Top tips for avoiding jet lag

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.

Three women in their 60s walking on a track through a park
Keep up your exercise routine in the days before your flight. Image: Getty

Go West

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.

Picture of jet flying west
Choose a westerly route if you can. Image: Getty

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.

Woman sleeping on a plane with eye mask and neck pillow
Have your sleeping requirements within easy reach. Image: Getty

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.

Female passenger drinking water on a plane
Drink plenty of water during the flight. Image: Getty

Don’t overeat

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.

Woman eating an apple during a flight.
Eat light during the flight and include some fruit and veggies. Image: Getty