Staying Ahead of Jet Lag

15 Hour Direct Flight Across 11 Time Zones

Air travel is one of the fastest growing modes of travel in the world and its showing no signs of slowing down. In the past 10 years, the number of yearly passengers has grown from 1.4 billion to 3.9 billion with it projected to grow to 8.2 billion by 2037, according to statistics from the International Civil Aviation Organization.

With more people flying more often and further than ever before in quicker times than ever seen, jet lag continues to be a topic of discussion and problem for many travelers.

We’ve partnered up with Tuck to help you solve your Jet Lag problem and stay ahead of it on your next trip whether it’s across two time zones or twenty. Keep reading to see if our tips are backed up by science!

What is Jet Lag?

Most people are familiar with jet lag and most have suffered from it.

Jet lag is a temporary sleep disorder categorized as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder resulting from traveling across different time zones.  Basically, your internal clock, or circadian rhythm gets thrown off because you cross so many time zones.

About a third of people experience jet lag to a minimal extent, while another third experience more extreme symptoms. Common symptoms of jet lag include:

  • General malaise
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep (i.e. insomnia)
  • Early waking
  • Impaired performance
  • Reduced alertness and difficulty focusing
  • Increased irritability
  • Digestive and bowel movement problems

In general, symptoms are worse the more time zones you cross. The old saying stands true, “East is a beast and west is best.” Traveling from west to east tends to result in increased difficulty falling asleep while traveling east to west results in difficulty maintaining sleep. 

An interesting fact that I learned on Tuck, was that “morning people” are more affected than “night owls.” In addition, those over the age of 50 along with frequent business travelers and flight crew are more susceptible.

Sleeping in Emirates A380 Business Class

How to Reduce Jet Lag Symptoms:

Over my year of aggressive international travel, often covering multiple time zones in one trip, I’ve developed my own list of ways to prevent Jet lag before, during and after the trip.

Before:

  • Book flights that land in the morning
    • Personally, I’ve found that landing in the morning forces my body to be awake for the start of the day. I don’t give my mind a thought of sleeping once I land because I have a full day planned ahead of me.
  • Book flights that land in the evening
    • If you’re someone who can’t sleep easily on planes, this may be beneficial for you. By staying up all flight, this sets you up well to sleep when you land and help you reset your circadian rhythm that way.
  • Book well ahead of time and make sure you have your preferred seat
    • I personally love the window seat and this is my comfortable seat to be in. I like the window seat because I can wake up the people next to me when I need it, but I don’t need to be awoken by anyone else.
    • If you know you’re someone who has to get up frequently or use the bathroom often, make sure you grab your isle seat early so you don’t disturb your seat-mates.
  • Create a sleep schedule for your flight and trip
    • This may be one of the most important pieces of the pre-trip plan. Let’s take for example the 15 hour flight from LAX to Dubai.
      • Departure is at 5 PM and arrival is at 7 PM the following day (the “next day” part is irrelevant). I know I need to be tired when I land so I can sleep once I get to my hotel and reset my circadian rhythm. I need 6-7 hours of sleep on the front end of the flight and stay awake on the back end of the flight. 
      • The plan will be stay awake the first 2 hours during the first meal service and one hour following the meal. (3/15 hours)
      • Sleep the next 6 hours. (9/ 15 hours)
      • Stay awake the remaining 6 hours until landing. (15/15 hours)
  • Rest up before your trip
    • In the days leading up to your trip, make sure you’re well rested and not sleep deprived. This can significantly worsen the jet lag and make it harder to catch up.

During:

  • Follow your sleep schedule!
    • Like we covered above, create and stick by your sleep schedule. Fight through the desire to sleep on the plane when you shouldn’t because it could mess up your sleep plans when you land, making it harder to recover.
  • Stay hydrated, with water not booze!
    •  Alcohol can cause increased urination and dehydration worsening the effects of jet lag. Further, alcohol causes you to not go into deep, REM sleep which can make for poor quality rest while on the plane. Caffeine should also be avoided as it can make it more difficult to sleep.
    • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and prevent dehydration. It’s very easy to be dehydrated on a plane with the lower humidity in the airplane cabin.
  • Have a good method to get you to sleep
    • Neck pillow, ear buds, headphones, your favorite pillow, blanket…you name it, have it.
    • If you use medication to assist with sleep, make sure you don’t take too much medicine where you oversleep your plan.
    • It can also be dangerous to be over-sedated on sleeping medications if there is an emergency and flight attendants can’t wake you up in addition to possible respiratory failure.
    • Never mix alcohol and aids.
    • Take your sleeping aid after reaching cruising altitude.
    • Consult a medical professional before taking sleeping aids.

After:

  • Stay awake or get to sleep
    • Depending on how you scheduled your trip, landing in the morning to mid-day means you have to stay up and if you land at night, get your sleep.
  • Embrace your new time zone, not your old one
    • Many people like to say, “well it’s 3:00 PM back home” as an excuse to explain them being tired. I believe if you continually believe this, so will your body and it will only be harder to acclimate to your new time zone. It’s mind over matter and I have found that deleting my home time off my phone helps me to stay in the right mindset and timezone without giving my mind any excuses.
  • Continue to stay hydrated with water and electrolytes to prevent dehydration
  • Try and stick to a regular sleep schedule to help your body acclimate

You're Suffering From Jet Lag, Now What?

You made it to your destination but you’re feeling fatigued, having a hard time sleeping, and more irritable. Don’t worry, it’s all temporary while your body adjusts. This process usually takes 2-3 days. Here’s some tips from Tuck on how to recover from Jet lag:

  • Sun exposure at appropriate local times to aid in syncing the body’s natural rhythm and melatonin production.
  • Exercise can assist in energizing a traveler in the morning and helping to relax he/she at night. However, avoid exercise at least 2 hours before bed.
  • Observe and partake in social activities within the local social schedule. For instance, go to dinner or other events when it is common for that particular time zone.
  • Practice regular and already established sleep hygiene. Whatever normal routine is done nightly should be continued in the new time zone to assist the body in preparing for sleep. Proper sleep hygiene acts as cues to the body that it is time for sleep and may help curb “first night effect.” First night effect typically occurs the first night sleeping in a new sleep environment and usually subsides quickly.
  • Try to replicate the normal sleeping environment. Adjust the thermostat to a cool mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Comforting smells, sounds or textures can all aid in creating a familiar place for sleep. If you typically sleep with a sleep mask, do so in the new time zone. The same is true for sounds or light. If you sleep in complete darkness mimic what would be normal to you. Try to maintain what is comforting and recognizable as a means for better quality sleep.

Wrapping Up:

Jet lag can be an intimidating reason for many to avoid big international travel. It can also be a big reason why you lose a day traveling to “catch up.” 

Hopefully, through my tips and advice from Tuck, you can stay ahead of jet lag on your upcoming trip. Visit Tuck for more information regarding travel sleep, sleeping tips for home, and other sleep resources.

What tips do you have for jet lag? Share below!

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