What is Jet Lag? The ever trusty Web MD describes it as the body’s inability to adjust its circadian rhythm due to a rapid change in two or more time zones. The more times zones that are crossed, the more you will feel the effects.
Plane travel in particular lowers blood oxygen levels due to cabin pressure, we are more dehydrated due to low humidity levels, and we tend to move around a lot less that we normally would.
All of these also contribute to the Jet Lag when we arrive at our destination.
Adjust your schedule
Living in Australia made it simple to adjust eating and sleeping schedules. It is easier to delay meal- and bed-times than to fall asleep earlier than you’re used to. A few days before your trip start adjusting your sleep, and if possible your eating, to closer reflect the times at your destination for a smoother transition. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before the flight.
If you’re travelling for work and your calendar allows it why not get there a few days before and acclimatise as you travel.
If you’re trip is of three days duration (or less) there is barely enough time to adjust, and then re-adjust when you get back home, and may not be worth all that effort. You might want to think about keeping your current routine.
Adapt this schedule on the flight, adjust your watch and eat and sleep as you would as if you were already there. Don’t force yourself to sleep though, this can work against you and keep you up from stress.
Sleep can be particularly elusive on planes, particularly if you have phobias or anxieties associated with flying. Think about downloading apps to your phone or create a playlist which helps you in bringing relaxation or practice meditation while you’re on the plane. Headspace is a great meditation app.
A good set of noise cancelling headphones are a good idea, Parrot Zik headphones do a great job.
Or maybe you’re a pre-sleep reader, just so long as the book isn’t too stimulating.
Travel during the day
Of course this isn’t always possible but opting to travel and arrive at your destination during the day will help to stay awake.
Natural light therapy
Exposing yourself to the the sunlight will help to acclimatise to the shift in times as the brain uses these cues to determine when to sleep and when to be awake. This is also helpful in everyday life; I like to be woken up naturally by sunlight instead of demonic alarms. It also helps to have a routine and fall asleep around the same time each night to allow your mind and body to have as much rest and healing as it needs.
This is key, particularly if you suffer from travel sickness. Make sure to start increasing your water intake before your flight, during and also after you get off too. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as these can both dehydrate and affect sleeping patterns.
There are many ‘Jet Lag Diets’ out there which many people will swear by. I’ve always found that as long as I don’t over-eat and make sure to have a well balanced nutritious meal, then I feel much better during and after the flight.
Try to stay away from eating a heavy meal just before going to sleep as this may keep you up when you’re trying to get some shut eye on the plane.
Split your trip
Why not include a short stopover destination onto your trip? You will be able to adjust more easily at your final destination as well as enjoy another city on your travels.
We’re always told to put away our electronic devices just before bed as they can be very stimulation. While this is true I have a more unconventional technique that never fails to put me to sleep.
I’ll put on a movie or TV show that I’ve seen a thousand times before (in my case it’s Friends) and make sure the screen brightness is dimmed and the sound is lowered so I can only just hear it.
This tricks my brain into following the dialogue instead of letting my mind wander and think about everything I need to do the following day and eventually I’ll tune out the show and doze off! I almost never remember seeing the end of the episode.
As long as there is no auto-play (as with Netflix) it will eventually switch off on its own and you will continue your slumber.
Although this suggestion may sound very strange, it is very effective for those of us with very busy or anxious minds.
Unless you know for certain the effects that melatonin, sleeping pills & herbal teas have on you prior to travel these options may actually work against you by hindering your body’s ability to reprogram itself to a new time zone. They may leave your head feeling fuzzy when you land with its effects still in your system long after your flight.
Of course, if you have a tried and tested solution, go for it!