Whether you are travelling east or west, 4 hours ahead, 7 hours behind, half way across the world where day is night and night is day, or to China whose huge expanse of land officially covers five timezones, but they only use one, jet lag can really ruin the start of your trip. You have just arrived at your destination and every bone in your body wants to go out and explore, meet new people and try that restaurant that you’ve been dying to go to, but your muscles and your brain have other plans.
It may be 2am at home, but the night is just beginning at your landing point and you probably didn’t sleep on the plane. Your eyes are dry and itchy, you have a headache and your body feels sluggish and weak. All you want to do is crawl into that rather comfortable looking bed.
To make it worse, your body wants to defy your new timezone for what seems like days. Falling asleep while queuing for the Empire State Building is just plain dangerous, and nodding off into your dinner plate really isn’t a good look!
So, what can we do to stave off jet lag? Here are my top ten tips.
1) Plan your Flight Times
If it is a long haul flight that you are facing, try and choose a flight that has an evening arrival time. That way, by the time you have collected your luggage and made your way to your accommodation, it will be bed time at your destination. You can treat yourself to a glass of wine or a hot chocolate, a bath and some quality time with your book as you snuggle into bed and get ready to sleep.
Arriving at night will also mean that you don’t feel like you have missed out on anything. There is nothing worse than arriving at the most amazing place in the world, somewhere you have been dreaming about and planning for months, at lunchtime only to find yourself unable to enjoy it properly. Arriving in the evening will give your body a chance to relax and you’ll get a full night’s sleep, ready to wake up at the crack of dawn and start your adventure.
2) Consider a Stopover
This is a really good idea if you are travelling over more than 7 timezones. For example, if you are travelling from the UK to Sydney Australia where the time is 11 hours ahead, rather than having to shock your body into believing that night is day and day is night, stop for a few days in Singapore or Los Angeles where the time difference is just 8 hours and let your body adjust in stages. Not only to you get the opportunity to explore somewhere new, you’ll be breaking up your flight times and you’ll find it easier to adjust to your new timezone at your final destination.
3) Adjust Your Body Clock Before you Leave
It will definitely work to your advantage if you can start tweaking your body clock from home before you leave, where you have your own bed and your own surroundings, a place where you probably get the best night’s sleep. Start three or four days before you travel and gradually train your body into a new timezone.
If you are travelling east, try going to bed an hour earlier each night before you leave and wake up an hour earlier too. If you end up getting up at 3am, make yourself useful for a couple of hours, then take a cat nap to recharge. If you are travelling west, try going to bed an hour later each night and if possible, get up an hour later too. It’s all about training your body to adapt to new sleep patterns.
4) Sleep Well Before you Travel
Many people think that making yourself as tired as possible will help you sleep on the plane, leaving you fresh to explore once you arrive. But what if you can’t? I for one, am terrible at sleeping on planes or on any mode of transport. If you don’t sleep before you leave and you can’t sleep on the plane, you will be good for nothing once you touch down at your destination.
Make sure you get a full 8 hours sleep the night before you travel. If you sleep on the plane too, that’s just a bonus!
5) Set Your Watch on the Plane
You need to get your brain to believe your new timezone as quickly as possible and hope that your body catches up. As soon as you take your seat on the plane, set your watch and devices to your destination timezone. If your brain believes that it is 9am, not 10pm, it will encourage you to act as though it is morning and you have the whole day ahead of you.
6) Eat in Line With Your New Time Zone
Airlines purposely serve you breakfast at 6pm! It might seem strange to be eating sausage and egg for dinner, or curry for breakfast, but this is because one great way of getting over jet lag is to change your meal cycle immediately. Again, it is about psychologically tricking your body into believing your new body clock. If you are on an overnight flight, you may want to consider having a decent meal on the ground before your journey so that your stomach is settled when you want to sleep.
Remember to eat light and well. Stick to healthy foods and stay away from heavy carbohydrates and sugary foods which will cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then drop considerably making you feel lethargic and more tired as a result.
7) Try to Sleep on an Overnight Flight
Sleeping on planes; my nemesis! But if you are travelling overnight, it is in your interests to try and sleep on the plane, as you will arrive at your destination during daylight hours when the last thing you should be doing is sleeping. Be prepared. Most people need 4 things to be able to sleep; silence, darkness, comfortable surroundings and warmth. Create yourself a ‘sleep pack’ for the plane in your hand luggage. Travel with ear plugs, an eye mask, comfortable clothes and shoes and a neck pillow and a blanket. Airlines do tend to make their planes warmer when they want people to sleep but most of the time, an aircraft is cold. If you are cold, your body will struggle to shut down and you will not sleep!
8) Stay Hydrated
Dehydration will just add to your jet lag problems! Drink plenty of water, don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendant for water, or better still, bring your own water bottle and ask the attendant to fill it right up so you’ll be pressing their buttons a lot less! Caffeine and alcohol with dehydrate you even more so try and avoid these substances if possible! Air travel is dry and dehydrating by nature, which makes you more tired and groggy, so you need to be vigilant with our water intake when we fly.
9) Anchor Sleep
If you are struggling with jet lag when you reach your destination, or when you return home, you need to engage in what is called ‘Anchor Sleep’. It’s scientifically proven that getting at least four hour block of sleep during the night will help cure your jet lag. If you normally get 8 hours of sleep a night, you ideally need at least four hours for your body to function normally. During the first few days of your trip, try to add an extra hours sleep per night until you fall back into the pattern of sleeping for 8 hours. If you are only managing 4 hours a night to begin with, allow yourself time to take naps during the day.
10) Light Therapy
The body’s exposure to sunlight plays a huge part in the adaptation to a new time zone. It is key to expose yourself to light at the right times of day depending on which way you are travelling. When flying west, exposure to daylight in the evening and avoidance in the morning may be helpful; flying east, exposure to light in the morning and avoidance in the evening are to be recommended.
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