Can Jet lag be prevented?

As is true with many common problems, everyone has an opinion and a lot of advice. And, as is true with common remedies some of the medicine will work for some of the people some of the time.

We have all had that one trip where we found ourselves tripped up and struggling to rally.

But we have you covered for when THAT happens. And we think Solution Number 13 is utter genius (it might even make you WANT to have jet lag).

It may differ, not only from person to person but also from trip to trip. Common symptoms include:

  • Lethargy

  • Crankiness.

  • General malaise

  • Daytime sleepiness

  • Difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep (i.e. insomnia)

  • Early waking

  • Impaired performance

  • Reduced alertness and difficulty focusing

  • Increased irritability

  • Digestive and bowel movement problems

  • Loss of appetite

  • Impaired memory and concentration issues

When a human body travels rapidly across time zones, or even longitudinally,  it can result in a misalignment between the timing of the body’s circadian rhythms and your external physical environment.

This secondary circadian dysrhythmia or circadian rhythm sleep disorder is luckily always temporary. While you are suffering from it your brain is missing the usual cues for regulating your sleep-wake cycle and producing the serotonin.

Adding to the general problem is the social jet lag you will experience when you arrive at your destination and for instance, find yourself out at dinner when you are normally getting up.

Symptoms of jet lag tend to increase with distance travelled and most people experience worse jet lag when they travel east because it is more complicated for the body to set the clock forward on your circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle. (West is best and east is a beast.)

And the aircraft interior does not help matters either. Poor air quality, low humidity and cramped sitting positions are dehydrating and aches and pains will creep up on you.

If you are over 50, generally a morning person, have a pre-existing sleep issue or stress you will be more severely affected. Travelling constantly and overindulging in caffeine and alcohol will also increase your jet lag symptoms.

You will also take longer to adapt when you are travelling to areas with a higher altitude -13,200 feet (4,000 meters) and up- as your body has to learn to function in lower oxygen conditions.

A rule of thumb for recovery is a time zone a day.

  1. Consider how well you tend to sleep on an aircraft and when you usually sleep at home. Try booking a flight that avoids the most disruption (also thinking about your arrival and how long you need to wind down before going to sleep on the other side)

  2. Book the best seat. If you plan to sleep on the flight take the window to avoid being disturbed (remember to fasten your seatbelt over your blanket so the flight attendants don’t need to wake you on checks).

  3. Book a layover to help you adjust.

  4. For high-stakes trips, you should consider, not only adjusting your bed and meal schedule by an hour every night but also maybe arriving a couple of days early.

  5. Eliminate stress as much as possible and try to fly when you aren’t too tired, hungover or sick.

  6. Pick your plane. The A350s and A380s are two of the best planes for anyone wondering how to beat jet lag. Hi-tech humidification systems help the air retain moisture and LED lighting systems capable of creating 7 million shades of colour to simulate natural phases of the day, helping stave off jet lag. Another perk is an air purification system that renews the air every two minutes.

  7. Start hydrated – rule of thumb is 8 ounces for every hour you will fly.

  8. Don’t sleep for longer than 30 minutes on daytime flights.

  9. Try to move periodically.

  10. On arrival go straight into the new sleep and social schedule. If you absolutely have to sleep immediately keep it to under two hours and try to get outside in the sunshine for your brain to start getting the right cues. Get some exercise in and when it’s time for bed make the room as dark as possible. Use light therapy if possible and stay away from caffeine and alcohol.

  11. You could take 0.5 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before you want to be asleep (always check with your doctor before adding any medication to your regime) A sleep routine that is similar to home is best and if you can add your favourite pillow etc even better. The best temperature for sleep is a cool mid 60ºF. Only take sleeping tablets if you like playing Russian roulette with feeling even worse.

  12. For travel that takes you across more than 8 time zones, you have to guard against your body thinking dawn is dusk and vice versa. Travelling west you should avoid sunlight in the early evening and travel east you should avoid sunlight in the morning and seek it at night. These tables will help you to seek Darkness (D) and Light (L) until your schedule has changed.

    To see how to do it use this:

  13. Lean into it. Sometimes your best intentions and every trick in the book WILL NOT WORK and you will just feel horrible. The only best action to embrace under these circumstances is to take a spa day.

Images via Hutomo AbriantoVladislav MuslakovNathan DumlaoSarah Diniz Outeirohowling red