Make jet lag history
Flying home from Spain late last year, I achieved the Holy Grail for long-haul travellers: I beat jet lag. It might sound unlikely, but after a journey of more than 24 hours, I arrived tired and stiff but without a confused body clock; ready — if not entirely willing — to slot back into my usual routine. And I did it without the help of specialised apps, expensive gizmos, supplements or sleeping pills.
1. To my mind, the first and most important step in beating jet lag occurs when you book the ticket. It’s a matter of personal preference but I like to land in the late afternoon or early evening so I arrive tired with not too much time before bed. On this trip, I lucked out with an arrival time of 5.30pm.
2. As soon as you’re settled on the plane, change the time on your watch or phone. My trip from Seville to Perth involved two stops (in Madrid and Dubai), so on each flight I changed my phone to the time zone of my destination for that leg of the trip (but not to my final destination, for fear of missing connecting flights). You’re trying to trick your body here, so commit: once you’ve changed your clock, do your best to put the time zone of your departure point out of your mind.
3. I kept an eye on the time in Perth and tried to synch up with home. When I boarded my 2.10pm flight from Madrid, it was nearing bedtime in Perth, so after my meal I went to sleep for as long as I could (it helped that I was tired after an early start).
Similarly, when I boarded my 12.15am flight from Dubai, it was still the early hours of the morning in Perth, so I slept for a few more hours before waking up and occupying myself by working and watching movies during WA daylight hours.
If you can’t sleep, put on an eye mask — buy one that’s moulded to your face to better block out light; the darkness is important to reset your body clock — and do something restful, such as listening to relaxing music or meditating (try a smart-phone app such as Meditation Oasis’ Relax & Rest; it’s about $2.50 for Apple and Android devices).
Avoid watching a movie, or reading on your smart phone or tablet — the light from the screen will only make you feel more awake.
4. Avoid alcohol during the journey. It might help you nod off but it will disrupt your sleep cycle and dehydrate you. Dehydration makes jet lag symptoms worse, so drink as much water as possible — I always buy a bottle to bring aboard after clearing security.
Many people recommend avoiding caffeine but as long as you don’t go overboard I think a cup of tea or coffee is useful to perk you up at appropriate times during the journey, for example, to wake myself up during daylight hours in Perth.
5. Some frequent fliers swear by fasting during a journey to beat jet lag. I have no idea whether this works, because I find the idea of passing an entire long-haul flight without eating anything pretty unpalatable.
On the plane, you’re beholden to the cabin crew’s schedule but it does help if your meal times align with those at your final destination.
6. During the flight, move around the cabin when you can — this is thought to help with beating jet lag.
It will also mean you don’t feel so stiff and tired when you arrive. Stretch your legs during stopovers.
7. When you arrive at your destination, slot in with the time of day. So if you arrive in the morning, you’re not allowed to go straight to bed — if you have to nap, keep it to 20 minutes.
I landed at 5.30pm, so went home, went for a walk (exercise can help to reset the body clock, if it’s not too close to bedtime) and got some sunlight on my skin (this is also important for resetting your body clock). Then a shower and some dinner, before going to bed as close to my normal bedtime as possible.
I slept fairly soundly until 6am, and though I woke up slightly earlier than usual for the next week or so, I was pretty much in the right zone. In my book, that means I beat jet lag.
More tips for avoiding jet lag
Jet lag tends to kick in when you’re crossing two or more time zones and is worse for most people when travelling east, as it’s harder for the body clock to adapt. If you tend to be badly affected and have a choice between a westward and eastward route of roughly equal length, consider choosing the former.
If time and budget allows, a stopover can help you to adjust to the change in time zone.
Get enough sleep in the lead-up to a long-haul trip — a sleep debt makes jet lag worse. You can prepare yourself for a big time difference by getting up and going to bed later in the week leading up to a westward trip, and earlier if you’re travelling east. Apps such as Jet Lag Rooster (jetlagrooster.com) can help with this.
If you plan to sleep on the plane, consult SeatGuru (seatguru.com) to choose the most spacious seat, preferably away from busy areas such as the galley and toilets — this should help you get a better rest.
If you can afford to upgrade one leg of a long-haul journey, choose the leg during which you plan to sleep. Upgrades tend to be a good use of frequent flyer points, if you have enough accrued.
Aid sleep in the air by dressing comfortably in loose clothing — layers are good, in case you get too hot or cold. If you’re one of those people who dress up in the hope of scoring an upgrade, bring something to change into on the plane.
A big scarf and a pair of socks will help ensure you’re warm enough and a neck pillow can also help to make you comfortable.
Even if you are not jet lagged, long-haul flying is tough on the body, so be smart about planning your schedule on arrival. Give yourself time to rest and recover, and avoid going straight from the airport to an important meeting or special occasion.
BEAT JET LAG IN 7 STEPS
1. BOOK SMART
If you can, choose a flight time that will have you arriving at the best time of day for you, whether that’s early morning, late afternoon or even bedtime.
2. IN THE ZONE
The process of adjusting to the new time zone starts as soon as you get on the plane, by changing the time on your phone or watch to that of your
3. HAVE A NAP
What time is it at your destination? If you’d be sleeping there, try to do so now, or at least pop on an eye mask and relax.
4. SKIP THE BOOZE
Drinking alcohol is a no-no during a long-haul journey: it disrupts sleep patterns and dehydrates you, making jetlag worse.
Don’t go overboard on caffeine either.
5. A BITE TO EAT
Fasting during a flight is said to ease jet lag symptoms but if you can’t stomach the thought do your best to align meal times with those at your destination.
6. GET MOVING
Stretching and moving around the cabin during the flight and during stopovers will help.
7. ON ARRIVAL
At your destination, do your best to slot into the time of day. Keep naps to a minimum and try to go to sleep around your normal bedtime.
© The West Australian
More Travel news: thewest/travel.com.au