What causes jet lag?
Working out how to prevent jet lag becomes significantly easier when we understand how our bodies work. Our bodies are naturally programmed to do a number of things throughout a 24-hour period, such as eating and sleeping. These built-in routines are known as circadian rhythms, and when we fly they’re thrown into disarray. Moving through time zones can play havoc with our bodies, leading to extreme fatigue along with indigestion, bowel problems, loss of appetite, memory and concentration issues. Sounds rough, right? Well, these are the most common effects of jet lag, but different people can be affected in different ways. And if your next question is “how long does it take to recover from jet lag?” then sorry to disappoint you keen travel planners, but there’s no fixed answer. Jet lag doesn’t just affect different people in different ways. Jet lag effects can vary depending on our age, state of health and stress levels.
Are certain countries worse for jet lag?
The expression goes that west is best, east is a beast, and it’s true. This is because you’ll end up trying to get to sleep when your body is actually waking up, meaning you’re forced to get up at what feels like the middle of the night. To put it another way, your body is better equipped to cope with a longer day than a shorter one. Studies have found that it takes a full day to recover from each time zone you travel through. No matter where you’re going, we’ve got plenty of tips on how to survive a long-haul flight.
Learn how to prevent jet lag with these 14 tips, for before, during and after the flight.
1. Relax your schedule
Knowing how to prepare for a long-haul flight can mean you start your holiday feeling fresh, rather than fatigued. If you’re someone with a rigid schedule at home, try to relax that schedule during the days before your flight. Having a rigid routine of eating and sleeping will make it harder to adjust to new time zones. If you’re flexible about such arrangements, you’ll start your trip abroad with a major advantage.
2. Get a good night’s sleep before you fly
People often end up having slept for just a few hours before a long flight – whether it’s due to pre-holiday excitement or a deliberate attempt to tire yourself out so that you’ll sleep through the flight. Big mistake. Last minute changes to your routine will only make it harder to adjust to new time zones, and getting a good night’s sleep before your flight will leave you better equipped to cope with jet lag.
3. Avoid arriving at night
If possible, opt for a flight which arrives in daylight. This will make it easier to stay awake – you’ll be much more tempted to get out and explore if the sun’s shining and you’ve got a full day ahead of you. A more extreme solution? Only fly to destinations within the Greenwich Meridian – destinations with the most similar time zones to the UK. Options include France and Spain and (for the more adventurous) Togo, Ghana and some parts of Antarctica.
4. Be plane savvy
You don’t have to be a plane-spotter to know that A350s and A380s are two of the best planes for anyone wondering how to beat jet lag. Hi-tech humidification systems help the air retain moisture and LED lighting systems capable of creating 16.7 million shades of colour simulate natural phases of the day, helping stave off jet lag. Another perk is an air purification system which renews the air every two minutes.
5. Split up the trip
Try and build in a stopover, so your body has more time to adapt to the new routine. This can also slash the price of your airfare. Skyscanner’s multi-city flight search can help you choose the perfect one-day break.
6. Avoid the bar
Tempting though it is to kick off your holiday with a pre-flight gin and tonic, the effects of alcohol at altitude will increase tiredness and cause dehydration, making it even harder to beat the inevitable jet lag.
7. Sleeping pills are a no no
Relying on sleeping pills for long-haul flights is a bad idea. They’re not worth it. They’ll do nothing to assist your recovery from jet lag and will just leave you feeling fuzzy when you land. If you’re in need of some shut-eye, do it the natural way. Unlimited, free hot water is one of the best in-flight freebies, so why not bring your own herbal tea bags?
8. Say goodbye to coffee
Avoid caffeine-heavy beverages such as coffee, cola and energy drinks. These artificial stimulants will affect your ability to sleep and increase jet lag recovery time. Your body functions best when it’s hydrated, so drinking lots of water is a great way to offset the effects of jet lag.
9. Set your watch
When you get on the plane, set your watch to the time of your destination to get yourself psychologically aligned. A warning: don’t get clever and do this beforehand, unless you want to end up with the world’s most ridiculous excuse for missing your flight.
10. Keep on movin’
Move around regularly and do exercises to keep the blood flowing. And if you’ve ever wondered how to avoid DVT, you should know that good circulation is key. Investing in a pair of flight socks will minimise the risk of DVT and improve circulation (a slowing of which is one of the most common effects of jet lag). Who cares if they look horrendous? This isn’t a fashion show.
11. Eat right
A more extreme tip is to start eating three meals a day in line with the new time zone, even if that means cornflakes at 11pm. And if you’re the type of person who enjoys a suppertime snack anyway, it might not be such a burden.
12. Hunt for the sun
Get as much daylight as you can. Daylight makes you feel better. Unless you’ve been up all night. Which is never, ever a good idea before a long flight.
13. Get some exercise
Do some exercise to boost your endorphins and stretch out the kinks which develop on long haul flights. These days, almost all airline magazines will have a section dedicated to simple exercises for long haul flights.
14. Catch up on sleep
Try to get as much sleep as you normally would in a 24-hour period – make up any shortfall with a (short) snooze on the day of arrival if necessary.
So you’ve worked out how to beat the jet lag and you’re ready to explore the world. Here are some other tips to help you get the most out of your big adventure ✈️
Follow our 10 survival tips for long flights to emerge refreshed, relaxed and ready to start your holiday when you touch down…
Here’s a list of what not to do on a flight, from getting drunk to making ill-advised jokes at security.
Get your trip off to a flying start and whizz through the airport like a pro with a little help from our well-travelled staff and top travel bloggers.