Jet lag can spoil the start of a holiday, it can ruin business trips and leave the sufferer feeling completely out of sorts.
It might be temporary, but that does not make it any more bearable. For the duration it lasts, jet lag is thoroughly miserable.
Jet lag is also a medical condition with the name desynchronosis. We’ll use jet lag in this post, not least because of ease of spelling, but the fact it has a medical name shows that it is a very real problem causing very real problems.
In this page, we will provide a few tips to help you avoid, or at least limit the impact of jet lag. First, though, a quick focus on what jet lag actually is and why it occurs – feel free to skip this bit if you want to get straight to the remedies.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is the result fo your body clock being out of sync – this could happen in other ways, staying up and working through the night and playing fast and loose with sleep patterns could lead to an onset, but the easiest way to achieve jet lag is to spend hours in a plane, travelling across time zones.
Essentially, your body thinks it is in one time zone or part of the day whereas in reality it is in another. Clearly, the greater the difference, the greater the problem – the key challenges being when you land in the morning and your body thinks it is nighttime and time for bed or vice versa, landing at night and feeling wide awake and ready to go and take on the sleepy world.
Jet lag is confusion, the question therefore is how to tackle this – what can be done before you fly, how can you help alleviate the symptoms during the flight itself and what are the best steps to take on landing?
Let’s have a look.
Tips to beat jet lag
- Plan to arrive in the morning.
As with so many conditions, prevention is better than cure. This tip won’t completely remove jet lag but it does lead to a clearer method for getting back on track.
If you arrive in the morning, you can then stay up, get through the day and then go to bed at a normal time and get your body back on track. In fact, throughout the day, your body clock will have been realigning itself as it adjusts to there being sunlight and the rhythms of a busy day.
Other steps are needed too, else this one tip might lead to a miserable day in which you feel continually tired. However, the opposite, landing at night and feeling wide awake is more problematic. That way round, you have to try to get to sleep even though you might not feel at all tired. You might lie in bed, getting next to no sleep, and then feel awful for the following day. The time your body needs to reset itself is extended.
2) Rest up before the trip.
This doesn’t have to be excessive, but being well rested when you get on he plane is advantageous.
When you arrive, you will need to combat some symptoms of jet lag and this is far easier if you weren’t already overtired when you got on the plane. For instance, if you land in the morning but your body clock feels that it is still nighttime, ploughing through the day will be a lot easier if you haven’t been skipping over sleep for the preceding days.
3) Make reasonable time adjustments before flying.
A final point for the pre-flight routine is to make small adjustments to help get in tune with the timezone you will be flying to. For instance, if you are flying from Heathrow to Singapore, you might leave in the morning and then arrive even earlier in the morning local time feeling pretty awful.
To help get somewhat in tune with local time before leaving, you could go to bed early and also rise early for a couple of days. Singapore is eight hours ahead of the UK, that’s too big a gap to bridge unless you can go to bed at 3pm for a day or two. However, going to bed at 8.30pm might be possible and then rising at 4 or 5am just to start the adjustment.
4) Drink lots of water.
There’s no need to write much about this one. Drink lots of water during the flight, staying hydrated helps combat jet lag and is also important to general health. Ideally, stay off the caffeine, but, regardless, drink plenty of water.
5) Do you really want the in-flight meals?
Flying can be boring and so the in-flight meals or meals are welcomed, often in part just to tackle the monotony.
The problem with them is that the food is often packed full of slow energy releasing carbs and also oils, irrespective of jet lag, it is food that would probably leave you feeling a bit ill if eaten regularly in any setting.
Some flyers chose to never have the in-flight meals, instead eating at the appropriate times on landing. For instance, if you land and its morning, you can then have a hearty breakfast, a coffee or two and help in the process of making the recalibration. We are hungry why we wake and have breakfast, if, instead, you land at 5.30am having recently eaten lasagne you’re not helping your body.
6) A short, sharp shock.
If you land in the morning, making a shower one of your first actions can kick start the morning routine – make it a cold shower though! The shock of a cold shower can be akin to the feeling the body has on waking, it kicks our systems into life and sends a message that the day is starting and it is time to get going.
If landing at night, a more relaxing bath can work equally well especially if combined with a cool room, the combination of warm bath (and bubbles if you want) and then a cooler room, perhaps getting into your PJs creates a relaxed, sleepy feeling.
In both cases, you are helping your body adjust to the time difference rather than simply trying to force it to accept the time zone through brute force, ie, I will go to sleep now, even though I’m not at all tired.
7) careful use of screen time
If you’re going to sit on a plane for a lengthy period there’s always going to be a huge temptation to watch films or play with your phone, tablet or laptop.
In some instances this is fine, it might even be a strategy if you are landing in the morning and so want to feel as awake as possible on landing. if, though, you are landing towards nighttime and are then going to aim to sleep, you will not be helped by staring at your screen right up until landing.
The advice is the same as for going to sleep normally, we all know the advice to not look at screens for a period before bed and to avoid playing games on your phone as you lie in bed. The same applies on a flight if you are looking to sleep soon after landing.
8) Plan your schedule
If you’re flying long haul for work and jet lag is likely then this needs to be factored into your schedule if possible,
Flying business class and so having the ability to sleep comfortably at appropriate times is of course one option – hence the name business class. Alternatively, and perhaps more economically, the schedule should be managed so that the day after landing is simply for recovery.
If you land in the morning having failed to sleep for the best part of a day, you’re not going to be at your sharpest for that key strategy meeting planned for 2pm local time.
9) Consider using Melatonin
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone and one that many swear by in the battle to avoid jet lag. For many, all the other steps will only have a limited impact, it is melatonin that really tackles jet lag.
The effectiveness of melatonin is highlighted by the fact that a 2002 Cochrane Review found it to be effective against jet lag – this being the highest standard of scientific testing.
Countering that are two issues – there is a need to know what you;’re doing, taking melatonin at the wrong time could push your body clock further out of sync. Secondly, unlike in the United States and elsewhere, melatonin is not available over the counter in the UK.
A conversation with your GP awaits…
Let us know your tips for beating jet lag in the comments below.
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