A Thought on Jet Lag

Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?  Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

  • Matthew 8:10-13

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
    if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
you have been trapped by what you said,
    ensnared by the words of your mouth.
So do this, my son, to free yourself,
    since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
    and give your neighbor no rest!
Allow no sleep to your eyes,
    no slumber to your eyelids.
Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
    like a bird from the snare of the fowler.

  • Proverbs 6:1-5

When the idea of writing this popped into my head, I had a good night’s sleep.  Too bad that the good night’s sleep had been stretched over a 72-hour period.  I am having a lot more of those “sleepless” nights with my wife’s latest kidney dialysis schedule and early morning doctor visits.  The one thing that I enjoyed about retirement was that I was rarely awakened by the alarm clock anymore.  Now there may be one day each week to sleep in.  And for some strange reason, I can go to bed at 10:00pm, but I do not go to sleep until after midnight, even with taking melatonin.

So, maybe I was simply thinking of being exhausted.

As for the two Scriptures, Jesus mentions two things that relate to “schedule.”  He was in the temple every day, but this was the hour of darkness.  He meant “darkness” in that evil was at hand, but it was also dark.  My point is that jet lag has very little to do with being tired.

The Scripture from Solomon relates in a way to something Jesus said about not swearing oaths, but Solomon is advising that you work day and night until you get the monkey off your back that your mouth put there, and maybe the hand shake that went with it or the signed contract.  Having read that in the light of this post, I now see that the abuse at the hands of a couple of my employers was “biblical.”  Work 10-16 hours on a tight scheduled project and put eight hours on your timesheet.  Yes, I remember those days well.

But no, jet lag has more to do with your circadian rhythm than it does exhaustion.  This video clip is when Leonard tells Penny about how he first met Sheldon.  Note in the video that when Leonard says that he evacuates his bowels whenever he needs to, Sheldon claims to not rent to Hippies.  Then Leonard says about eight in the morning.  Then Sheldon says that he cannot have eight, but would he take 7:30?  Not everyone has that rigid of a circadian rhythm.

Let us assumed that you are flying from Pittsburgh, PA, USA to Sucre, Bolivia.  It might take you 20 hours to get there, nearly a full day.  But if you arrive at noon in Bolivia, it is noon in Pittsburgh.  You are exhausted, but you do not have “jet lag.”

But let us say that you fly in a different direction.  Let us say that you are flying from Pittsburgh to Mumbai, India.  The flight takes about 20 hours.  You arrive at midnight, but the time will be about 2:30pm in Pittsburgh.  You are exhausted, but your body may have difficulty getting used to the new time.  You go to the hotel and sleep until 7:00am, but your body is saying that you are just then getting ready for bedtime.  The time that you should awaken and, as Sheldon suggests, evacuate your bowels is now 5:00pm.  Your body will crave breakfast soon afterwards. Nice, in that the evening meal about to occur. Horrible in that you body will crave the evening meal at about 2:30am, even though you are probably not hungry.

Jet lag is not merely exhaustion from a long flight, it is getting adjusted to sleeping at a different time, eating at a different time, and having your digestive system cooperate at a different time.  It even affects your muscles, as they want to rest when they had always rested in the past, and here you are walking around and doing work.

I personally feel like I just came down with the flu for a couple of days, just not the running of a fever.  Everyone where I worked for twenty years complained of waking in the middle of the night, on the far side of the world, but then once adjusted to the foreign time zone, back at home once they return.  I only had that on my first trip to China, to Shanghai (after a few trips to other places, like Thailand and India). On that trip, I woke up every day in China at 2:30am.  I have no idea why.  That would correspond to 2:30pm in Pittsburgh during daylight savings and at the time, I never took naps.  Yet, my body triggered some mechanism to tell me that I was supposed to be awake and working.  I may not have noticed that my bathroom schedule had been horribly shifted.  Thus, I was wide awake and could not go back to sleep, every night for about ten days.

They say that it takes one day for every hour of time adjustment, but I think that number stretches out longer as you get older.  I felt horrible for about a month after my last trip to China after I returned, but oddly, I slept well for the entire week in China.  My return trip from that fateful journey became my best day and week reading mystery novels (544 pages read on 15 November 2013, and 1332 pages read that week – both records. I rarely sleep on the plane).  Just the reading should have left me exhausted, but the jet lag was something that I had not adjusted to in China before returning (squeezing the flight there, four hard days at work, and the flight home all in one week).  I think being older, my body resisted the change, leading to a prolonged exhaustion upon my return.

When I lived in Germany, stationed there in the Army for three years, some people went back to the States regularly.  They said that going west was easy.  It was like having a late-night party and then getting a full night’s sleep afterward.  But then, they were only adjusting for 6-8 hours of time change.  On the way back to Europe, heading east, you arrived in the morning, but your body said that it was time to go to bed.  You would look for the night’s sleep that you just lost for a week, even though you may have slept on the plane.

But why bring this up?  When we are exhausted, we make more mistakes.  Some people have studied sleep deprivation and have determined that it is just as dangerous when driving and operating equipment as is alcohol and drug use.  And as Christians, we are not as strong in standing against temptation.  Our decision-making processes are not what they used to be.

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Well said, at least the healthy and wise.  I guess with Franklin’s point and all things being fair, if you remained healthy and wise and well-rested, you could become “wealthy,” but I guess I worked for the wrong bosses in that regard.

But in working for God, even if we do not get paid, we need to remain healthy and wise, avoiding temptation along the way.  Our circadian rhythms need to be maintained.  And when they get out of kilter, we need to recognize what is going on, and not snap with irritation when someone pokes us in the wrong direction.

We can still show love when we have little physical strength – relying on God for that strength.  And that love can be seen as genuine love, even with the hardship of what we might feel internally.  But sometimes, we have to know when we are not at our physical best and make adjustments, avoiding the quick response, mustering up the wisdom, and producing a proper response.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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