Long-haul flights and jet lag seem to go hand in hand. Whether you’re flying across the Atlantic or on a trans-continental trip, journeys that either shorten or lengthen your day can result in serious disturbances to your sleep patterns.
Luckily, the annoying phenomenon known as jet lag can be avoided using a mix of pre-flight planning and simple tactics for improving your alertness once you arrive at your destination.
In this blog post, we’ll look at the strategies you can use to make your next holiday more enjoyable and avoid the frustrating jet lag that leaves you feeling ‘out of sync’ once you reach your destination.
Learn whether you’ll be extending or shortening your day
Did you know that you’re more likely to feel jetlagged when you fly from west to east? This is because flights in this direction result in a shorter day, which is more challenging for your body to adapt to.
While it’s easy to fall asleep when you’re very tired from a long trip that results in long periods without sleep, it’s tough to adjust to a normal sleep schedule at your destination when you don’t feel tired.
This is why you might not feel jetlagged when you fly from London to New York, since you’re extending your day rather than shortening it. Fly to Shanghai, on the other hand, and you’ll shorten your day by an entire seven hours.
Preparing for jet lag is more important when you’re shortening your day, since it requires adapting your body to your new time zone in advance. Take note of how many hours you’re gaining or losing before you start preparing for your trip.
Change your bedtime before you travel
If you’re travelling to a time zone that’s at least six hours out of sync with your own, it’s important to adjust your bedtime before you travel. Start going to bed earlier or later, depending on your destination, at least three days before you travel.
This is helpful for two reasons. Firstly, it adjusts your body to the process of going to bed at an unusual hour This makes it a lot easier to adjust to sleeping when you feel unnaturally tired or alert once you reach your destination.
The second is that it naturally shifts your circadian rhythm prior to your trip. While it’s difficult (not to mention impractical) to completely adjust to your destination’s time zone before you leave, a simple two-hour change in your bedtime will help.
Try to avoid using sleep supplements like melatonin to change your sleep schedule prior to your trip. It’s better to simply start going to bed earlier or later before you depart for your journey.
Adjust your sleep habits while you fly
As soon as you board the plane, adjust the clock on your phone and computer to the local time zone in your destination. Take off your wristwatch and adjust it too – get your entire toolkit in sync with where you’ll be travelling to.
If you’re flying during your destination’s night, prepare for sleep during your flight, and try your best to sleep while you fly. It’s better to have eight hours of low quality, interrupted sleep on your flight than to arrive completely jetlagged and tired.
Since sleeping on planes can often be a challenge, bring a pair of good earplugs and an eyeshade to try and block out as much of the noise and light as possible. Drinking alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it can disrupt your REM sleep and leave you feeling tired, not to mention hung over, once you reach your destination.
While it’s not the best idea to set an alarm for while you’re on the plane, preparing to wake up in your destination’s morning during the flight is a good idea. Request a wake-up call from the cabin crew if you’re worried about oversleeping.
The longer the flight, the harder it can be to defeat potential jet lag without using stimulants. If you need to keep yourself awake in order to adjust to a destination’s time zone during the flight, try to keep your caffeine consumption to a minimum.
Once you reach your destination, relax and refresh
When you arrive at your destination, it can be tempting to give in to light feelings of tiredness or fatigue. Whether you arrive at 9AM or 4PM, get yourself into the city’s natural rhythm and do what you’d normally do on a holiday or weekend.
Don’t book any important appointments for your first day at your destination. Get out and explore, drop into a café for a coffee, and make sure you spend at least ten minutes in daylight to trigger a hormonal alertness and energy response.
It’s difficult to completely avoid jet lag during your first day in a new time zone, but if you’ve adequately prepared at home and you adapt to your destination as soon as you arrive, you’ll definitely avoid it on the second.
Take your first night’s sleep seriously
Feeling tired at 7PM? Don’t give in and slip between the sheets prematurely. Most jet lag occurs when you give in to temporary tiredness and throw your body out of its natural sleep cycle.
Instead, go to bed at the same time as you would at home. Sacrifice a few hours of temporary tiredness in the afternoon and late evening for a normal night of sleep and you’ll wake up the next day feeling refreshed and normal.
Your first night in a new destination is the most important, and establishing your normal sleep habits then will help you stick to them for the rest of your trip. Stick with your natural bedtime and fall asleep naturally, even if it feels unnatural.
The next day, you’ll wake up ready to conquer your to-do list and make the most of your itinerary, whether it’s a fun day of sightseeing, a shopping adventure, or a key business presentation.