Whether it’s for work, fun, or visiting family, flying long haul can be a magical experience. You hop on a plane, watch a few films, and before you know it you’re on the other side of the world. While the miracle of travel is amazing, what it does to your body clock isn’t. Unfortunately, there’s no over-the-counter cure for jet lag, but with our tips you can ‘hack’ your body to snap back to normal a bit quicker.
Choose your arrival time wisely
When it comes to ways to fight jet lag, prepping begins when you book your flight. If you can’t sleep on planes, it’s better to arrive in the evening – that way you can head to bed a few hours after checking into your hotel, totally guilt-free. If you are a plane-snoozer, look for flights that arrive around lunch time. You’ll want to make the most of your extra half day at your destination, and moving about will send your body the message that it’s time to be up and about. Even if it is 3am at home.
Split up the trip
The more time zones you cross at once, the more likely you are to suffer from jet lag when you land. Look for flights with layover options in a destination halfway between there and home. For example if you’re going to Vietnam (seven hours ahead), try to stop in the United Arab Emirates (four hours ahead) for a day or two. This gives your body time to adjust and ease into its new schedule.
Move your bed and meal times
Moving your bedtime forward or backward by a few hours in the days before you fly has a similar effect to splitting your trip and can really help you fight jet lag. You don’t have to do the full eight-hour shift, but if you usually go to bed at 11pm try going at 9pm or 1am. Changing your meal times around will also go some way to combating those annoying middle-of-the-night hunger pangs. It might mean tucking into breakfast at 4pm for a few days before you fly, but who’s complaining?
Set your clocks as soon as you board your flight
Don’t wait until you land. Once you’re settled in your seat, that’s the time to switch to your new timezone. If it’s bed time there, try your best to go to sleep. Most airlines provide amenity kits on long haul flights with eyemasks and ear plugs, and these can help to drown out distractions. A sling for your legs that hangs down from your tray table can make you feel more comfy, too. If it’s daytime in your destination, try not to sleep. Short 20-minute naps are okay, but it’s best to stay awake so you can go to bed on arrival.
Stay up until 10 o’clock
It’s oh-so-tempting to sink straight into bed after a long haul flight, especially if you don’t sleep well on planes. This can be a huge mistake. Your body will stick to its old rhythm and you’ll end up lying awake all night, and feeling fatigued during the next day. If you really have to snooze, keep it short – a two hour nap is enough of a boost without destroying your chances of a good night’s sleep.
Step into the light
Our bodies are designed to respond to daylight – we want to be awake when the sun’s out, and asleep when it’s dark. That’s why so many people find it harder flying west to east – it shortens the days, rather than lengthening them, and gives you less time to recover. No matter how tired you feel during the day, do your best to get out into the sun for a stroll around to fight jet lag.
Avoid coffee and alcohol
You might be tempted to knock back the caffeinated stuff until it’s time to officially hit the hay, or have a few glasses of wine to make you dozy – but both can and will disturb your sleep even more. Sure, grab a coffee when you land, but switch to water four hours before bed. Another reason to avoid booze is that morning-after fuzzy head. If you thought jet lag was bad, wait until you combine it with a hangover.
Create a ‘sleep-friendly’ environment
When it’s finally bedtime, you might be surprised to find that you don’t fall asleep right away – even if you’ve been on the verge of dropping off all day. If that’s the case, try to make your sleep area as relaxing as possible. Keep hold of those earplugs and eye mask from your amenity kit, and put your electronics away – no scrolling through social media. Give yourself a 30 to 60 minute wind-down period with no electronics, turn on the fan for a bit of white noise, and draw the curtains so it’s pitch dark.
Get up early and go explore
Even if you only managed to grab a few hours of sleep, resist the urge to have a cheeky lie-in. Don’t just set an alarm, give yourself a good reason to get up on that all-important first day. Book in for a morning food tour, make a reservation at a popular brunch place or schedule a sunrise hike. Your body clock will fight jet lag and get back on track faster once you’re up and about in the sunshine and chatting with other people.
If your trip is short, try to stick to ‘home’ time
It can take days to recover from jet lag, so if you’re being sent to your company’s Singapore or Seattle office for less than a week it’s really not worth changing your circadian rhythms. Try to keep as close to your bedtime at home as possible, even if that means waking up at 4am and going to bed straight after work. You’ll feel much better when you get home, as your body won’t have to adjust so much.