Jet lag – it can be a bit of a set-back to all my wanderlusting, but not quite enough to put me off altogether. I have a new found respect for the serious jet-setters out there, because anything over 10 hours is a definite struggle. I recently flew from Dubai to San Francisco, direct, and it was certainly an interesting experience. I think the idea of being holed up in a tin can at 40,000 feet for 16 hours gave me some pre-flight anxiety, but in reality, you plan your time, do some work, read a book, watch some films – sleep if you’re lucky, and then you arrive at your destination. So that’s all good, and then the jet lag sets in.
Well, I have learned my lesson and I thought I would do some research to set me up for my next trip, to actually understand what my body is going through as it crosses time zones, and how I can strategically go about resetting my internal clock to alleviate the repercussions of long-haul flights. This is what I found out.
1. Plan ahead
It makes sense to plan ahead a little, if you can, and the plan here is actually not to plan so much. A few days before you fly, get a little more flexible with your usual routine – maybe delay your eating times a little (or bring them forward) depending on which way you’re flying. The same goes for your sleep schedule – try to adjust slightly in favour of your next time zone, so you don’t put your body into total shock when you get there.
2. Get a good night’s sleep
As much as you want to wear yourself out in anticipation of that flight, (thinking you will sleep your way through it), this isn’t a good strategy and is likely to cause your body even more disruption as you skip across those time zones. Get a decent sleep the night before you travel, and start your journey well rested.
3. Set your watch
Just as you’ve done some routine adjustments, it helps to set your watch to your next time zone, so you know where you’ll be at when you land. One word of caution: wait until you have boarded the flight to set your watch, otherwise you are quite likely to miss it altogether.
4. Avoid the caffeine
You’re going to hate me for this, but it’s true – caffeine is only going to exacerbate your jet lag issues; try some chamomile tea, or decaf coffee if you really need your fix, and you’ll just be more chilled out on the whole.
5. Eat right
This one is tricky when travelling, but try to keep your eating routine as close to what it was prior to the trip. So, say you’re taking an overnight flight and it’s going to take you nine hours to get to your destination – well, rather than eating the plane meal at midnight, focus instead on getting some rest and sleep through. You wouldn’t be eating at this time normally, so no need to in this instance. Then follow up with a healthy balanced breakfast – because all airlines have amazing options there, right? OK so, have your eggs and turkey sausage, and supplement with some of your own food – fruits, healthy snacks, unsalted nuts, to keep you in sync with your regular routine.
6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Hydration is important at the best of times, and even more so when flying – seeing as you’re sharing a limited amount of space with a hundred or so strangers, and it can feel pretty dry and dehydrating in the regulated environment of the cabin. Drinking water will keep you hydrated and less irritable on a long-haul flight. Before you fly, it’s a good idea to eat foods that are high in water content, and avoid fatty or salty foods that are going to make you thirsty.
7. Alcohol – sorry vino
Well this goes hand in hand with the hydration part, and alcohol can seem like a life saver on the plane – helping to put you into that much-needed slumber you’ve been trying to achieve for the past seven hours, but it will actually be dehydrating and will cause a more restless sleep overall.
8. Try some relaxation techniques
Seeing as we just took your trusty bottle of wine out of the equation, it would be a good idea to adopt some relaxation techniques, to help with getting that rest. Try some basic meditation – just take yourself out of the environment (mentally that is), close your eyes, think of where you actually want to be (hopefully at your next destination) and count to ten – on repeat. Acknowledge your thoughts, but make sure that they don’t remain at the forefront of your consciousness; you feel slightly ‘zoned out’ but aware – similar to the effects of red wine at high altitude.
9. Post-flight exercise
I can’t say I am too keen on this one, but I say it from experience that one of the best things you can do after a long-ass flight is to get yourself to the gym. If you don’t have access to a gym, then go for a run, a swim, bike ride, a brisk walk even. The movement gets your blood flowing and a bit of cardio will tire you out physically, rather than simply feeling the exhaustive effects of travel. It helps to get your body back into some sort of a routine. Ish.
10. Get some fresh air
Maybe that exercise idea didn’t have you convinced, so instead, go out and explore a little (if your destination will allow). Go for a walk – you don’t have to go far, just get some fresh air into your lungs, some vitamin D if it’s sunny out, and help to combat some of the effects of the cabin environment and all that sitting. It all helps.
11. Resist the urge to sleep
This is one of the hardest for me. You get to your hotel room and the bed is so very inviting, teasing you with those crisp white sheets – but don’t do it. Your body won’t know what’s up or down after a 16-hour flight, so you have to forcibly train it, and resist the natural urge to sleep. You need to work on getting your circadian rhythm back in sync, so do your best to stay up to a normal bed time in your new city, and if you really need to nap, 30 minutes is your maximum, otherwise you risk falling asleep for a few hours and waking up in the middle of the night – right back where you started. Oh, and the next morning, you’re going to need to get up at a reasonable hour too – sorry fluffy goose down pillow.
12. Break your journey up
Personally, I am one for getting there by the fastest and simplest route possible – so I fly direct when I can. But this might not suit you, so breaking up your journey a little by building in a stop-over could benefit you massively overall, give you some time to stretch, walk around – maybe see the sites somewhere new if you have enough time. Do what works for you.
So that’s my take on long-haul flights and how to combat the delightful effects of jet lag. Travel is everything to me, so I’ve got to make it work to my advantage in all the ways. Have a read of why I think travel is so damn good for you.