Are you or your team going on a mission trip to the other side of the world this year? I'm so excited for you, and I hope you're as prepared as you can be when the time comes! May God use you on your trip to bring others to know Him! In addition to the cultural, language, and practical training you may receive before you leave, I also want to help you do jet lag in a way that helps you be in the moment as much as you can!
As someone who has done the 36-hour travel process of flying between North America and Asia fourteen times in the past eleven years (plus countless considerably shorter plane trips), I like to consider myself a tiny bit of an expert on the topic. I have been slowly tweaking my travel process since the beginning, to the point that in my last trip across twelve time zones, I hardly felt the effects of jet lag at all! Since I'd love for you to not need eleven years to figure it out, I want to share with you what I did!
Click here to download the free information sheet on our Travel Journal, a perfect organizer and keepsake for your team's short-term mission trip!
To start out, it's worth mentioning that when you travel between North America and Asia, most people experience very noticeable jet lag pretty heavily for about the first three days, and then it gets gradually better. The general rule is that the human body needs one day to adjust per hour different from the time zone you started from. So it can take about twelve days to adjust fully.
In the beginning, my jet lag generally made me wake up in my new time zone very early for the first few mornings, and then I found it very difficult to stay awake until evening. On the first full day or two, there was always a point around 3 PM where I had to force myself to stay awake, but only had enough energy to sit and stare at a wall for about an hour and a half before getting a second wind. Really, getting over jet lag is normally an unpleasant experience. It can be very disruptive when you are going through initial on-boarding training, or need to start your mission responsibilities right away. Cue the solution I developed!
Now, I'm not a doctor, so maybe some of the things I talk about below aren't the healthiest way to do things. Please take my advice at your own risk, but these steps have been very successful for me! Here they are!
I used our Travel Journal on my latest trip to help me follow the jet lag steps below, keep track of my responsibilities, and journal about what happened. I taped in photos and other mementos, too! To look into a Travel Journal for your team, click here!
It starts two days before your plane leaves. I normally go to bed a bit before midnight, but for the days leading up to the trip, I adjust my bedtime four hours earlier every day. To help me do this, I sleep with a blindfold on and earplugs in, and I take two Benadryl and a melatonin when I lay down (both are over-the-counter, non-addictive sleeping pills, and melatonin is a chemical your body makes when it starts winding down). This adjustment and drug-taking doesn't lead to the most restful sleep ever, but it does help my body realize something is happening. For the two days leading up to my trip, I go to sleep at 8 PM the first day, then 4 PM the second. I aim to sleep for eight hours, but a little more or less than that can also be okay. Food is one aspect of my jet lag strategy, but it doesn't matter too much before your travel actually begins.
When you fly between North America and Asia, plane itineraries usually include one shorter flight (~3 hours), one very long flight (~13 hours), and one shorter flight (~5 hours), all done in about 36 hours. The first flight will generally be sometime in the morning in your starting time zone. It's then that I start telling myself what time it is in the country I'm headed to, and making choices by that time zone. In the morning in my starting time zone, it's evening in my destination, so I consider my breakfast to actually be my dinner.
I stay awake on my first shorter flight. When I board the next flight, the 13-hour one, it's usually around midnight in the country I'm headed to, so I eat the meal they serve right after take-off, manually set my phone to the time it is at my destination, and then conk out (again, I take 2 Benadryl and a melatonin and use a blindfold and earplugs). Sometimes the plane is delayed and I don't end up being able to sleep until 4 AM in my target country, but it's fine as long as I end up sleeping for awhile during the beginning of the flight. This sleep is definitely the least restful of all so far, but it's not terrible, and it's very important to the process as a whole.
I aim for 8 hours of sleeping on the plane, though sometimes I just can't get that much. I set my alarm so I know when normal waking hours are in the country I'll be in soon, and I stay awake after that (even though most people on the plane are just starting to sleep then). It's a good idea to get up and walk around at this time to help my body realize it's time to be awake. On the plane, I eat whenever they serve me meals.
This is also where I begin to use caffeine to talk to my body, to tell it when to be awake. I like to bring instant coffee on the longest plane ride so I can make some right when I wake up - otherwise, it's very difficult for me to stay awake. It's nice that they usually have hot water at the service stations on the plane (don't count on them having coffee on-demand, especially if you're flying on an Asian airline).
After the longest flight, I am very close to being in my destination's time zone. Now starts a very important rule to follow for at least five days: Do not sleep before 9 PM! If I do, it will knock me off my transition and I may suffer the consequences of starting the whole unpleasant process over again. Sometimes my trip from the airport to where I'm staying keeps me up past 9 PM, but I just make sure to shower and go straight to sleep when I finally arrive.
During the next few days, I also communicate with my body through food to tell it what time it is. I eat breakfast (and drink a lot of coffee!) at breakfast time, I eat at lunch time (even though my body is telling me it's midnight and I should be sleeping instead of eating), and I eat at dinner time (aka breakfast time in the country I just came from, so my appetite might be pretty small). I also make sure to drink coffee at 3 PM, when jet lag tends to hit the hardest, and at dinner time, to help me stay up until 9.
I keep taking melatonin at night until my body is naturally producing its own melatonin at the right time. As long as it's necessary, I also take Benadryl every night if I can't get to sleep.
And there are my steps to easily overcoming jet lag! Last time, I barely felt the effects of jet lag at all once I woke up in my destination. I was basically already functioning in the time zone by the time I got there because of the process I went through. I was amazed at this result because I was able to begin my responsibilities in a foreign country (in a foreign language, even!) and not be in a fog for the first three days!
I really hope this is helpful to you as you're preparing to go on your trip overseas! May God guide you and bless you, and may He use you to make His Name known! Email me at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments!
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