Sleep easy with some good flying tips
Not just a state of mind, jet lag is caused by disruption to your circadian rhythm, or body clock, which is influenced by exposure to sunlight and helps to determine when we sleep and wake. Basically, when you travel to a different time zone, it takes your body a few days to catch up — hence the “lag” in the term “jet lag”. Some people seem to be more affected than others but you can reduce its effects and help your body adapt as quickly as possible.
• Most people get less jet lagged travelling westward as it tends to be less confusing for your body clock. If you suffer jet lag badly, consider a westerly route.
• If you’re flying somewhere with a big time difference, such as Europe or the US, you may find a stopover of a few days along the way helpful.
• If you’re only away for a few days and the time difference is small, don’t bother trying to adapt — stick to your normal routine if you can and it will be easier to slot back in when you arrive home.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
• If possible, book flight schedules that will help you readily adapt to the new time zone on arrival. This is a personal thing: I prefer to arrive in the late afternoon, have a walk and get a little sun, eat dinner and then go to bed, waking in the morning feeling refreshed, but other travellers who are perhaps more adept at sleeping on the plane like to fly at night and arrive in the morning.
• If you’re facing a big time difference, prepare yourself by getting up and going to bed earlier in the lead-up to an eastward trip and later if travelling west. But make sure you get enough sleep before you head off — a sleep debt will only make things worse.
• Try the free Entrain app for Apple devices, which has been developed by researchers in the US to provide mathematically based light schedules to help travellers adjust to new time zones as quickly as possible. (An Android version is in the works.) Go to entrain.math.lsa.umich.edu.
• You might consider using Re-Timer glasses, which produce a UV-free green light to retime the circadian rhythm, in the lead-up to your trip. See re-timer.com.
ON THE PLANE
• When you get on board, change the time on your watch or phone clock to match your destination. Avoid thinking about what time it is at home.
• Limit alcohol and caffeine but drink lots of water. Some travellers swear by fasting on the plane but this strikes me as a miserable way to spend a long-haul flight. But if you’re able to time your on-board meals to coincide with meal times at your destination, it should help.
• Similarly, try to sleep on the plane when you’d be sleeping at your destination. To help you nod off, wear comfortable clothes, plus earplugs and an eye mask (I like my Good Night Travel Sleep Mask, by US company Magellan’s, which is moulded to block out light and allow your eyelids to move freely during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage.)
Magellan's Good Night Sleep Mask. Picture: magellans.com
• Moving around the cabin and stretching on board are thought to help with jet lag, and can help to prevent stiff muscles, swollen feet and deep-vein thrombosis.
• If you’re a frequent traveller, you might invest in noise-cancelling headphones, and you might also like to download a meditation app (such as Simply Being, available for Apple, Android, Windows and BlackBerry devices for about $1) to help you relax.
• There is considerable buzz around taking melatonin, a hormone linked to helping your body get ready for sleep, to help adjust to changes in time zone. A prescription is needed to buy it in Australia, so discuss with your GP.
• Personally, I am too frightened to use sleeping pills on the plane in case of an emergency. Experts tend to advise against using alcohol to help you sleep on board — it disrupts your sleep cycle and may make jet lag worse in the long run.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
• Depending on the time of day, expose yourself to sunlight to help reset your body clock. Consult British Airways’ jet lag adviser at britishairways.com/travel/drsleep for when to seek and avoid light, depending on the time difference.
• Exercise also can help to reset your body clock but not too close to bedtime.
• Try not to nap during the day. If you do, sleep for no more than half an hour. Try “caffeine naps”— drink a coffee before a lie-down, and wake up refreshed about 20 minutes later when it kicks in.
• Stay up until your normal bedtime if you can and avoid caffeine for at least two hours before going to sleep for the night.
© The West Australian