Jet lag is one of those things which most believe is a fuss over nothing until they experience it for themselves for the first time. Personally, I’m fairly sure it’s all part of the gods of travel plan to ensure the universe is balanced; jet lag is the price to be paid – and a fair exchange – for all that fun and adventure had by the globe-trotting hordes.
The scientists have another explanation. They tell us it is all to do with circadian rhythms – the 24 hour-ish programming of our bodies to do certain things such as sleep and eat at certain times and typically in response to the light and dark of our environments. When we get on a plane and cross a multitude of time zones in a few hours our bodies and these rhythms don’t know whether they are coming or going – it’s confusing and things get a little messed up.
Gods of travel or circadian rhythms aside the fact remains the same – jet lag is not just a tiredness brought on by many hours of travel. At its worst jet lag is a combination of extreme fatigue, memory and concentration issues more typically associated with the very old or very infirm along with loss of appetite, indigestion or upset stomach and a general feeling of being under the weather. It’s not nice. So, is there anything which can be done to avoid jet lag or even just reduce it? The good news is there are steps we can take which, although not eliminating it, will reduce its effects of jet lag to some extent. Some of the following are without doubt invaluable advice, some less so but all are worth considering.
1) Ditch the rigid schedules – if you’re a creature of unmovable habits who always eats at a certain time and has a bedtime slot written in stone you’re going to be prime target for the jet lag monsters. Those with daily schedules which go with the flow a little more will face beating the jet lag blues with a distinct advantage.
2) Think stop-over – those with a total flight time which goes beyond 12 hours should consider a stopover en route of at least one night. This gives your body a chance to adjust to an eventual big change by syncing itself in more manageable chunks.
3) Before trip adjustments – this is one of those which some people swear by while others argue it just prolongs the misery – only you can know if it will work for you. The idea is to start making a few adjustments to your sleep patterns before you even get on the plane. Some say setting your alarm for the middle of the night to get up and dressed and do a few task helps. Hmmm…or confuses the heck out of your systems and makes you start off even more sleep-deprived. The jury is still out on the value of this one.
4) Be savvy with your flight choices – some say that planning a flight to arrive in daylight makes body pattern rescheduling easier. Some say arriving at night means you can go straight to bed. Tricky advice here as each school of thought directly contradicts each other. The bottom line is you’ll probably go with whichever flight offers the best deal and everything else is incidental anyway. But see item number 8.
5) An early night – goodbye parties of the crazy and wee small hours kind are probably best skipped the night before you’re due to fly. The advice here is to get as peaceful and long a sleep as possible the night before your trip to set out as rested as possible.
6) Pass up on the drinks trolley – consuming alcohol at altitude during your flight will greatly increase your dehydration levels and can significantly increase feelings of fatigue. Both of these will make the jet lag worse. Drink lots of water instead.
7) Walk the aisles – keeping your limbs moving and your blood circulating while in flight can help reduce the effects of jet lag. However, if constantly squeezing past fellow passengers to get out and walking up and down the aisles proves tricky there are some exercises you can do in your seat which will help too.
8) No sleep ’til bedtime – probably the best piece of advice you’ll ever get is this trick practised by pilots and cabin crew but it’s going to take some willpower. Simply put – don’t sleep until it’s bedtime and eat what is appropriate to your new time zone even though that might mean your head is telling you cornflakes while the restaurants are serving dinner. Your best chance of adjusting quickly is to avoid ‘just a quick nap’ and stay upright until bed time in your new place on earth actually comes around, even if your fatigue is so extreme you feel like you’re on the point of hallucinating.
With this as the key rule for overcoming jet lag quickly it might be worth bringing up the point of ‘4 – Be Savvy with your flight choices’ again. If you apply this rule here and time your flight to arrive early morning you are going to be facing one of the longest days of your whole life.
9) Stock up on daylight – all sorts of chemical body processes and hormone production are stimulated by or linked to daylight so if it’s light outside get out in it if you can and your body can start doing some natural adjustments.
10) Space age jet lag busting – should you have £179 lying around you could invest in the new-to-the-market jet lag solution known as ‘Re-Timer’. These green light emitting hi-tech glasses are designed to re-programme out of sync body clocks and are apparently of the proven scientific rather than the costly seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time gimmick variety. If they work – and you’ll have to read the reviews to decide – they’re worth every penny.
The final word…West is Best, East is a Beast
Travelling east and ‘gaining’ hours proves to be, for most of us, a more jet lag-inducing direction than westward travel in which we’re travelling ‘back’ on the world clock. Apparently our bodies can deal with a longer day and staying awake rather better than a shorter one where we are trying to force our bodies to sleep when they are screaming ‘time to be awake’.
Alternatively you could just pick a destination on your very own time line….no jet lag guaranteed but somewhat limiting if you happen to be from New Zealand….. unless you’re interested in far-east Russia that is.