What causes jet lag?
The body learns a pattern of what happens within a 24-hour period – eating, sleeping and physical activity – known as the circadian rhythm. When we fly and move through different time-zones it throws the circadian rhythm into chaos and can lead to loss of appetite, fatigue, bowel problems, indigestion, concentration and memory problems. Not everyone will suffer all of these, and some very lucky people – although they’re few and far between – will suffer none of them. So the main question: how long does it take to recover from jet lag? It really depends on the severity of it, which depends on where you’ve flown, your physical health, and what you do to help yourself recover.
Are certain destinations or journeys worse for jet lag?
If you follow the west is best, east is a beast mantra you’d be pretty bang on. The principle is that it’s easier to cope with a longer day than a shorter day because you won’t be trying to get to sleep when your body is actually waking up, and then getting up when your body thinks it’s the middle of the night. Most research shows that for every time zone you fly through, it’ll take your body and mind a full day to recover and adjust. To help you prepare to the change, read our article on how to survive a long-haul flight.
Here’s our guide to help you prepare for and prevent jet lag before, during and after your flight:
1. Be relaxed with your schedule
Even if you love to know what you’re doing every minute of every day, it’s a good idea to relax your schedule in the days leading up to your flight. If you’re very strict with your routine your body will struggle even more with eating and sleeping at different times.
2. Get plenty of Zzzzzs the night before you fly
Even if you’re excited or nervous, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep before you fly. Don’t make the mistake of trying to tire yourself out more than normal so you sleep more; chances are you’ll find it doesn’t work and you’ll end up having less sleep than normal. Changes to your routine at the very last minute will not leave you better prepared to cope with the jet lag.
3. Time your arrival carefully
Whenever you can, avoid arriving at your destination at night and instead book a flight that arrives in daylight. By the time you’ve collected your baggage, left the airport and traveled to your accommodation you’ll probably find it very difficult to go to sleep for the remaining nighttime hours. Instead, arriving in daylight will make it easier to stay awake and adjust more quickly to the new timezone.
4. Know your planes
We’ll forgive you for not know which planes are best for jet lag, leave the plane-spotting to us. However, the A380s and A350s have hi-tech humidification systems that help keep the air moist, which in turn helps us stave off dry throats and dehydration. They also have LED light systems that can create 16.7 million color shades and simulate the natural light phases of the day, helping your body fight off the jet lag.
5. Split up the trip
If you incorporate a stopover on your journey it will give your body a better chance to adapt to the new timezone and routine. As well as the chance to explore somewhere else on the way! Using Skyscanner’s multi-city flight search helps find the perfect break in a long journey.
6. Don’t drink
We know that a free drink seems like the only way to kick off a vacation trip, but it won’t help you in the long run. Alcohol at altitude increases tiredness and dehydration, both of which contribute to jet lag. If you are going to reach for a drink, make sure you up your water intake too to help combat.
7. Don’t touch the sleeping pills
Again, resisting the short-term gain will help you in the long run. Relying on a sleeping pill to deal with a long-haul flight will just leave you feeling fuzzy-headed when you land and more likely to sleep at the wrong time later on. Instead, try to sleep using only natural methods. Maybe pack some herbal tea in your hand luggage, or download soothing music to your phone.
8. Cut the caffeine
When you order your drink at the airport coffee shop, make it a decaf. Try to avoid cola, energy drinks, and tea and coffee in the hours before your flight. The artificial stimulants will make it more difficult for you to sleep and make the jet lag last longer. As boring as it seems, stick to water on and off the plane if you want the best chance of beating the inevitable jet lag.
9. Set your watch
This tip is best for adults as well as children on a flight: as soon as you get on the plane set your watch to the time at the destination so you can mentally align yourself with where you’re going. If you’re traveling with very young children who like to be on a routine, it’s sometimes easier to switch the routine as soon as you get on the plane rather than once you land; it buys you extra time to help them adjust.
Read more: Tips for keeping children happy on a plane
10. Eat well
If you’ve changed your watch to the time at the destination, try to eat on the plane as you would on the ground. This might mean asking for a different meal, where possible, or improvising with what you’re given. A bowl of cornflakes at 11pm will just leave you extra hungry when you should be sleeping a few hours later.
11. Keep moving
Get out of your seat and move around the plane as regularly as you can to keep your blood circulating freely. And if you’re lucky enough to be able to sleep a solid 6 hours on the plane, we recommend investing in a pair of good flight socks that can help minimize the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis by improving circulation.
12. Look for the sun
Daylight will always make you feel better. It releases hormones that improve the mood so when it’s the right time and you can, seek out the sun.
13. Do some exercise
Stretch out your muscles and boost your endorphins by doing whatever exercise takes your fancy and of course what’s possible in an airplane aisle or in your seat! If you’re short of ideas check out the inflight magazine, most of them have sections on simple exercises and ways to fend off jet lag.
14. Catch up on sleep
Work out a 24-hour period (including the hours after your flight) and try to get as much sleep as you normally would within that time. Don’t be afraid to make up the shortfall with some power naps on the day of arrival if need be.
This article was adapted from a piece by writer Tamara Hinson.
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*Published August 2017. Information correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.