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Around the World in 24 Time Zones

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You're on a plane headed for a very important business meeting that will take place first thing the next morning, and you know you have to be clear-headed and wide awake. Then it happens: You experience that dreaded "I can't sleep" moment, which stretches to hours! You would pay or do anything to get some desperately needed shut-eye.

As science and travel continue to evolve, our understanding of what contributes to sleep problems associated with flying evolves as well.

Most issues will be associated with the length of one's flight or with a difference in climate, culture or diet. However, the world has 24 time zones, and how many you cross — and in what direction — can matter when it comes to getting a good night's sleep.

When flying north or south within the same time zone, people experience the fewest problems, because the time of day remains the same.

Flying east seems to be the most problematic, because you "lose" time. International flights of eight hours can easily throw off sleep, bathroom schedules and other daily routines. A general rule of thumb when flying east is to only travel one to two time zones a day, to allow for easier adjustment.

Flying west, you "gain" time and your body can usually adjust more readily, but there still will be changes to your rhythmic schedule.

Regardless of which direction you fly, three seems to be the magic number of time zones to cross before your ability to sleep is more likely affected.

Do's and don'ts
Here are a few of the best tips for ensuring that you sleep like a baby, you wake up refreshed, and your body stays in sync with night and day activities.

Do: Stay in shape. This is definitely part of a pre- and post-travel regimen. Everything your mother told you about exercise is true.

Do: Adjust your schedule before you leave. If traveling east, try sleeping and waking up earlier, and make an effort to get out into the early-morning sun. If traveling west, try to get at least an hour's worth of sunlight as soon as possible after reaching your destination.

Don't: Drink alcohol the day before, the day of, or the day after your flight. It can cause dehydration, disrupt sleeping schedules, and trigger nausea and general discomfort.

Don't: Consume dehydrating caffeine — whether it is coffee or any other caffeinated beverage — before, during or just after the flight. It can disrupt sleeping schedules and heighten anxiety.

Do: Hydrate. Drink plenty of water, especially during the flight, to counteract the effects of the dry atmosphere inside the plane.

Do: Get up and move around on the plane, and move in your seat. Exercise your legs and arms in all directions at regular intervals. Walk around at least every two or three hours.

Don't: Take sleeping pills or nap for more than an hour at a time. Remaining active revitalizes and refreshes you, wards off stiffness, and promotes mental and physical awareness.

Do: Break up longer trips. Layovers help you acclimatize faster.

Don't: Choose style over comfort. Wear loose, comfortable clothes that are destination-appropriate and will accommodate any swelling without chafing (peripheral edema, or swelling of the legs and feet, is a common occurrence during long flights).

Do: Adapt to the local schedule. Especially if arriving during the day. Sunlight is your hypothalamus's cue to inhibit melatonin production during the day. Do not put on sunglasses initially, so you can allow your eyes to adjust.

Do: Remember that laughter is the best medicine. It makes passing the time more pleasant and releases all the endorphins you'll want to feel your best at that meeting!