Hopping on a plane and flying across different time zones, whether for business or for pleasure, often results in a condition called jet lag. No matter how used to flying you are, simply being exposed to light at the wrong time of day wreaks havoc on your sleep schedule. Even pilots, cabin crew, and astronauts are not exempt from this phenomenon!
Jet lag occurs when the circadian rhythms that humans operate on get disrupted, typically when we are exposed to light at the wrong time of day. Circadian rhythms are measured by the rise and fall of body temperature, the plasma levels of certain hormones and other biological conditions. These rhythms are influenced by our exposure to sunlight and help determine when we sleep and when we wake. In a new time zone, the circadian rhythms take time to readjust and revert to their original schedule, hence why we feel tired in the afternoon or wake up in the middle of the night.
While the effects of jet lag vary depending on your age, health and stress levels, there are some measures you can take to better adjust to new time zones. So how can you beat jet lag, or at the very least, get over it faster? Read on for some useful tips.
Start adjusting your body clock up in the air
The body usually takes a few days to readjust its internal clock. Expedite this process by starting mid-flight. Change the time on your phone or watch and sleep and eat according to the local time. If it’s time to sleep, skip the in-flight entertainment but if you need to stay up, by all means, watch away!
Water is your not-so-secret weapon when it comes to beating jet lag. The air in the cabin gets very dry at 30,000 ft and mild dehydration is not uncommon. Be sure to drink plenty of water not only on the flight, but before boarding as well. Being dehydrated worsens some of the physical symptoms of jet lag, like fatigue and indigestion.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and acidic drinks
Alcohol is a definite no when it comes to reducing the impact of jet lag, as it is a diuretic – a substance that acts on your kidneys to increase urine excretion. In fact, the amount of pee you produce increases by 10ml for every 1g of alcohol consumed. Besides making you visit the restroom more, hence affecting your sleep, its effects at high altitudes increase tiredness and cause dehydration, making beating the inevitable jet lag even harder.
Stimulants like coffee or other caffeinated drinks lower your quality of sleep and keep you awake, further damaging your sleep cycle. Caffeine consumed close to bedtime, or even late in the afternoon, has the potential to disrupt sleep, intensifying the effects of jet lag.
It’s not just alcohol and caffeine that can worsen jet lag – the acidity in drinks like orange and tomato juice are abrasive on the stomach and can heighten your discomfort.
Besides water, opt for a gentle, caffeine-free drink like chamomile tea to beat jet lag and keep you hydrated and comfortable on your flight.
Avoid eating heavy foods and carbs
To further reduce the effects of jet lag, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests eating light meals while in the plane. Researchers from Harvard Medical School have also found that mealtimes are instrumental in readjusting the internal body clock and preventing jet lag. If jet lag typically impacts your holiday fun, they recommend eating only before and after flying and fasting while up in the air.
Consider your flight timings
As far as possible, plan your flight so that you arrive during the day, as you might be less tempted to spend a beautiful day indoors, sleeping. Get your fill of the local fare for energy and head out to see the sights.
Exercise is also important! Spending the day walking in the sunshine kills two birds with one stone. It helps your body clock adjust to the new time zone and can also tire you out enough to get a good night’s sleep.
If you’re unable to find a flight that lands in the daytime and you arrive at night, be sure to go to sleep immediately. Wearing an eye mask and sleeping in a dark, cool room helps you fall asleep faster, restarting your sleep cycle and helping you beat jet lag.
Try not to engage in serious conversations or any intense activities before going to bed. Instead, do something relaxing, like taking a bath. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to sleep as this can have a counterintuitive effect and keep you awake. Avoid using your phone, get cosy, and crack open a book – reading makes you sleepy.
Know when to take naps
As tired as you may be upon arrival, napping at the wrong time might only make your jet lag worse. Observe the 11am rule followed by pilots – only take a short nap if you have arrived at your hotel by 11am local time. This ensures you’re well rested enough to last through the day and still able to comfortably fall asleep at night.
Just remember to set some alarms so you don’t waste your day away.
Regulate your light exposure
Sunlight helps to reset your internal body clock. Going outside and getting exposed to daylight is the most effective way to beat jet lag, since it causes a phase shift, that is an advance or a delay in the circadian rhythms.
Research done at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago concluded that people become less jet-lagged if they regulate their light exposure and fully adjust to the new time zone two days prior to arrival.
Since the presence of light prevents the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep, conceal any device that emits blue light. Turn off the source of the light or throw a towel over it, if necessary.
Avoid sleep aids
Though they do help under certain circumstances, WHO advises against taking sleeping pills on planes. The deep sleep that accompanies sleeping pills increases your immobility and hence, the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Instead, opt for an herbal tea and bring your own bags, which you can brew with hot water upon request from the cabin crew.
While everyone is different and there’s no one-stop solution for jet lag, it’s best to simply take care of yourself through the stress of traveling. Don’t exert yourself and give your body the nourishment it needs so you can better enjoy or make the best of your trip.