Humans are creatures of habit. We like to eat and sleep at roughly the same time every day based on what are known as circadian rhythms. When we travel across time zones, we disrupt these rhythms, leading to us feeling overly tired, suffering from physical symptoms such indigestion, and struggling to concentrate. This is known as jet lag, something that can be avoided by following five simple steps.
1. Plan a late arrival
While heading off on a trip is exciting, it can also be exhausting, especially on long-haul flights that leave you breathing in recycled air and confined to a small seat for hours on end. When you arrive at your destination, the first thing you are likely to want to do is rest and relax, which can easily translate into falling asleep, something you don’t want to do if it’s the middle of the day and you’re trying to avoid jet lag.
By arriving in the evening (local time), you can get to your hotel and go straight to bed, meaning you should wake up in the morning at your regular time and without jet lag.
If you do arrive earlier in the day try and stay awake until your regular bedtime, getting out and about if you need to, to avoid falling asleep early. This should help you reset your internal clock, so you don’t find yourself awake all night and sleeping all day.
2. Change your sleep patterns
Our bodies are affected differently depending on whether we are travelling east or west. Either way, they will benefit by changing your sleep patterns in the run-up to your holiday. Starting a few days before your trip, start going to bed earlier (if you’re heading east) or later (if you’re heading west).
For significant time differences think about changing your sleep patterns to reflect those of your destination on the day before you travel so that it won’t be such a shock to your system.
Remember, you’ll ideally need to get up earlier or later as well as going to bed at a different time so try and build this into your schedule (as long as it doesn’t make you late for work!).
3. Sleep on the plane
While it isn’t always easy to do, if you can get some sleep on the flight you’ll be doing your body good and reducing the chances of ending up with jet lag. Wear comfortable clothes to travel in and take earplugs and an eye mask with you to block out any light and sound. Try and avoid sleeping tablets as these can make it harder for your body to adjust once you arrive, though natural remedies such as Valerian and magnesium have been shown to be effective in helping people get to sleep naturally so may be worth taking.
Where you sit also makes a difference to your chances of getting some shut-eye. Planes are quieter at the back, as are window seats, which stop you being disturbed if someone wants to get up to stretch their legs or go to the toilet.
4. Avoid Alcohol
One thing that won’t help you sleep on a plane is alcohol, which you should avoid before, during and after your flight (at least until you’ve had a good nights sleep and been able to reset your body clock). Opt for soft drinks instead or – even better – water, which will keep you hydrated and reduce the risk of your becoming dehydrated which can leave you feeling dazed and confused.
It’s also a good idea to stay away from caffeine too, which as a natural stimulant can keep you awake when you don’t want to be and lead to dips in your energy levels as the effects wear off.
5. Get some exercise
Not everyone wants to go to the gym while they’re on holiday but getting up and getting moving, be that going for a brisk walk or a swim in the pool, are great ways of helping reset a disrupted sleep pattern. You are more likely to get out and about if you have somewhere to go. Come up with two or three places that you want to visit that you can walk to in those first few days, helping keep your energy levels up.
Don’t leave the exercise for after you arrive. Get up and stretch your legs during the flight too, reducing the risk of DVT.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that each person is different and everyone responds differently to changes in time zones. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself with jet lag even after following these steps, be kind to yourself. Get the rest your body tells you is needed, eat well and get plenty of fresh air to blow away the cobwebs.