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How to manage jet lag

Our new dive travel column begins by tackling a problem that affects many of us

By Fly & Sea 

Well, this is one way to avoid jet lag on your dive trip!. Photo: Russell Clark

We all know that jet lag can be tiresome, but on a scuba diving vacation it can be downright dangerous. Crossing one or more time zones in your quest for the perfect dive is guaranteed to leave you feeling out of sorts, and less than adequately rested upon arrival at your destination. And the further you travel, the stronger the symptoms you’ll have to contend with.

Jet lag, also known as Rapid Time Zone Change Syndrome, affects virtually everyone because it throws our circadian rhythm out of sync. That reliable, internal system that tells us when it’s time to wake, sleep, and eat is easily disrupted; especially when we travel rapidly to a place where waking and sleeping happen at different times than we’re used to. The result is that we end up hungry, sleepy, and wakeful at all the wrong times.

Build in a buffer

While there are ways to help prevent and manage jet lag, experts still recommend not participating in any activity that requires you to be alert, immediately upon your arrival in a different time zone. And that includes donning your gear on the first day of a dive trip. Be smart, and plan your vacation with some built-in recovery time. While jet lag can continue to affect you throughout the duration of your trip, the first 24 hours are generally the most challenging. Simply put, before you dive in, you should consider the grim fact that jet lag may affect your ability to dive safely. 

Modify your bedtime

So what can you do to minimize the effects of jet lag on your next dive vacation? In addition to building some recovery time into your itinerary, consider preparing ahead of time by gradually changing your bedtime at home, to what it will be at your destination. A good rule of thumb is to allow one day for each hour of adjustment you need to make; so if you’re flying somewhere that’s six hours ahead, you’ll need almost a full week to alter your sleep schedule. Try to go to bed an hour earlier each night, and get up an hour earlier every morning. While this isn’t always a realistic option for everyone, do keep in mind that every small adjustment you can make now will help when you finally get where you’re going.

Sleep on the plane

If your scuba diving vacation requires that you fly overnight, sleeping on the plane can help to offset some of the ill effects of jet lag when you land. Snoozing during a flight can be challenging for a lot of people, but you can improve your chances of nodding off by avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and by using earplugs and a blindfold to minimize noise and light. Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally secreted by the brain to help control the body’s circadian rhythm. It’s available over the counter, and you might want to consider asking your pharmacist about the recommended dosage at bedtime, to help promote in-flight sleep.

Once you arrive

When you finally arrive at your dive trip destination, make use of the extra time you’ve allowed yourself to stay active during the daylight hours. Get out for a walk if the weather allows, or take advantage of the hotel pool or gym if it doesn’t. Eat lightly, drink lots of water, and be sure to wait until bedtime in your new location before you give in to sleep. No matter how tempting it may be to sleep at two in the afternoon – you’ll be much better off staying awake until your new bedtime.

Finally, there is no proof that Die Hard’s bare feet jet lag remedy actually works, so keep your shoes on John McClane. Above all, stay safe and dive smart! 

Fly & Sea are the resident DIVER magazine travel experts, you can learn more about them at www.flyandsea.com

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