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9 Ways to Cope With Jet Lag

Posted on 21 September 2022

Jet lag strikes most long-haul travellers, but these useful tips will help your body's natural clock get back on track as quickly as possible.

How to deal with jetlag

1. Stay out in the daylight

Having arrived at your destination, expose yourself to lots of sunshine to help your body regulate its circadian rhythm.

After an east-bound flight, aim for early sun; for west-bound, late sun. 

2. Re-timer glasses

Re-timer glasses expose your eyes to artificial light that mimics daylight.

Use them for 50 minutes in the morning for eastbound trips, or in the evening for westbound.

Woman sleeping with sleep mask

3. Sleep masks and earplugs

When you need to tell your body it's time to sleep, use a sleep mask to block out the light - and assist your body’s melatonin production.

Keeping out sound with earplugs will also help you get some shut-eye.

4. Cold shower at night

A cold shower before bed can also support melatonin production overnight.

5. Take power naps

Lie down for a 20-minute power nap when the need arises.

Aim for 4 or 5 a day. But do try to get at least four hours of regular sleep at night. 

6. Exercise

A period of activity in the early morning or late afternoon can be beneficial. But don't do it too close to bedtime - or the endorphins produced by aerobic exercise will keep your brain awake.

7. Choose your brew wisely

In early mornings try a cup of ginkgo biloba or ginseng to help you recharge. Before bed, aim for a relaxing camomile or valerian to help you sleep.

8. Avoid alcohol and coffee before bed

Cut out the pina coladas and Americanos at least three hours before bed, since they act as stimulants. That said, an enlivening airport cup of joe might be needed to help you reach your hotel in one piece!

9. Do nothing for shorter trips

If you're just crossing time zones for a few days, it might be better to do nothing. After all, you'll be returning to your normal timezone soon enough!

 

What is jet lag?

96% of travellers experience jet lag after a long-haul flight.

Changing time zones upsets your natural sleeping cycle - or circadian rhythm.

Key to this system is the hormone melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy when it's time to go to bed. This internal clock gets thrown out of whack when we travel to a new timezone, and needs time to re-adjust. 

Symptoms of jet lag include insomnia, drowsiness, irritability, aches and difficulty concentrating.

Plane in flight

Flying east is worse than flying west: Why?

The effects of jet lag are more profound if you're heading east rather than west.

A 2016 study revealed your body’s natural circadian rhythm runs for 24.5 hours - a little longer than a standard sun-up, sun-down period.

As such, flying east means you're crossing multiple time zones, so you’re "losing" time on your natural cycle.  

For example, jetting off at 7 a.m. from London and flying to Bangkok takes around 12 hours. Arriving in Bangkok, your body thinks it's 7pm London time, but it's actually midnight Bangkok time - and you're not ready to sleep. Wandering around the sultry Thai capital can be confusing enough without this added problem!

Conversely, the body's circadian rhythm is less confused when travelling west - because going west “prolongs” the body clock's experience of its normal day-night period.

 

Staying up all day?

Some seasoned long haul travellers try to stay awake all day after they arrive at their destination, then fall asleep when the sun goes down. This should mean the body is more or less back to normal the next day.

This might be feasible if the “day” is extended by just a few hours. However, 48 hours without sleep can disrupt the immune system, with some research suggesting natural killer (NK) cells decrease with sleep deprivation. NK cells deal with immediate threats from viruses and bacteria.

In short, you're probably better off trying the tips above!

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