How To Stop Jetlag Messing With Your Sleep

4 min read

Last Modified 2 June 2021 First Added 18 July 2017

By Jessica Kadel

With summer approaching, the anticipation for sun, sand and sea grows. Although we dream of being sun-kissed in long distance destinations we can all brag about, a long-haul flight rarely comes without jetlag. As one of the most common sleep disorders, jet lag can affect all travellers, from first-time fliers to those who have stacked up thousands of air miles. If you find you’re at risk of the dreaded jetlag this summer, here are some tips to help your sleeping pattern get back on track.

Related: Sleep Your Way To A Relaxing Summer Holiday

What Causes Jetlag?

According to the NHS, jetlag is ‘a range of symptoms experienced while adapting to a different light-dark schedule following a flight to a new time zone.’

There are 24 different time zones in the world and once you cross them, your body’s 24-hour clock is disrupted. This, therefore, disrupts your daily circadian rhythms, such as sleeping and waking, your appetite and even your bowel habits.

Put in basic terms jetlag is when your body clock is struggling to match up with the time zone of your destination. Symptoms usually include insomnia, daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating and mood swings. Such symptoms usually occur for the first day or two after you travel. They also tend to be worse the further away you go.

man with jetlag

How to Treat Jetlag

While it isn’t possible to prevent jetlag, there are a few ways you can reduce its tiring effects:

Prepare your body for jetlag before you even take the flight. Try to adjust your body clock by slowly changing your sleep pattern. For example, if you’re travelling east, start waking up earlier and going to bed earlier than you usually would, so the difference does not shock your body. If you’re travelling west, go to bed and get up a little later.

Avoid napping. As much as you’d like a quick kip as soon as you land, it’s best to stay awake until it’s night time in your new destination. For this reason, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you select a flight that arrives early evening and stay up until 10 pm local time. While it may be difficult to stay awake, it will help your body to adjust quicker. If you’re struggling to stay awake throughout the day, have a coffee. If it’s still difficult, allow yourself a nap of no more than two hours, so you will be able to sleep later. To avoid oversleeping, ensure you set the alarm.

Plane Seat Strategy

While First Class seating often provides the luxury and home comforts of a big armchair and quiet space, you’d probably triple the cost of your whole holiday just for the pleasure. Instead, let’s look at where is best to sleep across the whole seating plan:

  • Avoid high traffic areas such as the galleys or lavatories.
  • Make sure your seat reclines, many in the exit rows do not.
  • Avoid the back of the plane, when you hit turbulence, the back will feel it the most.

Check out SeatGuru to see the seat configuration of the next plane you’ll be taking. Once you’ve chosen your seat, there are a couple measure you can take to ensure you get some down time and avoid jet lag:

  • Switch off the entertainment: the blue light will trick your body into thinking it needs to stay awake.
  • Avoid alcohol: yes it’s nice to have a holiday drink at 30,000 feet, but at that altitude, it’ll dehydrate your body and ruin your circadian rhythm.
  • Avoid caffeine: it stays active in your system for up to 8 hours, so could disrupt your entire flight!

All that seems quite negative, like taking all the fun out of flying, but your body will thank you when you land refreshed and lower your risk of suffering from any jetlag.

alarm clock

Related: Tired All the time? Lifestyle Choice That Can Influence Your Daily Energy

Live like a local

On top of this, it’s recommended to adjust your other habits to the time zone of your new destination. This means eating at the correct times of the country you’re in and avoiding sticking to the times you would back at home.

Finally, spend time outdoors. When you arrive there might be some confusion for your body clock. Spending some time in natural daylight can help your body to adjust to its new time zone. This is because your body is synchronised to natural daylight. When it gets dark, your body produces melatonin to help you sleep, but around dawn, this melatonin production stops.

An image of a sleeping woman

Do you have any additional tips for overcoming jetlag? Let us know in the comments!

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