17 easy ways to avoid jet lag on your next long haul flight
Jetting off to far-flung destinations is amazing. The accompanying jet lag, not so much.
It's caused by the disruption of your circadian rhythms (how daylight influences the body's natural cycle),which means jet lag tends to become a problem if flying across four or more time zones - like a trip from London to New York.
The most common symptom is tiredness, but jet lag can also affect your appetite, make you feel nauseous, anxious, irritable or even clumsy. Generally the effects aren't long term or serious, and you'll be feeling back to normal in a few days. But it can put a bit of a damper on your holiday in the meantime.
So, if you want to get the most out of your long-haul trip, here are some helpful tips to try and beat the jet lag.
Booking your flight
1. Don't scrimp when booking your seat
Getting a bit of a snooze on the plane can be a good way to overcome the worst symptoms - especially if it'll be daytime when you land. So try to bag as much legroom as you can afford. If it's in your budget and the airline offers it, consider premium economy (or, if you're really going for it, business or first class).
If you can, avoid booking seats at the rear of the plane - as that's where the engine noise is loudest and might disturb your nap mid-flight. Try and avoid exit rows too - these seats do give you a bit more legroom, but generally don't recline as much as those in other rows.Midweek is generally the least busy time to travel, and there's a good chance the flight will be less busy, giving you more choice of seats (and even the possibility of getting a whole row to yourself).
And, if possible, avoid taking a overnight flight. While it might feel like flying during the day is a waste of precious holiday time, you'll find it easier to adjust to your destination's time zone by flying through the day and landing closer to evening.
A few days before your flight
2. Start adjusting your regular bedtime
It's much easier to change your sleeping patterns in the comfort of your own bed, rather than when away from home. A few days before you set off, start to gradually adjust the time you go to bed - either going to bed about an hour or so earlier each day if you're flying east, or an hour later each day if heading west.
You can find useful tools online, such as the Jet Lag Calculator, which will help you work out how much to shift your regular sleep schedule by each day.
The day before your flight
3. Have a quiet night in
Even if you're staying up later than usual to get used to the local time in your destination, don't go for a big night out before your flight. It's tempting to think that you'll sleep better on the plane if you turn up tired, but you could end up with no sleep at all if it's a bumpy flight. And travelling with a hangover is pretty much a guaranteed way to make jet lag feel much worse when it does hit.
At the airport
4. Don't spend too long in the airport bar or cafe
When you're waiting around for a flight, it can be tempting to get a coffee to keep you awake. Or, if you're an uneasy flyer, grabbing something a bit stronger in the airport bar to calm your nerves.
One or two caffeinated or alcoholic drinks before a flight shouldn't have much of a negative effect, but try to avoid any more than that. The drinks' stimulating effects can take a few hours to kick in, so you might still feel groggy while you're waiting at the airport, but will then be wide-awake when you're trying to nod-off on the flight.
5. Eat light
Travelling on a full stomach isn't the best way to have a relaxing flight, but you don't want to be too hungry either. Grab something light to stop your tummy rumbling, and try and keep it natural and healthy too. Fresh fruit and vegetables are a good choice for pre-flight meals or snacks. Some flyers also swear by freshly squeezed orange or carrot juice's jet lag-busting properties.
6. Keep on your feet
Waiting around for a flight can be a bit draining, and it's tempting to settle down with a book or laptop to keep the boredom at bay. However, sitting around for hours beforehand isn't the best way to prepare for a relaxing flight. Instead, try and stretch your legs a bit and take a wander around the airport (just remember to keep your luggage with you, and not to blow all of your holiday savings in the duty free shops).
On the flight
7. Wear comfortable clothes
Following regular bedtime habits (including heading to the plane's bathroom mid-flight to put on your pyjamas and brush your teeth) should make it a little easier to catch a bit of sleep on a flight.
So wear loose, baggy clothing to give yourself the freedom to move around in. A sleep mask, or at least a pair of sunglasses, is also a good idea, as is an inflatable neck pillow. You might even want to pack some pyjamas in your hand luggage to change into.
