We've all heard about it, most of us were unlucky to suffer through it at one point or another. For all the first time flyers out there, it's real. If you're crossing time zones while flying, prepping for a massive jet lag episode will save you time a one-way ticket. Trust us, we've been there. Some of the team at TravelbyBit have been unfortunate enough to experience jet-lag while travelling for conferences.
Our trips often require us to to be on our feet, meeting new people, talking about the joys of travelling (the irony). It means we have to recover in a short period of time; we quickly learned not self-medicate with 5 shots of caffeine. But there's good news for everyone - there are easy ways to prevent it.
Why am I Jet-Lagged?
Jet lag happens when several time zones are crossed quickly. Your body's natural sleep rhythm (or circadian rhythm) are disrupted, so they are no longer in sync with the outside world. This causes you to feel sleepy when it's daytime or wide awake at night at your destination. Severity your jet lag depends on how many time zones you've crossed, as well as the direction you've travelled in (more on that later).
Though it lasts temporarily, it's always a pain when it disrupts your plans in an exciting new destination. It takes an estimated 1 day per time zone crossed, for your internal body clock to fully adjust to local time in your destination.
More factors that might increase your likelihood of getting jet-lag:
The number of timezones crossed. As mentioned above, the more timezones you hop, the more likely you are to get jet-lagged.
Flying frequently. Pilots, flight attendants and business travellers are most likely to experience jet-lag due to the high possibility of flying to different locations within a short period of time.
Old age. According to a study conducted on elderly mice, if you are an older adult you may take more time to adjust to new timezones due to deteriorating circadian clocks and light receptors in our brains. Compared to children whose symptoms are milder and recover faster.
Pre-existing sleep conditions. If you already suffer from sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits prior to travelling, you could experience jet lag symptoms.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
The easiest way to know if you have jet lag is when you feel exhausted during the day, or find it hard to sleep at night right after reaching your destination.
Other common symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Memory/Concentration issues
- Mood swings
- Heavy head and headaches
- Sleep disturbances, insomnia
- Feeling of exhaustion
These symptoms may gradually improve as your body naturally adjusts to the new time zone.
Is it Really Worse When Travelling East?
Numerous studies have been conducted to test this theory. A study published in 2016 revealed that travelling east is worse for jet lag. Your body's natural rhythm is prepped for better performance for longer days (24.5 hours) than shorter days. When you're travelling east over many time zones, you're losing those precious sleeping hours.
You'll end up trying to sleep when your body is waking up (almost like getting up at midnight), and vice versa. If you departed in Miami, you'd feel the effects 6 hours later in Paris compared to 6 hours earlier in Honolulu.
10 Tips on How To Prevent Jet Lag
Symptoms gradually improve as your body naturally adjusts. Here are some tips you can try the next time you travel (without popping any pills).
1. Plan your trip well
Selecting the right flight times can make a difference. Picking a flight that enables you to land early in the evening ensures that you get a great night's sleep right away. Make sure everything is in order before you leave, to avoid staying up the night before to pack and get your documents in order. Here's a foolproof guide to major airline baggage limits.
2. Choose your plane
If travelling east, trying to get as much sleep as you can on the flight is essential to avoiding jet-lag. Doing your research before booking your flights and choosing planes such as the A350s or A380s can reduce your jet lag. Specialised air purification systems and LED lightning improve air quality and sleeping conditions in the cabin; helping you to fend off jet lag without having to lift a finger.
3. Take note of what you drink
Staying hydrated with plenty of water before your trip. Steering clear of ‘stimulants’ such as alcohol and caffeine before and during the flight can help with combating jet lag, also avoiding dehydration. Drinking alcohol on the plane can cause hangover symptoms that can worsen jet lag and travel fatigue. On the flip side, caffeine can help to keep you awake to help adjust your sleep schedule, but consuming it in large quantities will definitely keep you awake longer than intended.
4. Get some sunlight
Studies have shown that the best way to recharge and regulate your sleep cycle is to go out in the sunlight. Staying indoors worsens jet-lag if you land during the day. If travelling east, aim for sunshine in the early morning. If travelling west, get some morning sun. Keep your room as dark as possible when you're sleeping at night.
5. Set your watch
This is a tip that might not work with everyone but worth a try. When you're settled into your seat on the plane, set your watch or phone to match the time of your destination to mentally prepare yourself. Make sure not to make the mistake of setting it before you get on the plane - lest you miss your flight!
6. Catch up on sleep
Taking short, 30 min naps for a few days before the flight can help you to stay more alert while travelling. Alternatively, take short naps in the early afternoon when you’re at your destination (no longer than 2 hours) to get your sleep schedule back on track. Remember to set your alarm as to not oversleep. Also, make sure to catch up on enough winks during the night before the trip to ensure that you're energised and ready to go.
7. Get some exercise
Get moving to boost endorphins and stretch to warm up your muscles to prevent uncomfortable cramps that tend to develop on flights. Being stationary for long periods of time can potentially put you at risk for developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Blood clots in deep veins in your body may break free and create severe health complications. Running up and down the aisles of the plane is not recommended and will not put you in favour of the flight attendants.
However, quick and easy exercises like neck or shoulder rolls, forward bends, calf raises and quad stretches can provide much-needed relief. Even taking a stroll along the aisles will help to loosen knots in joints and muscles.
8. Don’t wear shoes on the plane
Bad blood circulation is a common cause of jet lag, a good pair of socks will keep you comfy, warm and improve circulation on the plane without having to wear shoes at your seat. Compression socks are also great for promoting blood circulation. Specially designed to be tight at the ankles and looser on the calves, it’s great to have on the flight to prevent swelling and blood pooling.
9. Consider a stopover
Lastly, consider planning for a stopover on a long trip to get ample rest before continuing on your journey. Two holidays are always better than one. A stop can be a rewarding part of your journey and can expose you to new experiences (if you plan for it well!). Some of the top destinations around the world for a stopover are Amsterdam, Singapore, Dubai, Bangkok, Tokyo, Shanghai, Lisbon and Vancouver.
10. Strategic napping
Consider bringing eye masks and earplugs for comfort while sleeping on the flight (some airlines provide these for passengers). Through setting the time on your watch to match the destination, try to sleep when it’s night-time at your destination. To reduce sleepiness, intervals of 20-minute naps also help you to get enough rest on your flight.
Wear comfortable clothing to ensure you aren’t constantly waking up just to adjust your clothing. Maximise comfort by using a pillow to support your head and neck while you sleep.
11. Foods that help with jet lag
While on your flight, choosing your meals wisely can also contribute to getting jetlagged. Opting for food with high water content such as watermelon, strawberries, celery and cucumbers can keep you hydrated on your flight. To keep energy levels stable, food rich with protein like chicken or fish can help. Bananas can help with blood sugar levels and can give a quick boost of energy. Ginger also contains melatonin which can help you to alleviates symptoms adjust to new time zones. See here for some of the best and worst airline foods worldwide.
Seek medical advice
For most people, the body needs anywhere from a few days to weeks to adjust to the new time zone. If all else fails and the jet lag becomes too unbearable, a quick trip to the doctors always helps. Do seek medical advice if your symptoms have not improved after 2 weeks. Now that you're armed with the knowledge on how to best avoid jet lag, get out there and travel freely!