Today (July 15, 2016): Travel tip: how to prevent and beat jet lag?
Traveling across the globe is an extremely rewarding but also tiring activity that can undermine one’s wellbeing and energy levels. No matter how young and healthy you may be, your body always need some time to adapt to a new time zone. Jet lag, medically referred to as desynchronosis and rarely as circadian dysrhythmia, is the unpleasant feeling you get during or after a longhaul flight as a result of alterations to your body’s circadian rhythms. Jet lag can put a damper on a vacation since it causes fatigue, headaches, dehydration, irritability, and digestive problems, so one needs to take precautions to ease its effects. Being a physician myself, I’ve compiled 18 of the best travel tips which might be helpful in preventing and fighting jet lag.
If you have any other tips to help avoid jet lag, please share them in the comments.
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
1. Gradually adjust your internal clock
One of the best ways to prepare yourself (and your body) for a journey across several time zones, is to slowly shift your sleeping schedule, so that by the time you arrive, you’re already acclimated. For eastbound travel (e.g. Europe to Asia, or America to Europe), it is recommended to get up and go to bed earlier several days prior to the trip. When you travel in a western direction (e.g. Asia to Africa, or Europe to America), then you need to do the opposite and push your sleeping schedule backward to a later time in the days preceding your travel.
2. Plan your arrival time
If you are flexible in your travel plans, then always try to arrive at your destination in the afternoon or early evening. That way, you can still have a decent dinner and a good night’s rest on the day of arrival, before immediately submerging yourself in the time zone of your destination the following day. The worst jet lags I experienced were those were I arrived early morning at a destination after missing a whole night of sleep (e.g. flight from the USA East Coast to Europe).
3. Avoid overnight flights
Jet lag is always tougher when flying from west to east (since you lose time). One of the best strategies to prevent an eastbound jet lag is to avoid those horrible, overnight, redeye flights, that will cost you several hours of sleep in less than optimal conditions (especially when you have troubles falling asleep on a plane like me). Although some routes are generally known to the larger public as redeye flights, there are often dayflight alternatives as well (e.g. from Chicago, Washington or New York to London). If a daylight is not offered, then book a redeye flight with an arrival time that coincides with late afternoon or evening at your destination (cf above).
4. Avoid a stressful departure
One of the most effective ways to cope with jet lag is leaving on a trip in a relaxed state of mind. Planning your holiday immediately after a tiring, stressful week considerably increases the probability of a nasty jet lag.
5. Consider flying Business or First Class
For most, flying Business or First Class is a privilege and pure delight. The premium cabins offer delicious food, more privacy and excellent onboard service, in addition to an enhanced ground experience with priority check-in, fast lanes at security check points, and access to lounges. However, the main reason to fly Business or First Class is the extra comfort of having a flatbed which can make a world of difference on the jet lag front since you can actually snuggle down for a perfect night’s sleep on a plane. Sleeping attributes are excellent as well, with fluffy pillows, soft duvets and cozy pajamas. I previously explained how to fly Business or First Class without breaking your wallet. However, if you can’t avoid coach, opt for a window seat and bring a pillow (or something that can act as one) to prop yourself up against the cabin’s wall.
6. Try to fly the Boeing Dreamliner or Airbus A350
The world’s newest and most technologically advanced commercial aircraft types, the Boeing 787 (Dreamliner) and its competitor the Airbus A350, aim to ease any jet lag with the introduction of several new technologies. Draft-free air conditioning, adjustable temperature zones and the cabin air pressure, which is closer to the sea level air pressure, make the flight more enjoyable and less tiring for passengers. In addition, the adoption of full LED cabin lighting creates day and nighttime illumination that helps the body adapt to jet lag on long-range flights. From personal experience, I can indeed report that you feel less exhausted after traveling longhaul on a Boeing B787 or Airbus A350 as compared to other types of aircraft.
- Read here my trip report onboard a Finnair Airbus A350
- Read here my trip report onboard a Qatar Airways B787
DURING THE FLIGHT
7. Set your watch to the time at your destination
To help you mentally prepare for the new time zone, it is recommended to set your watch, smartphone and other devices to the time at your destination as soon as you board the plane
8. Stay hydrated
Jet lag can severely disturb one’s body functions by causing dehydration, a situation that is often exacerbated by the dry, thin air in an aircraft’s cabin. Therefore, it is necessary that you drinks plenty of water on longhaul flights, even when you don’t feel thirsty at all. In addition, take care of the wellbeing of your body by preventing dehydration of your eyes (by removing your lenses if you sleep) and your skin (by applying skin moisturizer and lip balm).
