I just got back from a quick trip to Manchester (UK) for MANCEPT, where I co-convened an amazing workshop on new approaches and questions in collective action theory (maybe you had to be there!). It was a fantastic experience because I got to spend two and a half days with thirteen other people discussing one another’s work at a level possible only when everyone has expertise in exactly the same area. It’s a rare and wonderful thing.
But leaving for the UK from Toronto at 11 p.m. on Tuesday night and arriving near noon on Wednesday morning with about four hours of terrible sleep and perhaps the worst airplane meal I’ve ever had behind me, with many hours of reading, socializing, and eating ahead of me meant that I just never quite hit my stride.
Almost the whole time I was in Manchester I felt sleep-deprived (because I was) and bloated (because I was). Though I felt intellectually stimulated and socially engaged the entire time, I also felt inactive and sluggish. Our days were packed, with sessions all morning and all afternoon, scheduled breaks, snacks and lunch provided.
I like my own routines and I have a fairly consistent range of foods I eat at home that make me feel good (in that I digest them easily, they energize me, and I find eating them enjoyable). Of course one of the joys of traveling is trying new things, but the conference catering at MANCEPT, though there was plenty of vegan food on hand, was still conference catering. And all four dinners I had while I was there — one banquet dinner, one Indian restaurant, one African restaurant, and one Italian restaurant — disagreed with me.
According to this Washington Post article, jet-lag is worse when you travel west to east:
Studies suggest that you can push your body clock back about two hours per day, meaning that you can adjust from Washington time to Colorado time in a single day, but you can move your body clock forward (as when you travel from California to Washington) only by about an hour to an hour and a half per day, Jain says.
So for Washingtonians flying to see friends or family in California, where it’s three hours earlier, your body clock should be able to adjust in less than two days. But if you’ve got a vacation planned in Paris, where it’s six hours later than here, you’ll likely need three to five days to get in sync.
I was only in Manchester for four nights before it was time to turn around and come home. At no point during my time there did I feel like my normal self, well-rested and energetic.
The article goes on to say that night flights, especially red-eyes, are the worst because they “compound jet lag by heaping sleep deprivation on top of your body clock problems. If you absolutely must take a late-night flight, do what you can to sleep.” I did what I could, but it didn’t help. I was already exhausted by the time I got on the plane. And it was the most uncomfortable seat ever, on the wrong side of the bulkhead so unable to recline much at all, as well as thin on the padding. The thin little airplane blanket did little to protect me from the cold.
We did do a lot of walking while we were there. The sessions were at the University of Manchester, about a 15-20 minute walk from our hotel. I was sharing a room with my friend Violetta, who is training for a half marathon. So on our one free day, we did quite a bit of walking and went for a 14K run along the canal. That left us way too hungry so when we went out for a late dinner at an Italian restaurant near the hotel, we made fast work of the bread and olives. And then we ate some of our mains not because we were still hungry but because we’d ordered them. None of that night’s dinner sat right in my stomach.
I attribute it all to a thrown off routine and horrible jet lag. Now I’m home again, after literally taking a train, a plane, and an automobile on Sunday (travel time: 14 hours including airport lounges), just five days after I left. I don’t remember ever feeling this rough during and after a trip. But unless there are ways of minimizing the impact of crossing time zones, I think my days of the five-day jaunt across the Atlantic are over.
Do you have any strategies or tips for successfully adjusting to a new time zone (when it’s more than a couple of hours of difference)?