Let’s paint an all to familiar scenario. It’s 3am, you’re in your hotel room, wide awake, red-eyed and ready to snap at the slightest annoyance. You remember thinking to yourself “That 12 hour flight went better than I thought it would” earlier that day. Now you lie here, minutes seem like hours, you wonder “will I ever fall asleep?”. It’s your worst nightmare come true….. you’re jet lagged.
1. What is Jet Lag?
Jet lag is a physiological condition which is caused by rapid, long-distance travel, resulting in alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms. In short, it is your body’s inability to adjust to a sudden change in time zone.
Our bodies all function on this 24hr cycle called the “circadian rhythm”, which tells us when to eat, sleep and be active. Jet lag screws that rhythm up, transforming you into a mindless zombie incapable of functioning to your full potential. Jet lag is a rather new condition which was brought about with the invention of the jet airplane. Prior to this speedy method of transport, it would take many days to cross multiple time-zones which allowed the body’s “internal clock” plenty of time to adjust.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common problem associated with jet lag is insomnia or the inability to maintain a regular sleeping pattern. You will find yourself fully awake during the middle of the night or struggling to stay awake during the daytime. This is usually combined with an irregular appetite. As your body has yet to adapt to the new timezone. Other symptoms include: lack of concentration, confusion, bowel irregularities, mental exhaustion, disorientation, anxiety, irritability and even headaches.
2. Tips Before You Fly
Start adjusting in advance
By adjusting your eating and sleeping habits at least three days before departure you are effectively tricking your body into thinking that you have already arrived at the destination’s timezone. While this method can be helpful to minimize the effects of jet lag, it should only be considered for flights over 12hrs, where you intend to stay at the destination for at least seven days.
Be sure to check out Jetlag Rooster, this handy website helps you calculate when you should be shifting your sleeping patterns in advance.
Choose the best flight schedules for you
Are you one of those rare people that can sleep the entire flight no problems? If so, the red-eye (overnight) flights will be best for you. This way you will arrive in the morning, rested and ready to start your day. However, if you are like the rest of us mere mortals and struggle to sleep on a plane, you are better off choosing a flight that arrives at your destination in the afternoon or early evening. This way you don’t have to wait too long to go to sleep at the correct time.
Where possible include a stopover
If you have ever flown from Australia to Europe (or equivalent distance) you will understand the pain of getting off that first flight knowing that you are only half way to your destination. By breaking the journey with an overnight stop you give your body time to rest and semi-adjust to the new timezone.
Try for a zen-like state of relaxation
Allow plenty of time to get to the airport. Rushing to get through customs is always a stressful adventure. Make sure to allow ample time so you are nice and relaxed getting on the flight and avoid any hectic activities on the day. Tension and stress and huge contributors to jet lag.
If the entire trip is less than 72hrs, don’t even bother adjusting
This is not for the faint-hearted but if you are only planning on staying in a certain timezone for less than 72hrs we suggest that you just grin and bear it. You will actually do more damage to your internal clock by trying to adjust than sticking as close as possible to your normal sleeping pattern. Coffee will be your best friend in this particular case only!
3. During the Flight
Wear loose, unrestrictive clothing and shoes that you can slip off. This will aid circulation of blood around your body. If possible, select a seat in a low-traffic area away from the toilets or galley to minimize distractions.
Flying accelerates the dehydration process. The humidity inside an airplane cabin can be as low as 15% (average indoor humidity is around 45-50%), meaning there is less than half the moisture in the air when you are flying. To combat this, be sure to drink plenty of water during the flight. Avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol as this will amplify the dehydration process. Passing out due to alcohol is not the same as sleeping and waking up hungover without proper rest will only make life more painful.
There are varying ideas when it comes to eating during the flight. Some recommend replacing heavily processed airplane food, which is generally high in sodium (which will dehydrate you more) with a healthy option like a salad or fruit. Others advise eating meals when they would be served at your destination or to eat regular small meals throughout the flight.
We like a combination of all three but advise you to see which methods works best for you as everyone is different. One thing is for sure, whatever you do, don’t over-eat! Your body is under enough stress already so will struggle to cope with having to digest bucket loads of food.
Stretch your legs
Everyone gets sore and irritated after being cramped up in the one spot for too long. Take breaks regularly, get out of your seat and move about the cabin. Stretch your arms, legs and back. A few toe touches will help to get the blood flowing again. Remember this – the better you feel getting off the flight = the less stress you are putting your body through.
Freshen up before landing
One way to revitalize yourself after a long flight is to freshen up just before you are due to land. Go to the bathroom and brush your teeth, wash and moisturize your face and spray on some deodorant. While this is not going to help your body clock, you will feel 100% better on arrival.
4. After You Land
Expose yourself to natural light
One of the best things to do is to expose yourself to natural light early and often in order to reset your circadian rhythms. Your system responds to all-natural sunlight so the more time you spend outdoors basking from the sun the easier it will to acclimatize to your new time zone.
Stay awake until bedtime at your destination
Try to not go to bed until your usual routine bedtime. Avoid the temptation to take a nap even though your body is screaming for sleep as they’re extremely difficult to wake up from and will further delay your body from adjusting to your new time zone. Taking this one step further – don’t even lie down! Though you may think you can simply rest for a few minutes you will more than likely find yourself waking a couple of hours later not realizing that you had nodded off.
Stay away from strenuous exercise but take a walk around town and get some fresh air. This will help keep your thoughts engaged along with your entire body moving to get your blood circulating. Adrenaline is great at keeping you awake in the moment and helping you crash later in the day when you are truly exhausted.
Alternatively, BarBend has this cool guide on using exercise to combat jet lag.
Having trouble sleeping?
The first thing most people usually reach for these days is an electronic device like a phone or tablet. Either that or the tendency is to turn on the TV. This is possibly the worst thing you can do as these activities stimulate your brain, helping to keep you awake longer. Your best bet is to read a book. Your brain waves function on a different level allowing you to ease back into sleep quicker.
5. All Natural Jet Lag Remedies
No-Jet-Lag is a homeopathic remedy (vegan and not tested on animals) which has been known for being incredibly beneficial in preventing jet lag. There are currently no reported negative effects from using No-Jet-Lag, most likely due to its low doses of the ingredients including: Leopard’s Bane, Daisy, Wild Chamomile, Ipecac and Clubmoss. They advise chewing a single tablet just about every time your plane takes off and every time it lands.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is thought to regulate sleep that has become a widespread jet lag remedy, however, it should only be taken in small doses (less than 5 mg) and for just the first 2-3 nights. Your brain’s manufacturing of melatonin gets thrown out of whack when you travel. When you take larger doses or get it for an extended time period of time you could possibly are afflicted by uncomfortable side effects this kind of as vivid dreams and nightmares. Availability of melatonin can vary from country to country. In the USA it’s classed as a dietary supplement yet more restrictive in Australia where a prescription is required.