Jet lag – the phenomenon of coming out of sync when you travel across time zones – is an inevitable part of long haul travel. The fact of the matter is that it cannot be avoided, so here are a few tips to help you cope, before and after your arrival.
We’ve all been there: fresh off the plane, tossing and turning in a soft hotel room bed, feeling exhausted but unable to sleep, anxious about disrupting the next day’s plans. Welcome jet lag, the dreaded adversary of every globetrotter and business traveller.
Research shows that jet lag affects most of us when we travel across at least two time zones, causing our internal clocks to go out of sync. Our core bodily functions, including appetite and sleep, are motivated by what is known as the ‘circadian rhythm’ or internal clock. The human body isn’t used to the quick changes to these natural patterns when we traverse time zones by plane. As a result, our circadian rhythm gets disrupted because our bodies aren’t fast enough to adjust to the sudden change.
If you’re experiencing jet lag, you’re likely to have all, or a combination of, the following symptoms:
- Trouble falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning
- Overall fatigue and struggling to remain awake and alert during the day
- Forgetfulness and a hard time maintaining focus
- Reduced quality of sleep
- Changes to appetite and digestion
- Low-level anxiety
Luckily for us, this phenomenon is relatively short-lived. After a brief period of adjustment, our body adapts to its new time zone and we can carry on as normal. The aim is to get yourself into a new routine as soon as possible and reduce the symptoms of jet lag. Here’s a useful, step-by-step guide to beating the jet lag and getting yourself back up and running.
PREPARING TO TRAVEL
What you do before you set off is important. Being prepared can help offset a lot of the later symptoms and help you adjust better to the time zone where you’re going.
- Make incremental changes to your current sleeping pattern to match the time zone in your destination, by approximately fifteen minutes a day. You can try apps like Timeshifter to help you adjust.
- Try to stick to a healthy sleep routine before you travel to lower the risk of starting off already sleep deprived. This will make things easier once you’re on the other side.
- If you can, arrive a day or two early, to give your body time to adapt.
DURING THE FLIGHT
Long haul flights can be tough going on the body, so it’s important that you make this part of the trip as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
- Make sure you’re booking the correct flight times to help reduce the impact of jet lag. Mainly, avoid red-eye flights at all costs. That’s where having a trusted travel partner like Hans Travel really helps – we’ll be able to advise on the ideal itinerary and book you onto the best flights for your destination.
- Try to adapt to the routine you’ll be following in your new destination during the flight. That is, if it’s night where you’re going, avoid eating too late and try to get some sleep. Do the reverse for the morning.
- Avoid consuming too much caffeine or alcohol during the flight – these can disturb your sleep patterns. Instead, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- When it comes to sleep, don’t be shy to use an eye mask, ear plugs and other items of comfort, such as clothes and blankets, to help you get into the zone and have the best quality sleep possible.
- Essential oils, such as lavender and chamomile help to provide a calming environment.
- If you’re not sleeping, keep active by stretching and regularly walking around the cabin. Now’s the time to practise some of those comforting yoga stretches.
ONCE YOU GET THERE
You’ve got through the flight, you’ve arrived – now it’s time to focus on adjusting to your new schedule as quickly as possible to reduce the impact of jet lag on your time away.
- When you arrive, resist the urge to take a nap if it’s daytime at your destination. Sleeping at the wrong time will only upset your sleep patterns further. At most, allow yourself a quick nap of no longer than one hour.
- Drink lots of water. Long-distance travel may cause dehydration, which will only make the feeling of sleepiness worse.
- Proper hydration will help you manage any jet lag symptoms.
- Our brains produce the hormone melatonin as a response to darkness. It is fundamental to our sleeping and waking patterns. Top up your melatonin supply by going outside into the daylight. Sunlight is a key cue in our circadian rhythm, so natural light will help you reset your internal clock. You could also take a melatonin supplement before you sleep.
- Take a break from screens. Exposure to blue light from phone and TV screens can disrupt sleep patterns as it affects when our bodies create melatonin.
- Take the time to create a comfortable environment that will optimise your chances of getting a good night’s sleep: close the curtains, wear comfortable clothing and use white noise to drown out any disturbances. A hot bath or shower with some essential oils before sleeping can help calm and relax the body.
And finally, be kind to yourself. Jet lag affects everyone to a greater or lesser degree. Accepting it as part of long-haul travel and making space for yourself to recover will reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with it and allow you to focus on having a good trip away. Remember: this, too, will pass.
The information in this blog post is solely for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice; readers are advised to consult their doctor regarding their medical health or before considering any new medication or supplements.