By Andrew Rasch
Published: Thursday, July 20, 2023
Evolution and modern life rarely mix, and our bodies aren’t equipped to travel across several time zones in a day. Yet, with the world just a plane trip away, we do it all the time these days.
The price we often pay for our intrepid, holiday-rich lifestyles is jet lag. Our body clocks become so out of sync that staying awake over croissants and coffee can take as much effort as climbing the Eiffel Tower.
Nobody wants to spend their holiday grumpy, nauseated, or wide awake when they should be asleep (and vice versa). There’s no cure for jet lag, but there are ways to avoid its worst effects.
Before your trip
Oversleeping, missing your alarm and running late for your flight is a unique type of stress and won’t help you avoid jet lag. In the days leading up to your trip, be as relaxed, rested and organised as possible. Exercise regularly to help improve your quality of sleep on the plane and at your destination. Try to control your exposure to light and darkness before you board the plane. Smartphone apps like Entrain and Timeshifter can help. If you think you’ll need help to sleep during the flight, don’t take any medication without asking your doctor first.
We’re not talking about which ’80s pop band to include in your travel playlist. Your body clock is happier when you travel west instead of east, so if jet lag affects you badly, take a westerly travel route. It’ll prolong your body clock’s experience of a normal day-night cycle. Travelling east will do the opposite and potentially intensify your symptoms.
Seat up, seatbelts on
When you’re in your seat, adjust your clocks to your destination’s time zone and try to sleep during its night-time hours. Limit screen time because the blue light from the device can impact your sleep quality by disrupting your circadian rhythm and secretion of melatonin. Have all the carry-on items you’ll need like earplugs, neck pillow, sleep mask, headphones and blanket within easy reach. Wear appropriate, loose-fitting clothing too. You wouldn’t go to bed at home in jeans and a circulation-killing belt, so don’t do it on the plane. Stretch regularly during the flight to get the blood flowing to your brain and meditate every couple of hours if that’s your thing.
Drink the right liquids
Those freebies from the drinks cart are tempting, but alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate you, and prolong jet lag by making it harder to get some solid shut-eye. Stick to water or herbal ginger tea with lemon instead and sip it regularly throughout your flight. If you feel like a glass of bubbly to celebrate your exciting adventure, have it a few hours before you plan on sleeping.
Eating those big meals (was that breakfast, lunch or dinner?) can play havoc with your digestive system, especially when you’re jammed into an aeroplane seat. To help avoid the uncomfortable ‘jet bloat’, eat small, light meals if you can and include fruit and veggies. As well as alcohol and caffeine, limit bread, crackers, cold desserts and soft drinks. It’s also a good idea to drink peppermint tea to help with digestion.
Luggage collected – now what?
Even if you’re nodding off in the cab, at the hotel check-in, or in your scrambled eggs, don’t nap. Wait until the local night-time to have a proper sleep but go to bed early. Chances are the plane will have left your skin as dry as the Sahara, so a warm bath or shower (and moisturising) when you get to your hotel room will do wonders. Keep drinking lots of water and limiting alcohol and caffeine, and time your meals with local mealtimes.
Depending on the individual, jet lag can take a few days or even weeks to get over. The good news is there’s plenty of information online, so if you’re looking for more than these top tips, do some extra research before your flight and have a plan ready that suits you. You’ll be feeling your cheerful, refreshed old self – ready to take on the world – before you know it.