California. The golden state is full of natural marvels, sun and good food. Thus it seemed like the perfect place to go on holiday to escape what I thought would be a wet summer in England. Unfortunately I completely forgot about the 9-10 hr flight. Sadly, I am not a good flyer, partly due to the fact I am 6 foot tall and broad resulting in having to play a game of body origami to fit into my allocated seat. But mainly it’s because I am a light sleeper that needs to be able to lie down in a quiet and perfectly warmed room. These particular traits tend to hamper my traveling ambitions.
Jet lag is caused by the change in time zones affecting our body’s natural cycle; England to California for example experiences an 8 hour difference during summer. This 8 hour difference in meal and sleep times causes havoc with our body’s natural clock as it tries to reprogram our own body to adapt its cycle. This can cause insomnia, digestive problems, headaches and exhaustion.
Jet Lag is one of those strange self-harming necessities of modern day life. By inventing a way to travel quickly around the world we are now able to jump continents in mere hours rather than the weeks it used to take ships. Sadly, jet lag is the natural trade off we have to accept, but is there a way to fight the effects of Jet Lag and reduce the amount of time it takes us to adjust when we fly?
When travelling remember the saying ‘West is Best’, by flying west you will find the days get longer, which has less of an effect than if you are traveling east, where your body struggles with the shorter days. Unfortunately, unless you plan on staying at your destination forever you will have to fly back, thus planning for jet lag can greatly diminish the effects.
A former army sergeant once told me that I should never forget the 5 P’s of planning, ‘Poor Planning Promotes Poor Performance’. Having a plan is an essential way of fighting jet lag.
It’s the sudden change in time that affects your body most of all, so if you plan for the time change and change your wake and sleep time by a fraction every night, you will be able to transition your body’s cycle slowly, lessening the impact of jet lag. One way you can do that is by purchasing an alarm clock that slowly emits ‘natural’ light and wakes you up “naturally”. You can set this alarm clock to wake you up an hour earlier for 4 nights in a row before you fly.
If you are flying a long way, a stopover for one night will make a huge difference, allowing your body to adjust to a smaller time difference. This, combined with a changed sleep pattern before you fly, should allow you to arrive at your destination relatively fresh and ready.
On the Plane
Keeping hydrated is essential, air condition systems make the plane a very dry place causing you to lose more water from your body than on the ground. Thus if you are flying for a long period it is wise to buy an additional water bottle after security to take on board. It will help keep you hydrated and will help your body adapt quicker once you land.
Beware of drugs, sleeping pills and sleeping supplements, which may seem like a good idea and most times will help you fall asleep on the plane, but often have side effects such as drowsiness, fatigue and insomnia that can last for days after using them. They are also dangerous to use if you are driving immediately after landing.
After you land
Once you fly home, the most useful way of fighting jet lag is by using ‘anchor sleep’ and ‘top ups’. After you arrive at your destination, wait until night and then try and get at least 4 hours of sleep. This ‘Anchor’ resets your body’s natural cycle and should allow you to adjust quicker, if you are feeling tired the next day don’t be afraid to take power naps. Power naps are an effective way to top up your sleep levels without making you more jet lagged. Just make sure that your power naps are naps, no more than 20 minutes at any one time. As long as you follow these tips and tricks you should find the effects of jet lag lessened allowing you to go about your business or enjoy your holiday.
*There are of course many studies and theories about jet lag as well as many strategies to overcome it, these are simply a few of the techniques that I find most effective, you may find other things which are more effective for you.