Frequent travellers will be familiar with that drowsy feeling that comes with spending a night in an upright chair snuggled up to a stranger whose snoring is even worse than you Grampa Jo’s.
If you’ve never been lucky enough to experience jetlag then I can tell you that it’s similar that feeling when you wake up after a night out, full of excitement for the day, only to reach the front door and feel a hangover hit you hard in the back of the head.
Like a hangover, jetlag is one of those things that we just accept comes with the joy of intercontinental travel. Luckily there are a few things that we can do to help up combat that fuzzy jetlagged feeling.
What exactly is Jetlag?
Jetlag is the name we put to a bunch of symptoms which tends to affect us when we travel quickly across multiple time zones.
Scientists say that these symptoms, such as sleepiness, confusion, stomach issues, are caused by interruptions to our Circadian Rhythm.
To put it simply, we all have an internal body clock which tells us when to eat, sleep, wake up, take a nap, or go to the loo.
One of the main regulators of our internal body clock is daylight, so when we hop continents and our brains perceive daylight when it should be night time our body clock gets muddled up.
This is when jetlag occurs.
Sleep Well Before Your Travel
A common tactic is to stay up the night before packing your luggage and battle your way through the day so that you can sleep on an overnight flight. I’ve tried this method myself with variable success rates. While skimping on sleep may make sure that your physically and mentally exhausted it’s still not a fail-safe solution. When you end up stuck next to a flatulent passenger and the plane is bouncing about in turbulence sleep is frustratingly elusive and you’re more likely to arrive at your next destination having not slept for 48 hours. That’s sure to put the brakes on day one of your holidays. The bottom line is that it’s actually not good practice to change your sleeping pattern at the last minute.
Shift Your Routine According to Your Direction of Travel
It’s generally agreed that travelling west is easier for our internal body clock to adapt too, which is great for Europeans taking their vacation in sunny California, but not so great for residents of the US who are planning to city-hop their way across the EU. Even without crossing continents travelling east is likely to have a larger impact on your energy levels and consequently take more time to get back to normal.
To avoid losing days to that groggy jetlagged feeling you can prep your body for its new time zone by relaxing your usual schedule. According to NASA, it takes about one day to shift one-time zone, so why not start the process a day or two in advance of travelling. For eastward travellers, set your alarms for a few hours earlier and try to go to sleep a few hours earlier, while westward travellers should do the opposite. This will minimise the shock of stepping off a plane at 7 am local time when it’s only 1 am body clock time.
Sleep on the Plane or Stay Awake
Whether you should sleep on the plane or not also depends on which way you’re travelling. For example, if you’re departing from London at 6 am and arriving in Peru at 12 pm (6 pm London time) then you should probably avoid sleeping on the plane so that you’ll be able to go to bed when the Peruvians do. Alternatively, if you travelling in the other direction then you’ll want to get a few hours shut-eye so you’re not falling asleep on your circuit of the London Eye. Admittedly, ridged economy seats are not the comfiest things to fall asleep in but a decent sleep mask, noise canceling headphones and a trusty travel pillow should help you doze off.
Set the Time
As soon as you’re on the plane change your watch match the time in the country you’re going too. This will mentally prepare you for shifting time zones because it’s difficult to convince your mind that it’s bedtime when your watch is reading 11 am.
Stick to Water
Although it’s tempting to hit the bar and celebrate the beginning or end of your vacation with an in-flight beverage, try to hold out until you’ve made it to your destination. The air inside planes is already quite dry and alcohol will only make you more dehydrated, not to mention increasing the effects of tiredness. The same goes for coffee and sugary energy drinks which impact your natural sleep cycle and make the jetlag recovery process that little bit harder. Another top tip is to avoid stocking up on salty snacks which will make you thirsty. There’s no chance you’ll get to sleep if you’re bursting for the loo or having nightmares about using aeroplane toilets.
Part of the discomfort of jetlag is the weary and achy feeling that comes from sitting in a cramped space for an extended period. The best way to work out these kinks and click back into place is to do some exercise. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to go for a 10 km run, but a short walk and few yoga stretches can relieve some of the muscle tension.
If you’re on a short trip of fewer than three days or you will be travelling over multiple time zones then it might be better for you to stay on home time. With less than 24 hours to adjust to each time zone, you’re likely to just confuse your internal clock which can lead to daytime drowsiness, sleepless nights, digestion problems, bad moods and a general ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on’ feeling.
Take it Easy
Overdoing it is a common mistake people make to try to combat jetlag, and while coffee and determination will keep you going for a while, at some point you will have to catch up on the lost sleep. Try to schedule some downtime for the first day of your vacation, take an afternoon nap or head to bed a couple of hours early.