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Top tips on beating jet lag

Travel advice

15th April, 2019

If you’ve flown long haul, you’ll know all about the feeling of jet lag and how disorientating it can be. Whilst there’s no way of escaping the time zone change, there are a few things you can do to minimise the draining jet lag effects.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is the feeling you experience when you fly across different time zones. The medical term is desynchronisation and as the name suggests, it’s a lag in synchronising your body with the time zone in your destination. For example, if you leave a country in the morning and fly for 10 hours and arrive at your destination also in the morning of the same day in that time zone, it may feel as though you’ve gone back in time. On the flip side, you could fly 26 hours, to a destination like New Zealand that’s 12 hours ahead and feel like you have completely lost a day.

Often the impulse is to go to bed to sleep off the jet lag, but actually this could be making your symptoms worse, especially if your body clock is still set to your place of origin.

Jet lag has always been associated with disruption in your sleep pattern as a result of your messed-up body clock, but recent evidence suggests that your digestive pattern could also play a part. Your body clock is determined by both factors – they send signals to your brain, telling it when you should be active and when you should be resting. These are key factors when dealing with the effects of jet lag.

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

The most common symptoms of jet lag include tiredness, lethargy, fatigue, dizziness, the feeling of floating, confusion, hunger at the wrong times and feeling wired at night. Symptoms are worse the greater the time zone change, or essentially, the more time zones you travel across. So, you’d experience jet lag to a higher degree if you flew Los Angeles to UK, rather than Cape Town to UK, because LA is 8 hours different to GMT and Cape Town 2 hours different.

West is Best – East is the Beast

Flying in an easterly direction is much tougher on your body clock and results in worse jet lag than flying towards the West. This is because you are getting ahead of time and essentially losing hours.

What can I do to beat jet lag?

Beating it completely, unless you’ve invented a teleporter or have been cryogenically frozen, is impossible if you’re flying long haul. But you can greatly reduce the symptoms of jet lag by taking a few simple actions, as outlined below:

1. Break up your journey

If you’re booking an inclusive holiday, this may not be possible, but if you can, book your flights in stages and have a stop over somewhere to break up the flight. It will give you chance to deal with any jet lag in stages, which is less taxing on your body.

2. Fly East to West if you can

This might be fine on your outbound trip, but ultimately, you’d have to return in reverse, so you’ll probably have to face jet lag on way or another and will have to weigh up if you’d rather experience it whilst on holiday or when you’re back. If you’re flying to somewhere like Australia, you could travel there East to West via the Transatlantic route and then continue flying East to West on your return journey, flying over Asia and Europe, for example.

3. Set your clock to the time in your destination

We’ve all done that on a flight to a European destination by adjusting our clocks forward an hour to feel like we are on holiday already. Do this at the start of your long-haul flight so that your brain adjusts to being in the new time zone. Avoid sleeping during the day time hours in your destination and sleep during the night hours at your destination’s time zone. You should invest in a good eye mask before you travel.

4. Adjust your mealtimes to your new time zone

For the same reason as above, if you can eat at the correct mealtimes in your destination time zone, you will give your body a fighting chance at adjusting more quickly. Most flights will serve meals as per the times of your country of origin and may dim the cabin lights at night. Take some non-rustly snacks and keep yourself fed and watered at the right times.

5. Get a good night’s sleep the night before you travel

If you can give yourself a head start on the rest factor, do so. Jet lag, like any other exhausting experience such as a virus, is worse when you’re already overtired. Sleep well and arrive at the airport feeling like you have some z’s in the bank.

6. Resist the urge to sleep

If you arrive during the day, rest, recover and rehydrate but avoid sleep. This messes your body clock up and only prolongs the adjustment period. Whether you’re on holiday or back home again after a long flight, there’s nothing worse than waking up at 3am for days and days to come, because you’re all out of sorts. Try and hold out from sleeping during the day and instead, get an early night.

7. Keep active

Trick your body into believing it’s day time by being active. This is easier said than done, but just as you would do on a plane to beat DVT, walk around, stretch your legs, have a chat and generally avoid snoozing. If you’re back home and it is daytime, but your body thinks it’s night time, do some light exercise such as walking and avoid sleeping until the evening. At a push, have an afternoon nap, but set an alarm to only sleep for an hour or two. A power nap is better than having a full-on sleep and then being wide awake at night.

8. Avoid stimulants and sedatives

Sleeping pills, alcohol, coffee etc – as effective as these may be at the time, they will all take their toll. Forcing yourself to be awake when you should be sleeping and to sleep when you should be awake, will wreck-havoc on your body clock and could also make you feel stressed and anxious. Don’t force your body to do something it doesn’t want to do. Gently coax yourself into your new time zone and you should minimise the effects of jet lag nicely.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.