Words by Lisa Hughes
December 2nd, 2016
It’s that time of year again. No, not Starbucks red cup season. We mean the time of year when some of us have to start spending hard-earned pennies on overpriced flights home for the holidays. Whether you’re flying from a far-flung destination like Australia or just across the water, travelling is pretty exhausting business. Worst of all is when you throw jet lag into the mix.
Contrary to how jetsetters like to play it, jet lag is real and not just a sign you’re a rookie high flyer. Dr. Annie Curtis, Senior Research Fellow in Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin describes how jet lag affects the brain, “Jet lag is essentially a modern malady. Our body clocks cannot keep pace with zipping across multiple time zones in a single day. The symptoms of jet lag are caused by the clock in our brain resetting to local time quicker than our other clocks in our body, hence the word “lag” in jet lag. This causes the feelings of being sluggish, light-headed and disorientated. A good tip to try and get all clocks ticking to local time quicker is to eat your meals according to local time from the minute you arrive. So if you land first thing in the morning, try and eat a good breakfast, even if you don’t feel that hungry!”
Some people believe pulling an all-nighter will ensure they sleep on the plane but this risky strategy won’t guarantee you sleep on board. In the long run, you’ll be doubly wrecked when your feet hit the tarmac so, instead of frantically stuffing your suitcase at 3 am, get your 8 hours kip the night before. You can thank us later.
A few days before you fly, change your eating times and sleep routine slightly so they’re more in line with where you’re going. Once you arrive, adopt the local time for your daily routine straight away. An old school travel tip is to set your watch to the time of your destination once you get buckled into your seat on the plane to get yourself psychologically aligned.
Where possible (yep, that means price permitting) book flights that arrive in daylight since you will feel more like staying awake and fitting in with your new schedule that way. You’re more likely to sleep on an overnight flight too and landing in the morning makes it much easier to get into the swing of your normal everyday schedule.
Don’t drink on the flight — even if you’re offered a free glass of bubbly. They say one drink in the air is the same as two or three on the ground and alcohol will just dehydrate you, which is the last thing you want in the already dehydrating cabin air. “But it helps me sleep!” we hear you cry. Even if that glass of red wine puts you into a cosy slumber, scientists say it’s not real sleep so you’ll be twice as tired later.
On that note, swap caffeine for water to stay hydrated. You’ll be tempted to guzzle coffee or, even worse, an energy drink to put a pep in your step for the long road ahead but caffeine will just play havoc with your sleep patterns. Try a soothing chamomile tea instead. Drink at least a glass of water for every hour you’re in the air — even if you don’t feel thirsty – because dehydration really kicks your mood and cognitive function. Spritz your face with essential oil spritzer or slap on the cult classic 8 Hour Cream to avoid jet lag face.
Most airplane food is terrible so skip the in-flight meal altogether (especially if it’s being served up at a time that’s out of whack with mealtimes in your destination), opt for fresh fruit where available or bring your own nuts and seeds on board for a healthy snack. So, if you’re flying JFK-DUB for example, skip the in-flight meal and instead recharge with a protein-loaded breakfast when you land.
Ask for an upgrade if you can’t afford the splurge on business, as it’s a whole lot easier to sleep when your seat reclines like a bed. If you can’t escape Economy, ask for a window seat or the emergency aisle and bring a neck pillow or a hoodie that can be rolled up and used, like a pillow, to soften your slump against the window — or the person next to you.
Move around to keep the blood circulating. Even just moving your ankles in a rotating action while you’re seated or do the occasional stroll around the cabin will make you feel less sluggish later. Also, give your brain a rest on the flight so, tempting as the in-flight WiFi is, swap your smartphone for a snooze. Find out about the benefits of practicing yoga while flying here.
Get outside. Daylight sunshine will make you feel less ‘kill me now’ and will help your body reset in line with where you are on the planet. So put your shades on and catch a few rays once you reach home.
Fight the ZZZZZs when you land. Unless you arrive home at night, and it’s near-normal bedtime hours, don’t go to sleep as soon as you reach home. Cruel as it feels, staying up until bedtime is much better for fighting jet lag so you quickly get into your timezone’s sleep pattern. Sleep for three hours when you arrive and you’ll soon find yourself wide awake and crying into your pillow by 1 am. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Read our guide on how to get better sleep here.
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