Your tickets are booked and bags are packed— you’re ready for a great holiday! You may be excited to reach your destination, but few people actually enjoy the trip there. One big reason why is jet lag, the bane of even the most seasoned traveler.
So what’s a holiday goer to do? Here’s a closer look at jet lag and how you can keep it’s symptoms at bay.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is the common term for desynchronosis, a temporary sleep disorder caused by travelling quickly across multiple time zones. The more drastic the time change, the more trouble your body has resetting its internal clock.
The most well-known symptoms of jet lag are daytime sleepiness or insomnia, but it can affect more than just your sleep. Jet lag can also cause loss of concentration, headaches, irritability, and constipation or diarrhoea.
How can I fight it?
With symptoms that can ruin a holiday, it’s no wonder that people are always looking for an easy jet lag cure. The bad news is that there are no quick fixes. However, you can take steps before, during and after your flight to ease the symptoms.
Before you travel
Anticipate the time change
Adjusting your schedule gradually before your trip can make landing easier. When flying westward, move your bedtime 30-60 minutes later each night for 2-3 days prior to departure. On eastward trips, go to bed earlier. Online calculators, like Jetlag Rooster, can help you plan your pre-travel schedule.
Take the red-eye, or arrive in the evening
Flying overnight gives you a better chance of sleeping in flight, meaning you can replicate your normal schedule. If an overnight flight isn’t an option, choose one that arrives in the early evening. Stay up until at least 10pm local time to help your body adjust to your new time zone.
Stress can worsen jet lag symptoms, so plan ahead as much as possible to avoid unnecessary worry. Our pre-travel checklist can help you prepare.
Dehydration makes jet lag worse. Drink plenty of water to ease symptoms, but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both actually dehydrate the body, and alcohol becomes more potent at high altitudes. Even if you sleep after drinking, it won’t be good quality sleep.
If you plan to sleep on the plane, try to get as comfortable as possible. Pack a neck pillow for comfort, and an eye mask and ear plugs to block distractions. Wear loose, comfortable clothing, and bring a sweater or jacket in case you get cold.
Turn off your screens
The blue light emitted by electronics—TVs, laptops, tablets and smartphones—disrupts your internal clock, making it harder to sleep. Turn off the seatback television and wear an eye mask to block the light from your neighbour’s set.
Daylight, even on an overcast day, helps reset your body clock. If you’re travelling west, seek sunlight in the morning, but wear dark sunglasses in the afternoon. When flying eastward, bask in the afternoon sun to move your internal clock forward.
Drink caffeine in moderation
It’s well known that too much caffeine can ruin your sleep, but it’s tempting to drink an extra coffee or soft drink to help you stay awake on holiday. The effects of caffeine can take 15 minutes to show and four hours to wear off, so moderation is key.
Stay up until bedtime
Even if you didn’t sleep well on the plane, try to stay awake until your normal bedtime (or as close as you can manage). Short naps can help you adjust to a new time zone, but set an alarm so you don’t oversleep. Stay awake at least four hours before bedtime, otherwise you may not be able to sleep at night.
What about sleeping tablets?
The use of sleeping tablets on planes is common, but their use is controversial. Many doctors warn against taking sleeping pills when flying, as they tend to immobilise the body and increase the risk of blood clots and stroke. They can also put you in such a deep sleep that it could be difficult to wake you in case of an emergency.
Melatonin is also commonly recommended for travelers. The hormone is created naturally by the body to help control the sleep cycle, but supplements can be purchased at many chemists. There is some evidence that taking melatonin during the day can help you sleep.
Remember, you should always speak with your GP before taking any medications or supplements.
Getting ready for your next adventure? Try our pre-travel checklist for a stress-free trip!