You’ve travelled for 23 hours, changed planes three times and now you’re raring to go and soak up the sights and sounds of your destination, but your body is begging for the nearest pillow… You’re suffering from jet lag.
Basically our bodies aren’t designed to travel vast distances in a short period of time. So, any long-haul trip across different time zones is bound to upset your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your body clock. This is the primal drive that tells you when to wake, sleep and eat within a 24-hour cycle and is influenced by environmental conditions such as light and temperature.
Symptoms of jet lag include feeling sleepy during the day or wide awake at night, having trouble concentrating, getting hungry at odd hours or not being hungry at all, and general listlessness and irritability.
Here are five tips to stave off jet lag:
From about four days before departure, start adjusting your sleeping and eating patterns, depending on your destination. If you’re heading backwards time-wise – or west – make your bedtime an hour later than normal, and if you’re going east, do the reverse by going to bed 60 minutes earlier. When you’re on the plane, change your watch to the time of your final destination, to ease the transition to another time zone.
It’s always advisable to try and get some shut eye on the flight, and it’s far easier to do that when it’s dark. So, if you can, opt for an overnight flight. Pack earplugs, a sleeping mask and even your favourite pillow in your hand luggage. Stick to your regular bedtime routine, change into comfy clothes and socks, and brush your teeth and wash your face before settling down for the night.
Cabin pressure can be very dehydrating, so make sure you drink plenty of water on the flight. And while you may think that a G&T or two will help you relax, alcoholic drinks are more likely to disrupt your sleep and dehydrate you more.
It may seem a good idea to pop a pill to ensure an undisturbed rest, but sleeping pills can make you feel groggy and grumpy when you wake up. If you do opt for sleeping pills, make sure you’ve tested them before leaving home to avoid any unpleasant side effects at 12 000 feet.
An alternative to drugs is melatonin, a hormone that researchers say help reboot your body clock and alleviate the symptoms of jet lag. Again, it’s best to start using melatonin some time prior to departure for optimal benefit.
Depending on what time of day you arrive at your destination, try to amend your habits to the local time. If it’s daytime, avoid the temptation of heading straight to your hotel room to catch up on your sleep. Rather soak up some sunshine or do some gentle exercise to help you acclimatise quicker. Should you be desperate for some sleep, take a 20-minute power nap. A few hours longer and you’re likely to disrupt your circadian rhythm even further. Stick to your regular bedtime if you arrive at night. In other words, if you land at 7pm and you usually go to bed at 11pm at home, maintain that pattern.
There’s no fail-safe method to avoid jet lag, and each of us react differently to long-distance travel. However, these tips may make the transition to a different time zone a bit easier.
By Nicci Botha