Jet lag, that perplexing state of mental and physical limbo your body attempts to grapple with after a long flight and for which no one has a solution. You’ve tried everything – from starving yourself to drinking the strange smelling “magic water” your grandma concocts before your flight, yet you don’t come out looking like Heidi Klum after a long haul plane ride.
Jet lag is when your body’s circadian rhythm (the internal body clock) is disrupted after crossing several time zones. Travelling eastwards is usually worse as it runs in the opposite direction to the body’s clock. Symptoms include difficulties in sleeping and awakening at appropriate times, poor sleep quality, tiredness, and gastrointestinal disturbances in some cases.
So what works?
The truth is, there is no miracle cure. It takes some level of commitment and surrender to at least one day of complete mental fog and exhaustion. Nevertheless, here are some suggestions that may come in handy when managing the symptoms of jet lag:
Before you Depart
If you’re travelling for business, try planning to arrive at your destination early – at least two or three days beforehand. This is essential if you travelling to an important meeting; you don’t want to turn up to that presentation looking like you haven’t slept in years or falling asleep in front of your boss. Arriving early also allows you to acclimatise to the local weather and environment, which helps in easing the symptoms of jet lag.
Have enough sleep before you leave for your flight. Board the plane refreshed. Sounds simple, but often we stress ourselves out so much right before a trip (work deadlines, that dental appointment, packing for the kids) that we leave feeling like we just ran the marathon. Ensure that you are well rested before flying out—feeling energised and comfortable makes a huge difference when you reach your destination.
During your Flight
Adapt during the flight. Wear a watch and reset it according to the time zone of the destination country. Take naps when necessary, but remember to set an alarm to rise you at the right time. That free eye mask provided at the start of the flight? Use it to control light exposure on board.
Eat right. Don’t gorge yourself on heavy plane food as this might leave you feeling bloated and lacking energy when you arrive. Opt for the healthier meal alternatives offered on most flights these days. Packing light, healthy snacks to enjoy throughout your flight to keep energy levels up. If you’re arriving at your destination at night, consider carb-rich food like rice or pasta to induce sleepiness.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Despite the temptation to go overboard with those free little airline liquor bottles, alcohol can increase tiredness and dehydration. Ditto caffeine, which messes up your body clock even on a normal day. Water is your best bet. Drink up loads upon arrival too.
When you Arrive
Sleep at the local bedtime. If you arrive early in the morning, resist the urge to climb under those comfy hotel sheets. Otherwise you’ll regret it later. Take a walk to see the local sights or do some light exercise to engage yourself. Don’t pack in too many activities; the idea is to occupy yourself until it’s the right time to turn in.
Expose yourself to sunlight. Not only does it help reset your circadian rhythm, it also improves your mood, leaving you feeling refreshed. If you’re travelling to a country with little daylight, you might simply have to ensure that you’re busy enough to get through the day. Or you might consider getting a portable light system if you’re a frequent traveller.
At the End of the Day…
It’s really a process of trial and error. Before jetting off to your next holiday, try minimising the effects jet lag by adopting some of these tips. Listen to your body and eventually, you’ll settle on the most effective method for you.