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How to cope with jet lag

How to cope with jet lag

No matter the distance or duration of your flight, these tips will help you cope with jet lag and stay focused during the day while sleeping soundly at night 

There are 15 million of us who fly across multiple time zones every year, with 500,000 of us in the air at any moment. And for those of us who fly more than a couple of time zones from home—particularly those who fly eastward around the globe—jet lag can be a serious challenge. It takes away our edge, makes us groggy, and disrupts our sleep. Here is how to be focused and alert during the day—and sound asleep at night.

Acclimate

How to cope with jet lag -  Tired man lying on the bed in a hotel roomCredit: bernardbodo

If you will be gone longer than a couple of days, begin acclimating your body to the new time zone by altering your eating schedule three days before your plane takes off. If you’re heading west to London from Dakar, for example, three days before you leave, eat an hour earlier each day. Flying from London to Dakar? Help reverse the acclimation and get back on home time by eating an hour later each day for three days.

Fly a day early

Some business travellers try to schedule multi-time zone meetings on a Monday so they can fly out Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. That gives them a day or so to adjust their body’s clock. Employers do not appreciate the extra night’s hotel bill, but since you’re giving up your weekend, they usually fall in line.

Drink water

Stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and anything caffeinated during your flight. Both can dehydrate your body, mess up your internal clock and exaggerate jet lag.

Fly business or first class

How to cope with jet lag - Quatar Airways Business Class interiorCredit: piccaya

If you are flying overnight and need to hit the ground running in the morning, book a business or first-class seat so you can get some sleep. When sitting upright in a narrower economy seat with no legroom, your body generates adrenaline-like substances to keep blood flowing to your brain.

"When sitting upright, your body generates adrenaline-like substances to keep blood flowing to your brain"

The adrenaline keeps you from sleeping, and if you do doze off, it keeps you from dropping into restorative sleep. On the other hand, lying in a flatter position with ample legroom prevents the problem altogether, and you can arrive at your destination rested and focused.

Hit the linguine

Or any other carb-dense food at dinner on the night before your flight. Scientists have been arguing about whether this decreases jet lag and increases your potential for normal sleep, but recent research on clock genes has uncovered subtle effects that indicate carbs boost your ability to sleep—particularly when you fly westward.

"Recent research has uncovered subtle effects that indicate carbs boost your ability to sleep—particularly when you fly westward"

No one’s quite figured out how they help, but they do know that carbs provide your brain with a source of tryptophan, from which it can make the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin.

Keep cool

How to cope with jet lag - tired young woman comfortably sleeping with mask and pillow in airplaneCredit: frantic00

If you’re flying during what would be night hours at your destination, get some sleep on the plane. Use earplugs to eliminate noise, an eyeshade to kill the light and turn the air-conditioning valve on high. A third cue your body uses to set its internal clock is temperature. A lower temperature lowers your body’s core temperature and signals it is time for sleep. To keep from getting too chilled, bring along a blanket-and-pillow set sold through airline and online travel catalogues.

Avoid airline food

A fourth cue your body uses to set its internal clock is food. Since airline food is served onboard according to the time at your home base, eating it can sabotage efforts to reset your clock to the time zone to which you are travelling.

Consider the medical option

Short-acting sleeping pills can help you sleep through an overnight flight. They can also help you sleep during the first few nights at your destination. That said, keep in mind that if a sleeping pill is taken just a little later than it should be on local time, it can exacerbate the effects of jet lag.

"If a sleeping pill is taken just a little later than it should be on local time, it can exacerbate the effects of jet lag"

Even worse, if the drug lasts longer than the flight, you’ll arrive drowsy at your destination—that’s not good if you have to drive or negotiate local transportation home.

Have the eggs benedict

A protein-rich meal the morning after you arrive will give your brain what it needs to produce neurochemicals to increase your alertness.

Stay on home time

If you will be away for only a few days, stay on the same eating and sleeping schedule while you are away as you would at home. If you normally have dinner in London at 8pm, for instance, when you fly to Dakar for two days of business meetings, have dinner at 5pm. You will not only avoid jet lag, but you also won’t have trouble getting a good table at the restaurant of your choice.

Or switch immediately

If you are away for more than a few days, don’t just set your watch to local time when you arrive—help reset your internal clock by eating, going to bed and waking at the local time.

Watch out for fuzz brain

Avoid driving long distances and making critical decisions for the first 24 hours after you arrive. If you are the least bit fuzzed by jet lag, your ability to think and react will be impaired.

Bring your workout gear

Most hotels have exercise rooms and lap pools. Schedule a 30-minute workout each day you are on the road—you will feel and sleep better.

Make it dark and cold

The view from your hotel room window could be superb but use those heavy room-darkening shades to shut out light during the hours you plan to sleep. Also, lower the room temperature. Remember, manipulating light and temperature manipulates your body’s clock and gives it a clear mandate to sleep.

Banner credit: Zephyr18

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