Many single Baby Boomers crave new experiences. Travel can offer excitement and intellectual stimulation so they don’t lose their edge. Why do we need to keep our edge, the qualities or skills that made us successful in the past, you may ask? Well, we’re on our own most of the time so we have to rely on our wits both at home and when we’re out of our hood. Part of not losing your edge is remaining alert at all times. Navigating in a new place where they speak your language can even be difficult sometimes, but in a foreign country, it can be tricky. You don’t want to wander into the bad part of town and become a victim of a pickpocket or mugger. I can read a map on the ground or in the air but when I’m at the controls of a car or plane it’s easier to have a navigator. If you don’t have the human kind then a GPS is a lifesaver. Suffice to say, it’s easier to make mistakes when you’re on your own or jet lagged.
When I was younger, I never traveled more than 2 time zones away from home. As I was able to take more time off, the world became my oyster. Not just the time zones crossed makes you tired, but age can make it harder to adjust to the time of day at your destination. If you’re taking a trip overseas, you often depart at night and arrive in the morning. If you have to make connections, you may need to start in the morning on the day of your departure. The last time I went overseas I was up 40 hours because I couldn’t sleep on the plane. I got up at 3 am and made 3 connections. By the time I got home I was happy that my friends met me because I could’ve been a threat to myself and other drivers.
In the article “How to Cope With Jet Lag”, at http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/jet-lag-remedies#1, Camille Peri tells us “Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder, but not temporary enough for many travelers . . . If you’re an older adult, jet lag may hit you harder and recovery may take longer.” If you’re flying from L.A. to Rome for a 10-day trip, it could take 6 to 9 days to fully recover. It can take up to a day for each time zone crossed for your body to adjust to the local time. On the return trip jet lag could last four to five days – around half the number of time zones crossed since jet lag is generally worse when you “lose time” traveling west to east.
Rapid travel throws off our circadian rhythm, the biological clock that helps control our wake and sleep cycles. “Cues such as light exposure, mealtimes, social engagement, and activities regulate our circadian rhythm,” says Allison T. Siebern, Ph.D. a fellow in the Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center. “When you cross time zones, it disrupts those, and your internal clock and the external time are desynchronized. Your body needs to get on the rhythm of the new time zone.” There are other aspects of air travel that can aggravate the problem. A 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that air cabins pressurized to 8,000 feet lower oxygen in the blood, making you feel uncomfortable and dehydrated. Also, people don’t move or walk as much as on an airplane. “These can increase symptoms of jet lag and further disrupt your circadian rhythm from re-synchronizing,” says Siebern.
These are the symptoms of jet lag.
- disturbed sleep pattern
- loss of appetite
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling disorientated
- memory problems
- lack of energy
- muscle soreness
- irregular periods in women who travel frequently
- generally feeling unwell
So what can the single Baby Boomer traveler do to combat the onslaught of jet lag and be able to enjoy their trip as soon as possible?
- Simulate your new schedule before you leave – “When traveling east, start moving your bedtime earlier,” says Avelino Verceles, MD, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the school’s sleep medicine fellowship. “Shift it a half-hour earlier each night for several nights before you leave.” When traveling west, do the opposite. Also, try moving your mealtimes closer to when you’ll be taking them at your destination.
- Adapt to your new schedule while in flight – Change your watch to the time at your destination when you get on the plane. “This is mostly psychological,” says Siebern, “but it helps you get into the mind-set of what you’ll be doing in the place where you’re going.” Try to sleep on the plane if it’s night where you’re going or stay awake if it’s daytime. “It can be difficult to force yourself to sleep and that can cause frustration, which can then prevent sleep,” says Siebern. “If that happens, just try to rest as much as possible.”
- Eat sensibly – Don’t eat a high carb or fatty diet close to bedtime because that can be disruptive to sleep.
- Stay hydrated – Drink water before, during and after your flight. Avoid alcohol or caffeine altogether or a few hours before you plan to sleep as they can disrupt sleep and cause dehydration.
- Move around – Walk around when possible, do some static exercises, and stretch. After you land, avoid heavy exercise near bedtime as it can delay sleep.
- Use sleep aids – See the ones I discussed in a previous blog at https://singleboomerlife.com/single-baby-boomers-need-their-zzzzs/ such as blue light blocking glasses, silicone earplugs, lavender, and melatonin. You might also try noise canceling headphones, an eye mask, slippers, loose fitting clothes, a travel pillow, and a coat or wrap to use as a blanket. The ones the airlines give you aren’t always cleaned. Book the seat that works best for you for sleeping and allows you to move around in flight.
- Arrive early – If you need to be at top of your game for an event at your destination try to arrive a few days early, so your mind and body can adjust.
- Try natural light therapy – Upon arrival at your destination remember that exposure to sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythms. On westward flights, get bright morning light and avoid afternoon and evening light exposure. On eastward flights, avoid early morning light and walk in the sunlight in the afternoon and early evening. Light helps shift your body’s circadian clock so that you feel rested and wake at appropriate times at your destination.
- Exercise – Take a walk and enjoy the new scenery or hit the gym to get more energy for your day and to limber up those travel weary muscles. You can also bring along a stretchy band for resistance training. Pack a tennis ball or other small self-massage tools for myofascial pain. See suggestions for these at https://www.painscience.com/articles/tennis-ball.php. You can roll away your travel pains while lying on the floor watching TV or listening to music. They work best on your back and hips, but your feet and hands can also benefit from a quick massage.
- Take a hot bath before bedtime – It can ease sore muscles from travel and help you relax. The drop in your body temperature when you get out of a bath can also make you sleepy.
Jet lag is often a temporary problem, but if these strategies don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe or suggest temporary medication to help you sleep or stay alert, if necessary. If you fly often and jet lag is a problem, consider seeing a sleep specialist. See http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/jet-lag-remedies#1for and http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Jet-lag/Pages/Introduction.aspx for more information.
Single Baby Boomers, don’t let fear of jet lag keep you from taking the journeys you’ve been waiting to experience. You’ve worked too long and too hard to have the time and money to be able to check your dream destinations off of your travel bucket list. You’ll have to power through for a few days, but in the end, you’ll recover and regain your usual energy. I snorkeled the Outer Great Barrier Reef with jet lag and it was one the most fantastic experiences of my life. I was so mellow that when a fellow traveler told me that a shark swam right by me, I was thrilled and continued to swim until the horn sounded signaling that I had to get out to catch the boat back to Cairns.
You can sleep when you get home, so if you work plan to return at least a couple of days before you have to be back on the job. Don’t get off a plane and go to work. You may fall asleep at your desk like I did when I was much younger. Those red eye champagne flights that Northwest Airlines had back in the 70s were too much of a good thing.
Continue the adventure!