How To Deal With Jet Lag

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We all know how travelling through time zones can wreak havoc on your body. To help you negate the effects of jet lag next time you take off, we asked the experts for their top tips…
Photography ISTOCK/YACOBCHUCKOLENA

Going West Is Easier Than East

 Experts agree travelling west tends to be an easier adjustment than heading east, which throws several of the body’s systems out of whack at once. “This is because the body operates on a 24-hour circadian rhythm, and it takes time to shift them,” says award-winning therapist Marisa Peer. “Moving through time zones and being exposed to daylight when it would usually be night, and vice versa, can understandably play havoc with how the body functions. When you cross time zones, the body uses cues like sunlight and your eating schedule to acclimatise. But when you cross two or more time zones, jet lag is likely. It’s worse when you travel to the east than the west as it’s easier to slow down your body clock than get it to fast forward.”

Mood Changes Are Likely

“Jet lag refers to a disconnect between our internal time (our biological clock) and our external environment,” says sleep scientist Dr Rebecca Robbins. “When we travel, our biological rhythms remain back in our departure time zone. Our ability to fall asleep and maintain sleep in a new time zone is impaired, increasing the risk of poor quality sleep, fragmented sleep and insufficient sleep, which present challenges to daytime function. When you are jet lagged, you are far more likely to be groggy, irritable and moody.” GP and celebrity doctor Dr Ginni Mansberg says digestive problems are also common. “Jet lag comes down to how and when your brain produces melatonin, the sleep hormone. It’s not uncommon to feel dizzy, nauseous and constipated, and you may also experience changes in your appetite. Most people who fly over six or more time zones will need four to six days to get back into their usual sleep patterns.”

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Doing Some Groundwork Before Your Trip Can Help

In the week before you head off, think about moving your bedtime 15 minutes in the direction of your new time zone each night, advises Rebecca, which can make a real difference when it comes to adjusting the body. “You can also download a jet lag calculator online to help you plan your sleep schedule before and after your flight,” she advises. The same goes for mealtimes, says Ginni, although this may be trickier to stick to. “There is evidence that suggests shifting your mealtimes before you travel towards your destination time zone may also help. However, the reality is that most of us work up to the day of a trip and this can be impractical. Nonetheless, if you really suffer with jet lag, this could be worth trying. There is also research to suggest that changing the time of your workouts may do the same. Exercising at 7am or between 1pm and 4pm might shift your entire circadian rhythm earlier, while exercising between 7 and 10pm might push your body clock back.”

Changing The Time On Your Devices Is A Good Idea

Once you’re through security, switch the time on your phone, watch and other devices to your destination’s time zone. “This way, your brain is already syncing with your destination well before the plane lands,” says Rebecca. “Start to eat and sleep on this new time, and when you arrive in your destination, ease into the new time change by moving in one or two-hour increments. It’s hard for the brain to make sweeping changes to our sleep schedules.”

"Eat before you board so you can sleep rather than waiting for an in-flight meal, which you may not get ’til two hours after take-off."

Do Your Best To Get Some Shut-Eye

“If it’s nighttime at your destination, do everything you can to sleep on the plane,” stresses Marisa. “Don’t forget to take ear plus, an eye mask and a neck pillow. It’s also worth paying extra for more leg room to allow you to stretch out. Say no to the free drinks and limit water to after you wake up as you want to sleep, not keep having to wake up to go to the loo. Eat before you board so you can sleep rather than waiting for an in-flight meal, which you may not get until two hours after take-off. Don’t eat if you’re not hungry, as this will only confuse the body and won’t help you acclimatise to the new time zone. You can find food much more easily than you can get some sleep.”

Compression Socks Could Be A No-Brainer

Ginni says a pair of compression socks might be the closest thing to a magic pill for jet lag. “A fascinating 2019 study of elite volleyball players found that wearing compression stockings on a flight improved heart rate, oxygen saturation, alertness and overall health,” she tells SLMan. “They also reported less fatigue and muscle soreness during travel. They should be firmly in your ‘worth a shot’ basket.”

"Try to get outside into the sunshine as soon as you land to stimulate your circadian rhythm."

Getting Daylight When You Land Is Crucial

“Sleep, sunshine and sustenance are three key factors to help you recover from jet lag,” says Marisa. “Try to get outside into the sunshine as soon as you land to stimulate your circadian rhythm and do whatever you can in the first couple of days to give yourself the best chance of a good night’s sleep. Try not to nap before bedtime and make sure you give yourself a couple of screen-free hours before bed, sleep in a very dark room and wear an eye mask. If you wake in the middle of the night, avoid looking at your phone as it may overstimulate your brain and wake you further.”

Exercise Can Help

Multiple studies have investigated the link between exercise and jet lag and have confirmed it can make a difference. This is most likely due to the fact exercise is a natural stimulant and can help the body adapt. Therapist and author Eloise Skinner says just 20 minutes of yoga can get you on your way to feeling brighter and better. “Getting your body moving – and sending blood flow to the muscles after a long period of sitting down – will help return energy to the body. If you’re feeling up to it, a gentle jog outdoors can help reset your circadian rhythm, but if you don’t, then roll out a mat and take a few floor-based stretches. The classic cat/cow stretch is great for your back, which can be tight after a long journey, while child’s pose is a good stretch for your hips. The ultimate goal, when dealing with jet lag, should be to adjust slowly.”

For more, head to DrGinni.com.au, MarisaPeer.com & EloiseSkinner.com. Rebecca Robbins is the sleep expert for Savoir Beds – visit SavoirBeds.com for more information. Dr Ginni is also the founder of ESK Skincare, visit ESKCare.com for more. 

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