Whether you are travelling long-haul for business, on an exotic holiday or back home to see family, you have probably already suffered from a case of time zone tiredness. If you are flying halfway across the world, you probably don’t want to waste any time when you arrive at your destination. To make the most of your trip, discover everything that you need to know about jetlag and how to fight its effects.
What is jet lag, what causes it and how does it affect us?
To be able to prevent and overcome jetlag, it helps to understand exactly what is happening with our bodies. We are naturally programmed to do things such as eating and sleeping in a 24-hour day. This physiological process is known as circadian rhythm, and as we are jumping between time zones, our internal body clocks are disrupted. Jet lag is a series of symptoms that we experience when this natural mechanism in our bodies becomes imbalanced. The effects of jet lag vary from one person to another, but the main symptoms can include:
- Disturbed sleep cycle and lack of sleep
- Lack of focus
- Disrupted digestive cycle
Some persons may be more sensitive to jet lag than others and will experience more intense symptoms, but to recover more easily from the time difference, there are many ways to counter the effects of jet lag.
How to beat jet lag – Our tips
- Be well-rested before travelling
Long-haul flights can sometimes be stressful. There are many things to worry about and it is easy for travelling to get a little frantic at times. However, getting a good night's sleep before your flight will allow you to better cope with jet lag. Maybe you haven't had time to pack, or your pre-vacation excitement is keeping you awake – it is easy to tell yourself the night before travelling, that you can sleep on the plane. But depending on the time of your arrival, it might not always be wise to sleep during the flight as your body will eventually need to rest come local bedtime. If you are well-rested before travelling, it will be easier to resist the temptation of some shut-eye time during your flight. Always pack ahead of time and organize your trip in advance to avoid doing anything at the last minute: you will feel less-stressed and will be able to have a better-quality sleep before your flight, which will surely make a difference once you arrive at your destination.
- Use the flight to adjust to local time, sleep or rest
Once you are through check-in, security and finally arrived at your boarding gate, it is time to turn all your clocks to the time of your destination. This simple thing will get you psychologically aligned and help you decide whether it is time to rest or if you still have to resist the temptation to sleep or nap during your flight. If you are landing in the evening, try your best not to sleep, nap if you must. That way, you will be ready for bed at a reasonable time as you managed not to sleep throughout the day. To keep yourself awake, you can enjoy a movie, read a book or walk around the cabin to stretch your legs for instance. On the opposite, if you are arriving in the morning, sleep as you would, according to the time at your destination. You want to be well-rested when you arrive to be fully operational, and sleeping before you arrive in the morning will mean you will be ready for bed come evening time.
- Control your environment as best you can
On a plane, there are unfortunately many things that can prevent you to sleep. There can be little space, boisterous passengers, cold cabin air, turbulences and untimely announcements just to name a few. Try to control the environment in a way that will allow you to sleep without any other factor interfering. Wear comfortable clothes and to minimize sleep distractions, bring some earplugs to block out all of the unwanted noise, disturbing your sleep. Other items such as an eye mask, a neck pillow and a blanket can make you more comfortable and more able to get the rest you desire. "You want the environment to be as comfortable and predictable as possible. If you have a travel pillow you love, always pack it when traveling. Its scent and familiarity will give your brain and body a behavioral cue that it's time to relax and let go." sleep educator Terry Cralle advises.
- Stay hydrated
Air filtration systems on airplanes cause there to be a lack of humidity in the cabin air - which is why it is important to stay hydrated throughout your journey. Dehydration can cause dry skin, itchy eyes but also make you feel more tired. It is important to take in fluids before, during and after your flight even if you don't feel thirsty to prevent dehydration. Although drinking water hydrates the skin from the inside, retain moisture in your skin by applying moisturizer to your hands and face. Don't hesitate to pack travel sized moisturizers in your hand luggage, and if you are prone to itchy eyes, also bring a bottle of eye drops which will specifically be helpful if you wear contact lenses. Our bodies function the best when we are hydrated – drink plenty of water to offset the effects of jumping between time zones.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and taking sleeping pills
It can be tempting to knock yourself out with a sleeping pill, to have your daily cup of coffee or to ease the stress of flying with an alcoholic beverage or two. However, consuming any of these before or during your flight might have adverse effects on your body's ability to cope with jet lag. Alcohol and caffeine remain in our systems for several hours and both can also cause dehydration which affects your internal clock and can heighten the feeling of jet lag symptoms.
The artificial stimulants in caffeinated beverages can disrupt your sleep and prolong jet lag recovery time. At high altitudes, the effects of alcohol are greater and we are more susceptible to becoming dehydrated. An in-flight cocktail may put you to sleep quicker, but it will decrease the quality of your sleep, which will likely leave you feeling fuzzy when you wake up. It is thus best to avoid caffeine and alcohol the day of your flight, or the night before, especially if you intend to sleep on the plane. The use of sleeping pills may seem like a good idea; however there are some reasons why you should leave them behind. Sleeping pills do not assist your recovering from jet lag and you may still feel the aftereffects in the hours after you landed.