known that the body's sleeping rhythm is also affected by eating.

One theory says that if you skip the last meal in your old timezone that would occur in the nighttime of the new timezone AND let your first meal in the new timezone be breakfast, this will reset the brain's clock so that you'll wake up somewhat in time for your "first meal".

The benefit is of course that you only need one night to adjust to the new timezone.

I've only had the opportunity to try this once, but then it actually worked. Maybe worth giving a try?

See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7414437.stm or http://www.livescience.com/2562-beat-jet-lag-eat.html
Jul. 30th, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Jet lag and eating
Good point on the recent research on starvation and body clocks! I did not try that last time, because giving a 90-minute speech to a high-powered audience on a full stomach and with low blood sugar did not seem like a strategy for success, but it might work well in other situations. The article that you posted says that a 16-hour fast is sufficient, but what were the details of your attempt? How many timezones in which direction, what was your plane schedule, how long did you fast, and what activities were you engaging in on the plane, on the ground before sleeping, and on the day following your arrival?