9. Eat lightly
An inconvenient symptom of jet lag is that it can mess up one’s digestive system, with hunger attacks in the middle of the night and loss of appetite during the day. Therefore, it is advised to skip heavy meals shortly before or during your flight, to give your stomach and intestines the time to adapt to the new time zone. Hearty salads, salty soups and fresh fruits are your best options here. Also, you may consider to pass on airplane food, since it’s generally served on a schedule that’s consistent with the time zone you’re leaving but not with the one you’re traveling to (at least, that is when you are traveling Economy, since Business and First Class passengers can mostly request meals at a time that suites them best).
10. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and coffee can help keep you awake longer, but in reality, those substances dehydrate your body and worsen symptoms of jet lag. In addition, they will make you wake up more often once you do fall asleep, hereby reducing your total sleeping time.
11. Try to sleep on the plane
The more rest your body gets en route to your destination, the more prepared you’ll be to tackle the consequences of jet lag. Resting on a plane is especially important when you’re traveling on a redeye flight in an eastbound direction, since you’re losing several hours, sometimes a whole light. It’s recommended to use those earplugs and eyeshades in your amenity kit so you can rest without being disturbed by any activity in the cabin. In addition, you may consider turning on the air-conditioning valve, since cooler temperatures may help you to fall asleep faster.
12. Keep moving
When not resting on the plane, it is recommended to stimulate your blood circulation at least once an hour by exercising your lower legs and calf muscles. You can do so by getting up and wandering to the bathroom or simply by performing small, simple exercises in your seat. That way, you stay fit and you will notice that your body will adapt faster to the new time zone once you arrived.
13. Use sleeping pills wisely
A low dose of a short acting sleeping pill may be helpful on redeye flights to overcome discomfort, but always keep in mind that while sleeping pills may seem harmless, they can have very nasty side effects, such as make you feel groggy or affect your memories. In fact, those side effects are the reason why I stopped taking sleeping pills on a plane, and I paid off as I feel much better during and after the flight. It is recommended to only use sleeping pills on condition that:
- the flight is at least 8 hours.
- you can lie flat, since sleeping deeply in a cramped, upright, seated position significantly increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis (a potentially lethal condition).
- you have used sleeping pills before ( a plane is not the place to try out a pill for the very first time).
- you consulted your physician or the travel clinic (never accept a sleeping pill from a family member or friend).
ON YOUR DESTINATION
The real jet lag challenge comes when you arrive at your destination, as it may take several days to adjust to a new time zone.
14. Give yourself time
Our body needs about one day for every one-hour time zone crossed to get back to its built-in circadian rhythms. So a four hour time difference means that you will need four days to readjust to the new time zone. Give yourself all the time you need to overcome your jet lag and don’t be disappointed and stressed when you don’t completely recover overnight.
15. Sleep during the night only
Even if you feel like crawling under the covers midday, do not give in to your fatigue. Unless you’re used to taking regular short naps at home, you’re better off staying up until bedtime. Fight your fatigue by participating in social activities and being active during the day.
16. Sun yourself
Getting yourself out in daylight is key since it will help your brain adjust to the new time zone. Exposure to sunlight triggers a cascade of hormonal events that eventually make you sleepy at the appropriate nighttime hour.
17. Use sleeping pills during a short time only
If you suffer from sleep deprivation at your destination, then a taking a short acting sleeping pills during a limited time only can bring relief, by inducing sleep at an appropriate evening hour or getting you back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night.
18. Consider taking melatonin
Melatonin is the most extensively studied jet lag drug, with a majority of well documented, clinical trials demonstrating it has the potential to ease the effects of jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone that the human body naturally creates to anticipate the daily onset of darkness. So taking it at the time you want to fall asleep promotes the necessary reset of the body’s sleep-wake phase and helps your internal clock to adjust to the new time zone.
Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned for Monday when I reveal a new top 10 travel list.