Do you remember the last time you flew across time zones? The fatigue, insomnia, headache, grogginess, dehydration and the daytime sleepiness that you felt… And do you remember showing up to work and realising that your mind was not as sharp, your memory was failing, you had trouble concentrating and keeping focused, decisions took longer to make, the irritability and uneasiness…. sound familiar?
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I have flown across time zones for as long as I can remember, and in the early days, the opening paragraph of this post accurately describes how I felt physically, mentally and emotionally. I thought jet lag was just an occupational hazard and that I simply had to suck it up.
How wrong I was.
This desynchronosis or flight fatigue as it is known in science, is a relatively new condition for our mind-body system to deal with. As homo sapiens, we have been walking the face of this earth for around for 200,000 years and for 99.9995 % of that time we have never put our body-mind system through this experience known as jet lag.
It wasn’t until on August 11, 1939, that the first non-stop trans-Atlantic commercial flight, a four-engine plane operated by German carrier Lufthansa, took off from Berlin and flew 25 hours across Europe and the Atlantic carrying 26 passengers on a 3,728-mile journey to Brooklyn, New York (a flight that nowadays takes a tad less than 9 hours). I can’t even begin to imagine what the passenger’s body-minds must have felt “what the heck is this!?!?”
It has been almost 80 years since that flight and science has caught up with what happens to our body-mind system when we expose it to rapid, long-distance, transmeridian travel (east to west / west to east). Science has also been able to determine how to minimise the impact of jet lag.
To reduce the impact of jet lag, there are many proven things that you can do to lessen the impact of this psychophysiological condition. I still travel across time zones quite regularly, and I am ruthless in enforcing my anti-jetlag rules, which I now share with you.
Before the flight
– Avoid red-eye flights altogether. Fly in the afternoon if you’re headed west and in the morning if you’re travelling east.
– Change your sleep routine a few days before your departure. If you’re flying east, try going to bed an hour earlier than your usual time, and if you’re travelling west, try to go to bed an hour later; the idea is to “prime” your sleeping routine with your destination in mind.
– Get enough sleep before you travel. Flying when you’re tired will make the jet lag feel worse so don’t start of your travel already sleep deprived.
– Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is one of the main reasons behind our jet lag discomfort.
– Bring healthy snacks for the flight. For example, bring almonds, walnuts, veggies with hummus, etc. with you, so that you can avoid the temptation of eating unhealthy options offered in-flight.
– Engage in silent meditation. This practice will provide physical and psychological rest to your body and mind.
During the flight
– Drink plenty of water.
– Rest during the flight. Take frequent short naps.
– Limit your caffeine consumption – avoid drinking too many caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea and sodas, and avoid drinking them within a few hours of planned naps/sleep.
– Avoid alcohol. It will worsen your jet lag symptoms.
– Eat light meals. Avoid the salty pretzels, chips, chocolate, and cookies usually served in-flight.
– Avoid sugar altogether. If your blood sugar levels rise, it will give you a boost of energy when you really should be napping.
– Keep active. When flying long distances, take regular walks around the cabin and stretch your arms and legs while you’re sitting down; this will also help reduce your risk of developing a potentially dangerous condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
– Change your watch to match the time of your new destination. This will help you adjust to your new time zone more quickly.
After your land
– Eat and sleep at the correct times for your new time zone. Don’t go to sleep at the time you usually eat and sleep at home.
– Drink plenty of water.
– Get a full body massage. It will stimulate circulation and release physical and mental tension.
– Do some yoga. This practice will help you bring your internal rhythms back into place.
– Avoid napping as soon as you arrive. Staying active until bedtime at your destination will help your body adjust quicker.
– Spend time outdoors. Natural daylight will help your body adapt to a new routine following most flights.
A little preparation for your transmeridian flights goes a long way. Follow these guidelines, and I’m sure that your experience of travelling will be a much more pleasant one.