Anyone who’s travelled to different time zones will know the difficulty of dealing with jet lag and trying to trick your body into falling asleep at a reasonable time, whether it’s at the start of your holiday or when you get home.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent jet lag, so Travel at 60 spoke to Sleep Health Foundation Chair Dorothy Bruck to find out more.
Jet lag occurs when people travel quickly across multiple time zones. Changing time zones throws off our circadian rhythm — the internal clock that helps control when we wake and fall asleep.
While there’s no one cure-all tip to avoid jet lag, its effects can be reduced with careful planning, Bruck says.
If you want to start your trip off on the right foot, opt for a flight that arrives at daytime. Jet lag has plenty to do with the sun as our bodies are directly synched with lighting, Bruck explains.
“When you get to your destination you want to get onto the local schedule as soon as possible,” she says. “Get as much outdoor light as possible.”
While you might be exhausted after your flight, one of the best things to do is to step outside into the daylight. Natural light helps remind your body and brain what time it is, so if you do this first thing every morning, your body will soon fall into a natural cycle.
And if your flight is landing in the morning, Bruck says you want to have as much sleep as possible on the flight over. Even though sleeping on a plane can be difficult, it’s not impossible, it simply requires a few key steps. These include avoiding alcohol and caffeine before you plan to sleep, using an eye mask to ensure your surroundings are comfortably dark, keeping well hydrated and only eating light, healthy meals.
“Alcohol is not a good idea if you want to maximise how much sleep you’re getting on the plane,” she adds.
Meanwhile, several days before your trip, shift your bedtime later each day to help your body’s internal clock move closer to your destination’s time zone. Making this change can help minimise jet lag, however if you’re travelling east, Bruck says it’s a little more complicated. Your body takes longer to adjust when you travel east because your day is shortened. However, when you travel west, you gain several hours, giving your body more time to adjust.
“The general thing is west is best, so if you’re travelling to the west you can expect to get over your jet lag a little bit more quickly,” she explains. “[But], if you’re coming back (so you’re travelling east) then it’s probably going to take you a little longer to get over your jet lag.”
While it’s definitely frustrating, jet lag can be avoided if you stay vigilant with your sleeping pattern, hydration levels and general routine. Next time your body clock just doesn’t want to cooperate, give these helpful hints a go!