It's the enemy of all long-haul travellers. But there are simple steps you can take to avoid its worst effects.
Just the other week, my colleague Sam Jeremic – Motoring Editor and the most frequent traveller in our office by some way – made a flying visit to the US to attend one of the many car launches and automotive events his job entails.
While he was there, he sent me a message asking for jet lag tips – at 3.44am local time. As it so happens, I do have tips on beating jet lag. But, unluckily for Sam, they require you to give the issue some thought well before you find yourself lying wide awake in a hotel room in the middle of the night.
In fact, you can start to mitigate the effects of jet lag from the moment you book your flights. It comes down to personal preference, but I like to book flights that land in the late afternoon or early evening – that way I arrive tired with not too much time before bed.
The second step begins once you’re seated on the plane: change the time on your watch or phone to the time at your destination. You need to commit to this to trick your brain, so do your best to sync up with the time of day where you're headed. Try to stay awake during your destination’s daytime hours, and sleep when you’d be sleeping there – an eye mask and ear plugs will help.
Avoid drinking alcohol during your flight – it might help you nod off, but it’ll disrupt your sleep cycle and dehydrate you, which makes jet lag symptoms worse. For that reason, drink as much water as you can during the journey, and don’t go crazy with caffeinated beverages. Moving around the cabin when possible can also help.
Finally, when you arrive, slot in with the time of day at your destination. So if you arrive in the morning, don't go straight to bed – and keep naps to 20 minutes if you can’t stay awake. To help reset your body clock, get some exercise and some sunlight on your skin by going for a walk, and go to bed at as regular a time as you can.
More tips for beating jet lag
- Jet lag is worse for most of us when travelling east as it’s harder for our body clocks to adapt. You might keep this in mind when planning routes if you tend to be badly affected.
- If you can afford the time and expense, a stopover can help you adjust to changing time zones, as can upgrading the leg of your journey on which you plan to sleep.
- A sleep debt will make jet lag worse, so ensure you’re well rested before a long-haul trip.
- Prepare for a major time-zone change by getting up and going to bed later in the lead up to a trip west, and earlier before an eastward journey.
- In case all else fails, download a meditation app to your phone to help you relax. Try the Meditation Oasis Relax & Rest app for Apple and Android devices.
For more advice for staying well while you're away, check out our Health section.
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