(Per the dictionary on this here laptop)
verb (stupefies, stupefying, stupefied) [ with obj. ]
* Make (someone) unable to think or feel properly
* astonish and shock
That first definition fits me like a glove right now. Here's why:
There are two types of jet lag.
The first (let's call it east-to-west, which is what it is if the journey doesn't cross the international date line) is fairly simple: as you travel east-to-west, each time zone you cross adds an hour to your day. So a flight from the UK to the east coast of the USA, four or five time zones behind the UK, means a 28-29 hour day. This is fairly survivable, as long as it doesn't also involve getting up at 4am to get to the airport (which alas, all too often it does). To survive it, your goal should be to stay awake until your normal bed-time in the destination time zone: caffeine, bright lights, and conversation help. If you accomplish this you will probably wake up on local time, and be fine thereafter (except for some evening tiredness for the next few days: apply caffeine to taste).
The second type of jet lag, west-to-east, is the real killer. (And it's what I've got right now, prompting this brain dump.) Traveling west-to-east, each time zone you traverse subtracts an hour from your day. Or night. And in the case of trans-Atlantic journeys, this is usually combined with a red-eye flight — for example, departing and 8pm and arriving 6-7 hours later, but 10-12 hours later according to the clock in your destination time zone.
The consequence of stacking a red-eye flight on top of a short day is that you either sleep on the flight, or you lose an entire night. As I can't sleep in economy seating and can't afford to routinely fly first or business[*], I generally lose the night. So what happens is something like this:
On Wednesday, I woke up in Boston at 8am, local time (East Coast). That evening, I boarded a flight to Paris: it departed at 7:45pm and landed at 8:15am, 6h30m and five time zones later. As I was traveling economy, I managed to doze for about an hour during the 3h30m stretch between lights-out after dinner and lights-on for breakfast. (Yes, full service airlines still serve meals on trans-Atlantic flights.) I then had a 6h30m transfer period between arrival and boarding for my connecting flight from Paris to Edinburgh (home): just too short to get into Paris and grab lunch then get out again (the train takes an hour each way, and subway time, ticketing, and restaurant-hunting eat into the safety margin). Boarding for the flight home was at 2:50pm; arrival at Edinburgh was 4:30pm (yes, it was an east-to-west flight, gaining a time zone), and I managed to nap for about 30 minutes. So I arrived home at 6pm, GMT, or around 2pm, EST, suffering from serious sleep deprivation: about 90 minutes of nap-time, but no REM sleep, in a 30 hour period. And to make matters worse, trying to stay up until a reasonable local bed-time would stack another 4-5 hours on top of that.
I've developed two techniques for dealing with west-to-east jet lag over the years.
The first method works if you can get home by about 4pm. Simply put: go to bed immediately but set an alarm to wake you after no more than 3 hours. Then get up, and stay up, until 11pm. That's around 3-5 hours. During this time, do nothing more intellectually challenging than running a hot bath. You haven't caught up with your sleep deficit, you've just pushed it back a bit: you are as cognitively impaired as if you are medium-drunk. Now is a good time — if you have the energy — to load your dirty clothes into the washing machine, have a bath, watch something mindless on TV, and catch up on web comics. Don't worry: you won't remember anything tomorrow. Just refrain from answering urgent business email, driving, assembling delicate instruments, or discussing important matters — if you do any of these things, odds are high that you'll get them horribly wrong due to the impairment caused by cumulative sleep deprivation.
Once you hit bedtime, you can go back to bed and sleep like a log. The next day, again, treat it as a sick day: don't try to do anything where the cost of failure is significant. Try to allow as much time after arrival as your total sleep-deprived travel time before you do anything challenging: in this case, around 36 hours.
(NB: I do not classify blogging while jet-lagged as "challenging". Dumb, perhaps, but not difficult.)
If you get home after about 4pm, the afternoon-nap trick probably won't work; you'll get up, wander around like a zombie for an hour or two, go back to bed, and wake up at 5am. So the alternative is to stay up as long as possible and then hit yourself on the head with a rubber mallet or some sort of sleeping potion. In my case, last night I made it just past 9pm: then I took some melatonin and slept for 13 hours. (Alas: Melatonin is available over the counter in the USA, but in many other countries, including the UK, it's either a prescription-only medicine or not legally sold at all.) Again, the next day should be written off as a sick day. Worse: I generally need one day per four time zones to recover — an eight or ten time zone west-to-east trip therefore takes an extra day on top of the regular post-arrival day.
All of which leads up to my biggest complaint about the 21st century so far:
Dude, where's my teleport booth?
Teleport booths wouldn't eliminate jet lag, but you'd never be more than 15 minutes from your own bed, or a bar with bright lights and loud voices to keep you awake. More importantly, you could schedule your long-distance travel for optimum utility. Go home at 4pm EST, arriving 8pm GMT: take a sleeping pill, knock yourself out, and wake up on local time. Or better still, just commute daily, without bothering to accommodate to the local time zone at your destination.
PS: This was going to be a blog entry describing a live action role-playing game to simulate international travel and jet lag for the uninitiated, but I ran out of energy while trying to come up with the rules. Other than this:
"During your in-flight period, tie yourself to your office chair. You are allowed one toilet trip per two hours, lasting no more than 5 minutes. Before each toilet trip, roll 1d6; a roll of 1 indicates Turbulence, roll 2d20 and remain seated for this many more minutes. You may untie your seatbelt if you're feeling brave, but must keep track of your un-tied time, including toilet trips. For every 60 minutes you spend not tied to your chair, roll 1d100. If you roll a 1, the aircraft has encountered Strong Calm-Air Turbulence. Get your best friend to beat you around the head and shoulders with a baseball bat then knock you to the floor and wait 60 minutes before calling an ambulance."
[*] There are some journeys I will only undertake if I can afford business class because otherwise they amount to torture by sleep deprivation and prolonged confinement in an uncomfortable position. Which generally means I don't undertake them at all, or only under extremely unusual circumstances.