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Millions of travellers struggle with jet lag every year, which can make the first few days of any trip a waking nightmare, especially if you’re travelling for business. Ensure you’re feeling fresh as a daisy and bringing your A-game for any business meetings with these tips for coping with jet lag.
Once upon a time, jet lag – one of the most common sleeping disorders – was thought to simply be a state of mind. Now of course, thanks to numerous studies, we know that our bodies work on on a 24-hour cycle called ‘circadian rhythms’ or our ‘natural body clock’, and any disruptions to this cycle has some annoying consequences when we travel, including disturbed sleep, impaired daytime function, decreased alertness and even internal gastro problems (thanks to eating at strange times that our bodies aren’t used to).
Our natural rhythms are measured by the rise and fall in our body temperature, levels of plasma in hormones and other biological factors. These are all influenced by when we’re exposed to sunlight, which then determines when we sleep and when we wake. When we travel to different time zones, our biological clock is slow to adjust and keeps to its original schedule for up to several days.
As a result, our bodies tell us to sleep when it’s 3pm, or to wake up in the middle of the night – which is a nightmare when you have an important business meeting the next day and need to be alert and professional.
Knowing the cause of jet lag helps us know how to cope with its symptoms. Here are eight tips and tricks to help beat jet lag.
If it’s possible, try and book a flight that arrives during the daytime. You’ll be much more tempted to stay awake and explore during daylight hours, allowing you to sleep at an appropriate local time. Early evening is also a good time to arrive, if you stay up for dinner and get to bed around 10pm local time. Early morning flight arrivals are the hardest for your body to deal with, as you’re then faced with the challenge of staying awake all day. Avoid flights with long stopovers where you’re just lounging around the airport doing nothing, and plan exactly what you’ll do once you arrive in your destination – will you go straight to the hotel and then find a place to eat? Look up local restaurants and attractions to keep you occupied until a suitable time to sleep. If you desperately need to nap when you arrive, keep it short and set an alarm so you don’t oversleep.
Staying hydrated is vital to avoiding jet lag as dehydration can be a main factor for flight fatigue. Plus, your body functions better when it’s hydrated, so help offset the symptoms of jet lag with plenty of H20.
Handy hint: Take a few empty water bottles with you on your flight and fill them up once you’re past airport security. That way you’ll save money by not having to buy bottled water and will always have water to hand. You can ask the cabin crew to fill you up once you’re on board the plane, too – that way you don’t have to keep asking for cups of water.
Staying hydrated is important to combat jet lag, so drink plenty of water when you travel
We know, we know, it’s a boring one and not a tip many people want to hear, but alcohol is a stimulant, so that glass of champagne at the airport lounge or G&T on the plane is going to leave you feeling tired and dehydrated, which is the perfect recipe for jet lag. On that note, caffeine should also be avoided for the same reasons. Coffee, cola and energy drinks are a no-no if you’re trying to avoid the symptoms of jet lag, as they’re also stimulants and will affect your ability to sleep.
Some people make the mistake of tiring themselves out before a flight thinking it will help them sleep on the plane. All it means is that you’ll be overtired for your flight and will possibly not sleep at all. Cranky, restless and sleep-deprived is not how you want to start your trip. Just rest as normal, go with what your body is telling you, chuck on an in-flight movie, and if you feel yourself drifting off, whip out the flight pillow and sleeping mask, but don’t exhaust yourself the night before by not sleeping. Last minute changes to your sleeping patterns will only worsen the symptoms of jet lag and make it harder to adjust to a new time zone.
Sleeping on the plane is a great way to ensure you get enough zzz’s to avoid jet lag. If you’re planning to catch some shut-eye on the plane, choosing the right seat is vital. Avoid the back of the plane – any turbulence is going to impact the back of the plane more than the front. Also try and avoid seats with heavy traffic, like near the toilets, where noise and motion may keep you awake. And of course, make sure your seat reclines. In economy, many seats in the exit row or back row don’t have this option, so unless you’re very good at sleeping in an upward sitting position, check with your airline that you’ll be able to recline in your seat.
If you’re flying business class though, you’ll most likely have a comfy, reclining chair that’s easier to sleep in.
Handy hint: If you’re arriving at nighttime to your destination, sleeping on the plane may not be the best option, as you’ll ideally want to go to sleep when you arrive to settle into your new time zone. However, if you’re arriving in the middle of the day and need to stay awake, then having a snooze on the flight will help you stay awake once you’ve landed until an appropriate bedtime.
If you want to sleep on the plane, finding the right seat is crucial. Avoid the back of the aeroplane and make sure your seat reclines
As mentioned previously, gastronomical issues can be a side-effect of jet lag. To help with this, start eating meals in your new time zone before you leave to help replicate what your body does overnight, which is sleep, rest and not eat. This might mean breakfast at 2pm, but hey, who doesn’t love bacon and eggs in the afternoon!
When you hop on the plane, change your watch to your new time zone to help get psychologically aligned to your new destination. You’ll find it much easier to adjust if you know what time it is at your destination throughout the duration of your flight.
Handy hint: Don’t do this the day before, unless you want to risk accidentally missing your flight due to looking at the wrong time!
Tricks for coping with jet lag don’t have to just start on the day of travel. In fact, by adjusting your bedtime a few days earlier, you’ll get used to your new time zone faster. As a general rule, if you’re flying east, start going to bed earlier, and if travelling west, shift it later. That way you’ll be more closely aligned with your new time zone, which will help reduce the symptoms of jet lag.
What are your tips for coping with jet lag? Let us know in the comments box below.
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Coffee, cola and energy drinks are a no-no if you’re trying to avoid the symptoms of jet lag, as they’re also a stimulant and will affect your ability to sleep.