The downside to cheap holidays in far-flung places like Asia, the USA and even Europe? Battling the confusion long-haul travel puts your body under when you arrive to a different time zone. There's the waking up in the middle of the night, and the feeling confused, hungry and cranky at all the wrong times - it could ruin your holiday or make your boss regret giving you the time off for a vacation.
When your body clock is out of whack with your time zone, that's when jet lag kicks in, and battling those circadian rhythms of your internal watch can be a tough stoush, making you feel rough, sometimes for as much as a week - which can be as long as your trip!
How long does it take to get over jet lag can depend on how many time zones you've crossed and the direction you are going in - travelling from west to east, like from Asia to Australia, is said to cause more symptoms than east to west, something you might like to consider when travelling rom the USA to India, where you could probably choose to fly in either direction.
How many days you are affected by jet lag can also depend on what you've done to help avoid or cure the symptoms. That's where we come in. Here's our guide to how to get over jet lag, including the best ways to avoid the problem in the first place and also what helps to cure it when you get home.
10. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender oils possess a calming scent which is known to help with sleep. It’s not a proven way to prevent jet lag however research does show that it can help the quality of your shut-eye. For an easy way to use it on the plane, drop a tiny amount onto a tissue and slightly inhale it.
A little-known fact of this spiky fruit is that it actually contains melatonin, as well as many other nutrients. This provides a natural way to regulate circadian cycles and sleeping patterns, as jet lag can affect the amount of melatonin that our bodies regularly produce. By eating pineapple - or even bananas and cherries which also contain the sleeping hormone - on the plane or once you arrive, you may get past your jet lag quicker. There are several other foods you might like to try to avoid jet lag.
Harvard Medical School found that fasting can actually relieve issues related to jet lag. Their research revealed that by refraining from eating for around 16 hours, your body's natural rhythm is rewired, due to the system going into survival mode and ignoring its circadian clock. Doing this before you arrive may help your jet lag and the recovery process. If the idea of going without food for that long or missing out on plane meals isn't your preferred choice, simply eating a little less than usual or skipping one meal may help too.
The most buzzed about cure is melatonin. If getting natural amounts of melatonin from fruit doesn't work for you, there is research proving a small amount of the drug can lessen jet lag. The British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the effect of 0.5mg doses of melatonin on jet lag, taken once your arrive. The director of UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, Alon Avidan, explained to Health that a lower dose of melatonin is going to shift your circadian rhythm, while a higher dose works more like a sleep medication or hypnotic. “With jet lag, you want to shift your clock above all else," he says. However, you should note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not consider melatonin as a method to get over jet lag and if you do go down that route, you have to be careful to take it at the right time, so it doesn't throw your cycle out more!
6. Ditch Caffeine and Drink
Many people use alcohol to try and cure their inability to sleep on the plane or caffeine to wake them up when they have jet lag, however these substances can negatively impact the way your body recovers from travel. Not only do they complicate your body’s reaction to the time difference but they also promote dehydration, which will disturb your sleep, as well as making you feel so much worse.
Drinking water is always important but when dealing with jet lag it is key. Being dehydrated will worsen the side effects and add to that dreadful feeling of fatigue, confusion and listlessness. The trouble with air travel is sitting in all that recycled air on a long flight makes you more thirsty. One trick, make sure to bring an empty water bottle on the plane and ask the flight crew to fill it up for you.
As soon as you arrive it is important to expose yourself to sunlight as this will help the process of rewiring your circadian rhythm for the new time zone. Dr Neil Kline of The American Sleep Association states that “one way to reduce the symptoms and accommodate faster to time zone changes is to get sunlight or other bright light first thing in the morning in the new time zone."
3. Before you leave
A great way to prepare your body for a different time zone and prevent jet lag is to try and acclimatise to what will be your new routine before you even leave home. Sleep expert and co-founder of Sleepio, Dr. Colin Espie recommends for those moving from west to east, like those returning from Asia, “In the days before you fly, start eating dinner, going to bed and setting your wake-up alarm an hour earlier each day.” If you're going from east to west, such as Australia to the UK, then “shift your meals and bedtime an hour later each day before you fly. When you land, stay awake while it’s daylight and only try to sleep when it gets dark.”
Easier said than done but fighting a short-term battle will greatly lesson your jet lag and have you up and exploring in no time. No matter how tired you are after the flight, try your best to stay up all day and wait until night to sleep. The sooner you stick to the normal routine in the new time zone, the quicker you will feel like yourself again. Also try and eat at appropriate times and avoid snacks at odd hours.
1. On the plane
A great was to beat jet lag is to get ahead of it by starting on the plane. Change your watch to the time of the country that you are going to and try your best to follow a daily routine to this time zone. If possible, eat and sleep at times that you would in your destination time zone. For example, if your reset clock shows that it is night time in your destination but the sun is out, consider shutting your window to recreate a similar effect and pack an eye mask and ear plugs to help you sleep. Similarly, if it's daytime at your destination, try and stay awake, watch that movie you've been dying to see, play a game on your phone and move it, move it. As well as preventing fatigue and stiffness that worsens the effects of jet lag, stretching or walking up and down the aisle may help keep you awake.