How to beat jet lag: Top tips for long-haul flying

1 March 20175 min read

An aerial view of the Sydney Harbour showing the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a sunny day

Jet lag – it’s the scourge of the long-distance flier, and can leave you feeling like the living dead and looking worse.

But is there a way to defeat this long-haul lethargy once and for all? Well, not entirely. But while there’s no fool-proof way to avoid jet lag completely, there are a few steps you can take to help you adjust to a new time zone quicker and reduce its effect upon your body.

What causes jet lag?

Your body is a fine-tuned instrument (honest!) which is set to a 24-hour cycle called a circadian rhythm. Once you step out of this familiar routine, by crossing multiple time zones for example, the body inevitably reacts.

Extreme fatigue sets in, you lose your appetite and you become groggy and disorientated – basically, you feel pretty terrible all round.

Simply put, jet lag occurs when your body’s normal daily routine is significantly disrupted, and it can be a real downer when you want to get on with enjoying your holiday.

On the plane

Sleep when it’s smart to

Set your watch to your new time

Whether or not you should sleep on the plane depends on the distance of your flight and what time of day it will be when you land.

For example, if you expect to be arriving at your hotel at midnight, you’ll probably fare better if you’re tired – if you’ve slept for six hours on the way, you might find yourself buzzing until the sun comes up, so a smaller nap on the plane might be a wiser idea.

If your flight is very long – from London to Sydney, for example – again, think about what time you’re landing. If the flight is 24 hours in total, you need to sleep at some point, but if you’re arriving at 6am local time it might work best to stay awake on the first leg and sleep on the second.

Zone out

If it makes sense for you to catch 40 winks on the plane, try to make it as easy as possible for yourself. Take ear plugs and an eye mask to block out noisy distractions such as the hum of the aircraft or louder passengers.

Staying comfortable is vital too. Make sure you travel in loose clothing, and have something warm to put on if the temperature drops in the cabin. If you’re a regular long-haul flier, it’s also worth investing in a portable travel pillow – aircraft seat headrests can be surprisingly bad at supporting your head!

Don’t overdo the booze

The effects of alcohol become more potent at altitude, so try not to go overboard while on board. Drinking too much can also cause dehydration, which will only add to your jet lag.

By all means have a couple of drinks (with plenty of water) and enjoy your flight, but don’t go nuts – the last thing you want is a stonking hangover to add to your jet lag!

Avoid caffeine

As a stimulant, coffee will only keep you up, dehydrate you and agitate you: none of which help to deal with jet lag.

Forego the caffeine until you’ve acclimatised to your new time-zone – you’ll survive without your fix!

Stay active in-flight

Sitting stationary for so long is not natural and it can have serious ramifications for your body; in extreme cases it can even cause serious issues such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

It can also affect jet lag. The best way to combat this is to stay as active as possible while you’re in the air: take a few walks down the aisle, exercise in your seat and invest in some compression socks to help with your blood circulation.

We know, we know… it’s tempting just to stick on a few films and veg for 15 hours, but trust us – it’s better to keep moving!

When you arrive

Resist the temptation to sleep

It’s 2pm local time, you’re tired and frazzled from all that travelling, and that fresh, clean hotel bed looks like the most inviting place you’ve ever laid eyes on. But whatever you do, do not give into that overwhelming urge to nap when you arrive – it will only make you feel worse later when you wake up again at 11pm.

Instead, stay awake as long as possible, aiming for an early but normal bed time at your destination.

Stay busy and seek sunlight

One of the best ways to stave off the effects of jet lag is to keep active when you land. Make sure you have something planned for your first day: get out for a walk or explore the area around your hotel.

But don’t overdo it, either. It’s unlikely you’ll feel up to a full day of sightseeing, plus you’ll want to save the best things for when you’re feeling 100%.

According to the NHS, daylight can help your body adjust to your new surroundings faster, so find something to do outside for a while on your first day. If it’s dark or overcast, seek out well-lit areas instead.

Watch what you eat

The human gut is an incredibly sensitive organ – what and when you eat can have a huge effect on your well-being and your jet lag.

Yes, your watch (and the airline staff) might be telling you it’s time for breakfast, but your body is actually ready for bed.

Once again, it really comes down to working out what’s best for your body in relation to your travel schedule – don’t be afraid to forgo the set airline meal if it doesn’t fit with your routine. Throughout the flight, try to eat as well as possible by snacking on healthy foods like fruit and nuts.

Sometimes, it’s much better to wait until you get to your destination where you can have a proper, healthy meal.

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