Saturday, October 18, 2008

Flight Schedules and Jet Lag

In less than a week I am flying from San Francisco to London via Paris, spending a week or so giving talks, then coming home. So naturally, I've been thinking about jet lag and how to deal with it.

My fight arrives in Paris at about 2 A.M. California time, which is the time my body will still be on. If I'm very lucky I might get to sleep by 11 P.M., which is quite early for me, and get a couple of hours of sleep before they wake us up for breakfast and landing. More likely it will be one hour or less.

Suppose the flight left about seven hours later. The people who are paying my expenses generously bought me a business class ticket, which means almost fully reclining seats, so with luck I could get about eight hours sleep. But I would then arrive in Paris, rested, at about 6P.M. Paris time. My chance of getting to sleep at anything close to an appropriate time that night would be close to zero, with the result that it would take me several more days to adjust my sleep schedule to my new location.

I conjecture that the optimal schedule, for me, would be somewhere between those two. Leaving about three hours later than my current timing would give me about four hours sleep and get me to Paris, short of sleep but functional, at about 2P.M. With reasonable luck I could get to sleep not much after midnight and be functioning on something close to Paris (actually London) time the next day.

Does that look right to other people? If so, would it make sense for airlines to arrange their schedules accordingly? They know that essentially everyone flying from San Francisco to Paris is going to be facing a jet lag problem, so why not adjust their schedules to deal with it as best they can?


Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

I suppose the airlines already have some idea of what are the most popular times for a flight. I don't know whether they research the most popular times for each individual route; maybe they do, maybe they don't. If they schedule a flight for an inconvenient time, it's probably because of other considerations that are more important to them.

Your ideas may be of more interest to passengers wondering how to choose the best flight. If they have a choice.

Andy said...

Have you ever tried melatonin tablets?

The first few times I visited the US, it would take me about a week to recover from jet lag on my return. Recently I've tried melatonin and the jet lag only lasts a day or so. I've no idea if it's really the melatonin that's working, but it might be worth a try.

You'd need to buy the melatonin in the US though. I think it's only available on prescription in Britain.

Arnaud M. said...

To avoid jet lag going from the states to Europe, I usually make sure I do not sleep until the appropriate time on the day of arrival, even if that means being extremely tired that day. I also try to get as much sleep as possible in the plane, but it is not as much of an issue for me as usually sleep early. The most important thing to do is to avoid oversleeping in the few days following the arrival.

Anonymous said...

This is purely empirical, I don't know what the research is on that matter but I discovered there are three components to how I sleepy I am.

a) my sleep cycle (even I didn't sleep at all for 24 hours straight, I feel a strong cyclical component, the period is clearly greater than 24 hours which means I will be sleepy in the morning and not sleepy in the evening. Left to myself, I will continuously drift, waking up later, going to bed later.

b) the dephasing between my sleep cycle and the sun cycle. If I try free running sleep, I drift because of a), but it stabilizes when I wake up at 2pm, because I am missing too much daylight.

c) the accumulated lack of sleep

I think you are trying to solve jetlag, which is essentially caused by b) by tweaking a). I believe this isn't possible.

I'm under the impression that Jet lag doesn't make you tired because you have to readjust your sleep cycle to the local customs, it makes you tired because you're getting out of phase with the daylight cycle.

Richard said...

I read that the ban Metallica, on their two year world tour in the early 1990s got around jet lag by basically ignoring local time and staying on San Francisco time. That meant that when they went on stage at nine or ten in the evening, it was like two in the afternoon for them.

Anonymous said...

Supposedly fasting can prevent jet lag. Haven't tried it though.

Anonymous said...

I think the flight schedules are the best they can do given that the plane has to turnround at the other end and come back again at a good time for the people going that way.

Flights to India only seem to worry about leaving Europe at a convenient time, they all arrive in India at 1am and 2am, and the flights back again leave at 4am or so. But I think they connect well with flights coming from further east, like Singapore.

David said...

I know your essay was about why the flights are scheduled as they are, about which I have no clue.

But nobody so far has mentioned the Jet Lag Diet:

which I've used successfully for both cross-country flights and for flights to Europe and Australia.

It's a wacky scheme, but I swear by it.

Margarita Mirasol said...

A lost cause.
I only hope you're not flying any US-owned airlines.

Margarita Mirasol said...

Stay awake and drink champagne and talk to the person next to you.
Business class is worth staying awake for.
And then pass out once you get to Paris.
Anyway, there's not much of a time difference between The States and Europe.
You should try doing a Tokyo to Cape Town leg.pzgv

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

The author of __How to Stop Time__ wrote that heroin cures jet-lag and jet-lag cures heroin addiction. So, for a round trip this works out well.

Anonymous said...

I've done nicely, going to Europe from East Coast USA, by getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning the last few days before departure, and going to bed very early those day. Pre-adapting. dave.s.