Friday, January 23, 2009


Back when I was an English teacher, it was hard to find a word in Bulgarian that is a direct translation of "jet lag", so most people got it if I called it "time zone adaptation sickness". Funny that you can use a word like ''sick'' that is mostly reserved for things that you didn't necessarily inflict on yourself.

Here is a great definition of "jet lag'', right out of the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science

''The feelings of disorientation encountered as a result of crossing time zones are known as jet lag. Symptoms include fatigue and general tiredness, inability to sleep at night, loss of concentration, loss of drive, headaches and general malaise. Jet-lag occurs when biological rhythms are disrupted as a result of rapid transitions across multiple time-zones.''

I always find it amusing that traveling east to west it's much easier to adapt than when I am coming back east. I used to attribute much of it to how dirty my Bulgarian environment always looked and to a mild cultural depression, as well as missing my friends overseas. With time I discovered though, that jet lag is purely physiological and has some pretty consistent symptoms:

Desire to sleep at unusual times, e.g when it's 10 p.m. in California, but only 8 a.m. here. Good excuse to snooze till lunch. Bad idea, since exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways to get over the lag disease.

Blaring headaches: they have a sudden onset and will not leave with adequate hydration, relaxation and meditation. They are very likely to disappear after the prompt swallowing of Advil, Ibuprofen or the much better Bulgarian varieties Aulin and Analgin. The carcinogenic properties of the latter is mostly propaganda.

General feeling of disorientation: this is my favorite side effect, since you can now use the jet lag to explain to your relatives why you look like you need to be left alone and have no desire to talk about the presidential inauguration.

Loss of appetite: not bad if you have nothing you need to have strength for. A great time to lower your calorie intake and up your fluid intake. However, if you need to participate in sports or compete soon after you land, you might want to consider having a few extra protein shakes with some greens.

Some remedies I have found useful:

Plenty of water: shoot for a gallon a day. Mineral water is best. You can also mix it with lemon tea and fresh mint leaves.

Melatonin: anywhere from 1 to 3 mg taken before sleep. This will put you back on sleeping schedule faster than waiting for the 1 day per time zone rule to take effect.

Zinc and Magnesium: similar to Melatonin, they will help you relax into sleep.

Coffee: have a good cup in the morning and one after lunch, to make sure you stay awake all day

Sunlight: it's good to spend a few hours outside, especially if you land in a country where it's available. Even if the sky is cloudy and the weather cold, you might still enjoy some time outside. A short walk in a park or along your local trail might be very enjoyable.

I would love to hear your experiences with jet lag and I will make sure I write what worked for me this time. So far I've been sleeping 12 hours a day, sleeping through the Bulgarian and the California night, reading a lot, drinking a ton of water, and taking some possibly carcinogenic but very effective Bulgarian pain killers.

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