Why I Never Fight Jet Lag — and How I Use It to My Advantage

What if we stopped trying to "cure" jet lag and instead embraced its benefits?

<p>Oscar Wong/Getty Images</p>

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

I am typing this story at 2 a.m. because I am severely jet lagged. As in, I am suffering from a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who quickly travels across several time zones.

As a travel writer, it’s part of the job, and there’s no getting around it. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, in general, there is no cure for it. But that certainly doesn't stop us from trying.

How many articles have been written about tips and tricks to fight this phenomenon?

Avoid caffeine at all costs. Drink an espresso upon arrival. Take a nap. Or just stay awake for 36 hours straight. No matter what, do not eat salt. God forbid you drink wine. Click your feet three times, and pray to the travel gods.

Enough already! Can we finally stop trying to outsmart science and just embrace jet lag?

Before we dig into it, let me acknowledge that jet lag can be the pits. There’s nothing worse than de-boarding a longhaul flight and going straight to the office for a marathon of meetings.

I get it. But what I don’t understand is why the phrase gets such a bad reputation that all positive aspects of jet lag are lost on travelers. It’s a little unfair if you ask me.

Hear me out: Jet lag can be particularly fun on vacation. On a trip to Vietnam over a decade ago, the time change allowed me to stay up until sunrise, drinking beer along the tarp-covered city streets in a rainstorm. On another occasion, severe jet lag was the very reason I was bright-eyed at dawn to witness the vendors at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Outer Market. I can thank jet lag for a handful of core vacation memories.

The more practical side of jet lag can be productivity. Each summer, I spend a month in Europe, and upon my return to New York City, I’m treated to a circadian disturbance that results in a 4 a.m. wake-up time. Nothing makes you feel more like a go-getter than knocking off a six-mile walk in the park, preparing breakfast, and responding to a slew of emails before the rest of the city is out of bed. Or, writing this story! Of course, this also results in an 8 p.m. bedtime that serves as an excuse to not do anything worthwhile after dinner. But let’s be honest, I don’t anyway.

Want to dodge a dreaded social event or even duck out of a party early? Jet lag is a fantastic excuse. Need to work from home? Jet lag! Feel like spending the day in sweatpants? Naturally, you have jet lag.

I sort of love that jet lag does not discriminate. Sure, the person in a lie-flat bed might get more rest, but that doesn’t mean they’ve not discombobulated their sleep schedule in the process. That long nap they experienced under a down comforter? Good luck trying to go to bed at a decent hour on local time. All that free-flowing Champagne? Snooze fest with a side of sugar rush. What I’m saying is, you can’t status yourself out of science.

So the next time you’ve woken up before the sun rises thanks to a pesky bout of jet lag, I urge you to pat yourself on the back, grab a strong cup of coffee, and let your disrupted circadian rhythm work its magic. Even better if you’re wearing sweatpants. 

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