Few people would dispute that international travel is fun, but there is a downside: jet lag. Sadly, there’s no cure (at least not yet), but there are plenty of things smart travellers can do to make crossing time zones easier. This is our 10-step guide:
Before you fly:
1. Prepare ahead
Jet lag is not just tiredness. It’s what happens when your body’s internal clock is out of sync with local time, and it can take much longer to correct than just a lack of sleep and dehydration. Smart travellers start preparing a few days before by moving their schedule closer to that of their destination. Obviously, if you’re crossing 12 time zones, you can’t get it exact, but you can shift your routine by a few hours to reduce the shock.
2. Get enough sleep.
In theory, staying up late before you travel so you’re more likely to sleep on the plane seems like a good idea. But, in practice, it rarely works. You’re just as likely to make yourself more tired than necessary if you still can’t sleep in transit. The best way to travel is when you’re well rested.
3. Stop eating.
We can’t vouch for this one, but some travellers swear by fasting to combat jetlag. Work out what time you’ll be eating breakfast at the new destination, count back 16 hours and stop eating at that point.
The theory is that your internal clock is driven, in part, by eating, so skipping meals helps you reset it. Of course, it also means you’re likely be hungry and grumpy on the flight, so this method might not be for everyone.
On the plane:
4. Don’t drink alcohol.
While it might be tempting to turn to the drinks trolley to help you relax, alcohol can be dehydrating. Given that the air on planes tends to be dry anyway, and dehydration exacerbates jet lag, drinking will only make you feel worse. Drink water instead.
5. Eat the right foods.
Evidence suggests that eating a meal high in carbohydrates gets the body ready for sleep, while protein has the opposite effect. If you’re heading east, stocking up on carbs on the plane might help you get to sleep at the other end. Conversely, if you’re heading west and need to stay awake for a long day, it may be wise to go easy on the airline bread rolls.
6. Stay active.
Granted, it’s difficult to move in such a small space and you should be considerate to other passengers (no push-ups in the aisle then), but getting some exercise every hour can be beneficial. This is because movement helps to keep you fresh and prevents dangerous blood clots from forming. Most airlines carry exercise tips in their in-flight magazines; test them out to help beat jet lag.
At your destination:
7. Manage your sleep.
Once you’re in your hotel room, it can be tempting to go straight to bed, but check the time first. If it’s past 1pm you’re better off staying awake for the rest of the day and getting an early night.
If it’s earlier than 1pm, on the other hand, a few hours’ sleep may be a good idea. But you need to be strict about forcing yourself out of bed afterwards. As tempting as it may be to let that two-hour nap become a full eight-hour sleep, you’ll regret it in the long run. The sooner you can align your sleep patterns with local time, the better.
8. Lay off the caffeine.
There’s nothing wrong with a coffee or two to help you get through the day, but pay attention to the time so it leaves your system before you try to sleep. A double espresso at 6pm is not the best idea if you’re planning on having an early night.
9. Jet lag hates fresh air.
Get out, explore the city, and get some exercise. You may not feel energetic enough to run a marathon, but some light activity will keep you going. Plus, it ensures that the first day at your destination is not wasted.
10. On a short trip? Don’t acclimatise.
If you can get away with eating and sleeping at your ‘home time’, then just carry on as if you’re still there. This can be a fun way to see a different side to a city if you’re eating breakfast in the afternoon and exploring when most people are asleep, but it does require a flexible schedule. So, it’s probably not ideal for business trips.