Nothing can put a dampener on your first days of travel like jet lag. A morning arrival after a sleepless flight can leave you feeling like the walking dead and throw out your body clock for days to come.
Jet lag isn’t just frustrating; it’s also potentially dangerous. Sleep deprivation, even in the short term, can seriously impact your mind and body - at a time when you need them the most.
Thankfully, there are some simple ways you can treat the common symptoms of jet lag, and reduce your chance of suffering from it in the first place.
What is jet lag?
Also known as desynchronosis or ‘flight fatigue', jet lag is caused by a disconnection between your internal body clock and the time zone of your destination. For example, if you arrive at your destination bright and early in the morning when your body is usually preparing for sleep, you may experience temporary sleep deprivation and the side effects that come with it.
Our bodies are regulated by 24-hour circadian rhythms, which can be disrupted by unexpected exposure to sunlight and darkness that goes against our daily routine. Flying across time zones can cause our internal body clock to become out of sync, affecting the regular function of our mind and body.
Common symptoms of jet lag
Tiredness and insomnia are the most well-known symptoms of jet lag, but the condition has far more effects than you may expect. Flying across time zones can upset our cognitive abilities, our metabolism and even our digestive health.
Other common symptoms of the disorder include anxiety, confusion, headaches, dizziness, irritability, sweating, memory loss, nausea, indigestion and diarrhoea. The effects of jet lag don’t usually require medical attention, and usually subside in a matter of days.
5 tips to beat jet lag
These symptoms don’t sound pleasant, especially when you’re supposed to be enjoying the first days of a holiday. But if you find yourself a bit under the weather when you land, the following five tips can help you to get back on your feet in no time.
1. Eat at the right times
If you land in the morning feeling completely out of rhythm, one of the best ways to set your body on its natural course is to feed it correctly. That means a nutritious breakfast at 7am, lunch at midday and dinner a few hours before bed - just as you would normally do at home.
2. Resist the urge to nap
A midday nap can be an irresistible temptation, especially if you didn’t sleep a wink on the plane. But just like your meal schedule, it’s important that you align your sleeping pattern to the local time zone. That said, it’s never a good idea to soldier on if you're falling asleep on your feet, which is why you should schedule a relaxing first day of travel and leave the serious sightseeing until you’re fighting fit.
3. Drink water
Air travel can cause dehydration, which can be amplified when you’re suffering the effects of jet lag. Stay hydrated and give your body the best chance to restore.
4. Feel the sun
Sunlight is an essential ingredient in resetting circadian rhythms. If you land in the morning and hide away in your hotel room for the rest of the day, you won’t give your body the signals it needs to adjust to the local time zone.
5. Try a melatonin supplement
There’s no magic pill for jet lag, but some researchers believe that over-the-counter supplements containing melatonin can be beneficial in subduing its effects. Alon Avidan, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Centre, says that a low dose of melatonin supplement can assist your body in acclimatising to a new time zone.
5 mobile phone apps to help with jet lag
Stealing a strategic sleep on the plane is one of the best ways to combat jet lag. Not everybody can achieve this, but with the help of the following travel apps, a comfortable and healthy flight is easier than ever before.
1. A Soft Murmur
With the deep rumble of engines, the chatter of other passengers and the ding of the seatbelt sign, planes can quickly become louder than your average bedroom. Apps like A Soft Murmur allow you to create a calming mix of ambient sounds to drown out the noise. Whether it’s rolling thunder, pattering rain or the warming crackle of a fireplace, you can use the app to doze off in peace.
Beating jet lag can even start when booking your flights. The SeatGuru app provides a database of customer reviews on the quality of individual plane seats on all kinds of aircraft, so you can make an informed decision about which seat will give you the best chance of in-flight shut-eye.
As we know, our bodies rely on light to regulate our circadian rhythm. The Entrain app by the University of Michigan aims to alert travellers when they should seek and avoid light, to restore the body to the local time zone.
4. Jet Lag Rooster
Like Entrain, Jet Lag Rooster aims to inform travellers of their light requirements and offer a strategic sleeping schedule based on your travel plans.
5. Neuroon Open
Unlike the other gadgets on this list, Neuroon isn’t an application that can be downloaded to your smartphone. Instead, Neuroon is an eye mask equipped with sensors to track your sleep patterns. The device gathers sleep data, shows you a personalised ‘sleep score’ and provides tips based on your brainwaves.
How to avoid getting jet lag
Mobile apps can help, but you don’t need to rely on smart technology to help you avoid jet lag in the first place. For a healthy flight, remember to:
- Prepare your body for a change in time zones a few days before you fly. This could mean adjusting your bedtime or meal schedule.
- Stay hydrated but avoid alcohol - it reduces sleep quality.
- Remember to stretch the legs. Exercise is key in regulating your body, and even a few walks up the aisles can help.
- Eat light onboard. One study even suggests that fasting while flying can help your body adjust to a new time zone when you land.
- Layer your clothing, wear breathable fabrics and prioritise comfort over style.
Jet lag myths and misconceptions
Just like some people think stuffing your socks full of garlic will cure the common cold, there are plenty of old wives’ tales when it comes to beating jet lag. Here are five common rumours about jet lag.
1. It doesn’t matter which way you’re flying, jet lag is always bad
The medical community generally agrees that flying east to west is easier on the body clock than the opposite direction. So if you’re travelling west and expecting to lose a few hours of the day, take extra steps to adjust your body clock beforehand.
2. Alcohol will help
Some people believe that alcohol can cure just about anything, but when it comes to avoiding jet lag, this definitely isn’t the case. Alcohol reduces sleep quality, can cause dehydration, and can leave you feeling groggy and irritable when you land.
3. Nighttime flights are best
It sounds like common sense; book a nighttime flight, sleep the entire time, wake up when you land and feel refreshed and ready for your first day overseas. Unfortunately, getting a good night’s sleep in the sky is far easier said than done.
4. Walking barefoot is an easy cure
Some ‘wellness advocates’ and celebrities claim that walking barefoot in the grass, sand or mud once you land is the key to overcoming your jet lag symptoms. While getting some sun does help to adjust your body to the local time zone, there’s no scientific evidence that ‘grounding’ or ‘earthing’ helps.
5. Movies will help you to fall asleep
While there’s no shortage of boring in-flight movies out there, it’s unlikely that they’ll help you to fall asleep on the plane. In fact, it’s more likely that they’ll do the opposite. The light and sound stimulation of a screen in close proximity to your face will prevent your brain from unwinding, and it’s proven that screen time can disrupt sleep.
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