The world we live in is getting smaller, with more and more people travelling by air than ever before. If you’ve ever travelled long haul, you’ll know one of the major downsides to jet setting is the groggy, half-awake feeling that can ruin your first few days upon arrival, and set you back a day or two when you get back home. But what can be done? Here are 12 of the top tips and tricks that help frequent fliers beat the jet-lag blur.
1. Trick your body clock
If you know your dates of travel some days in advance, try to shift your sleep schedule ahead or behind by a few hours, depending on your destination. If you’re travelling east, go to bed a little earlier, even if you don’t sleep. If you’re travelling west, resist going to bed for a little longer. Even an hour’s adjustment can make the difference between falling asleep in the middle of dinner or feeling a bit drowsy by the end of drinks.
2. Adapt your diet
Digestion requires a lot of energy, so eating a heavy meal can tire you out when you’re body is already trying to cope with keeping itself awake. When professional athletes travel internationally to compete in global events, they follow a strict diet that alternates vegetarian, lean protein and fasting in the days leading up to their departure. This ensures that they are fit and ready to perform as soon as they arrive at their destination.
3. Skip the in-flight meal
This will come as good news to food purists everywhere: don’t eat anything on board. Food plays a key role in the regulation of our circadian rhythm: our bodies know what time of day it is in relation to the meals we eat. By holding off on the food until the next local mealtime, your body will more quickly adjust to the local time. If you arrive mid-afternoon or morning and absolutely must eat, grab a quick snack but don’t sit down for a big meal unless it’s time for that at your destination.
4. Stay Hydrated.
Although not eating might prove beneficial, don’t skimp on the drink! The air on board is very treated, and very drying, so it’s important that you drink at least double the amount of fluids you would when on the ground. Some theories suggest that a large number of the symptoms of jet-lag are merely signs of dehydration (e.g. nausea, fatigue, pallor etc.) Water is generally best, although herbal teas are also very hydrating. Stay away from fizzy drinks, sugar-laden juices and alcohol, which has a more drastic effect on-board due to altitude and air pressure.
5. Move around.
Until I became a frequent flier, I firmly believed that moving around the cabin was a nuisance to the already busy and overworked cabin crew. Newsflash: it’s not! It’s very much recommended. To avoid the feeling of heaviness in your legs, improve circulation and just generally feel more refreshed, try get up and walk around every couple of hours or so. If the plane is packed, or you are uncomfortable, try some simple stretches in your seat. And don’t stay in the same position for too long, unless you’re sleeping of course!
6. Stay active.
If you can, try to engage in some sort of stimulating activity for at least part of the flight. Read a book, do a Sudoku or crossword, get some work done on that big project you’ve got coming up. Chat to your neighbor, if you’re so inclined. Watching films for 12 hours on that tiny screen will only leave your body and mind feeling sluggish upon arrival.
7. Switch to local time
Mid-flight or as soon as you get on board, set your watch to the local time at destination. You can do the same with your gadgets if they do not automatically update upon arrival. This will get you into the local time mindset, and help you plan your activities at destination more efficiently.
8. Sleep at local time
This can be tough once the cabin crew have dimmed the cabin lights and covered you in a toasty blanket, but it really works. Work out your ideal bedtime at destination, and whatever is going on on-board at that time, try at least to take a nap. This is your body’s first introduction to its new time zone. If you can’t manage to fall asleep, putting on a mask and some earplugs can help you to at least tune out the noise and get some rest.
9. Wake up at local time
Same idea as above, but could prove just as difficult. Here’s a neat trick to perking yourself up when you’re feeling drowsy: Brush your teeth with strong, minty toothpaste and cold water (ask for a bottle as airplane tap water is full of germs), and change your socks. For some reason, doing this makes your brain think that it’s starting a new day. Add to that tying your hair back tightly if you have long hair, and splashing your face with cold water.
10. Don’t nap!
Resist! Resist! Resist! Be strong! If you really are walking into walls and have a full day ahead of you, then limit your nap time. Airline pilots who land in the early hours of the morning often limit their naps to a couple of hours – just enough to keep them going for the rest of the day. Sleeping any more than this can make you feel majorly groggy and out of place.
11. Get moving!
Get outside, expose yourself to natural sunlight, fresh air and a stimulating environment. Do some light exercise like going for a walk or doing some stretches. Talk to people, watch or read something funny to make you laugh or just generally do something stimulating that you enjoy.
12. When in rome…
…eat when the Romans do. Resist the urge to eat a full meal when it isn’t the correct local time. By all means snack if you must, and drink plenty of water, but try force yourself into the eating schedule of your destination. Your body will have an easier time adapting to its new environment with mealtimes as a point of reference.