8. Stay hydrated
The air in the plane cabin is much dryer than outside. So even though you're not going to be particularly active during your flight, you'll still end up much more dehydrated than when you boarded. Regularly drink water through the flight, and, again try to avoid alcohol or caffeine, as their diuretic properties will make you more dehydrated.
9. Stretch your legs
Poor circulation doesn't help jet lag, so you'll want to get your blood pumping a bit during the flight. Remember to get up now and then and stretch your legs. Generally once an hour is advisable. Even if it's just to get up to use the bathroom, the exercise should help you feel a bit less groggy on arrival, and will also help cut the risk of developing DVT.
If you don't want to disturb the people sat next to you too much, you can also try some exercises in your seat. Try alternately relaxing and tensing your leg muscles, or raising and lowering your legs. You can also pick up gadgets like the airogym, which have been specifically designed to help you exercise without having to leave your seat.
10. Make time for a screen-break
If you're trying to get a bit of shut-eye on your flight, turn your electronic devices off at least an hour before you plan to take a nap. Watching a movie might be a relaxing way to pass the time during a long flight, but the glare from the screen can confuse your body clock even more and make it harder to grab a mid-flight snooze.
11. Set your watch as soon as you board
The simplest thing you can do during your flight is also one of the most effective. Change your watch, and the clock on your phone, laptop or tablet to your destination's time zone as soon as you board. It'll give your brain a bit more time to adjust to your new schedule.
12. Take it easy
Don't plan anything big for the first half or full day of your holiday. You'll probably be too exhausted to enjoy it, and the stress of finding your way around new places on a tight schedule won't help your jet lag...
13. Get out and explore
...but even if you're feeling really tired, try and keep yourself awake until night-time in your new destination, to help get adjusted to local time.
Rather than going straight to bed, just drop your things off in your room and then head out for a bit of a wander. The fresh air and exercise should help you feel better, and give you a bit of a second wind to see you through to bedtime.
14. Make yourself at home
Sometimes it can be harder to get a good night's sleep in a new environment, so you could consider bringing a favourite pillow, or a family photo to put beside your bed. Even little touches can make a unfamiliar room feel more cosy.
It's also worth seeing if your hotel has pillow menus, or call-answering services. And, if you need a wake-up call, request a couple of them a short period apart - there's a good chance that your jet lagged self will just fall back asleep after the first one.
15. Treat yourself
Unfortunately, jet lag works both ways. Despite popular belief, no matter whether you're flying east-to-west or west-to-east, the effects are just as bad. And so, it's a good idea to schedule in a bit of time to readjust when you get back home too.
Don't throw yourself straight back into your regular routine on returning home. Instead, take it slowly. Do a few things when you get back to help you feel more at home, such as putting your holiday clothes on to wash. But don't take on too much.
16. Don't shift your schedule for a short trip
If you're only going away for a few days, it's not really worth trying to adjust your body clock to your destination's time zone. By the time you've done so, it'll be time to fly home, and then you'll have to readjust your schedule all over again.
Instead, just keep to your regular hours. You might not get to see much of the sun, but you'll have a great excuse for checking out the nightlife.
17. See what science has to offer
If you tend to get particularly bad jet lag, you might want to ask your doctor to investigate stronger cures, like melatonin supplements or sleeping tablets.
There are also several more high-tech treatments like light therapy. This involves using artificial lights which are strong enough to mimic the effects of daylight, is offered at some luxury and spa hotels. You could also invest in a dawn-simulating alarm clock, which uses changing light levels to gradually wake you up, and can also be effective in getting over jet lag.
A particularly effective, and entirely free solution, is downloading the Entrain app on your phone before you travel. Developed by the University of Michigan, the app is a more in-depth version of the jet lag calculator. Fill in the details of your travel plans and your regular schedule in advance, and it'll notify you via your smartphone's alarm for the exact times during the day to seek out or avoid light, in order to get your body clock on the right schedule.
Do you have any of your own tried and tested tips for beating jet lag? Let us know in the comments section.