As someone who regularly travels long distances and has done multiple working holidays, I’ve had many experiences trying to avoid jet lag.
When I flew from London to Chiang Mai (Thailand), my flight in London was delayed by 4 hours whilst we were on the plane (apparently they couldn’t find the pilot).
Then my stopover in Hong Kong, which should have been a quick 3 hours, got delayed every 40 minutes until I had been there for 14 hours (an 11 hour delay).
Due to such short intervals before extending the delay again, I couldn’t even sleep through fear I would miss the flight!
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I couldn’t avoid jet lag!
This was one of the hardest experiences I had with jet lag. As prepared as I had been in the days leading up to my flight, I had not been able to continue my process due to the 15 hours worth of delays on top of my already 14.5 flight time. What a nightmare!
By the time I arrived in Chiang Mai I felt like a complete zombie. I was so physically exhausted I could barely enjoy my first few days. Plus due to my delays, I arrived at my hotel only 5 hours before I was due to join my volunteer group. Great.
So that’s what I want to help everyone else avoid jet lag!
Firstly, let’s cover the basics.
What is Jet Lag?
In simple terms, jet lag is when a person’s natural wake-sleep cycle has been disturbed. When you travel across multiple time-zones in a short space of time, you disrupt the typical 24-hour cycle that your body goes through
This then affects certain neurons in the brain that would normally have worked perfectly in sync with each other controlling when you eat, sleep, your body temperature and when you wake up.
Your body runs on an internal clock which is affected by factors such as night and day and the dark-light cycles they produce.
When you end up in a destination with a different day-night cycle to what you are used to, your internal clock needs to be reset and this is what causes jet lag.
There is no medicine that can cure Jet Lag, that is why it is better to follow guidelines set out by the NHS to take preventative measures instead!
Symptoms of Jet lag?
- Overall exhaustion & tiredness
- Difficulty staying awake during the day or daylight hours
- Waking up multiple times throughout the night
- Trouble concentrating & remembering things
- Loss of Appetite
- Insomnia & poor sleep quality
- Difficulty waking up at ‘regular’ times in the morning.
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Lightheadedness & dizziness
- Irritability & fatigue
Now you see why people want to avoid jet lag! It is not a fun experience. Especially when you are on holiday, you want to enjoy yourself and relax. You can’t do that if you want to fall asleep every 5 minutes.
The symptoms of jet lag can vary from person to person depending on their age, general health status, as well as how many time zones they have crossed on the journey in question.
Some people may get just one symptom, and others may get multiple. Also, just because you had a great experience with mild jet lag symptoms on one trip, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for every flight!
But by doing a few things that can lessen your symptoms, you really do give yourself the best chance of feeling refreshed once you land so you can enjoy your trip to its full capacity!
Now let’s get to the list.
Here are my top tips to avoid jet lag on a long haul flight – and if you happen to get jet lag anyway, a few tips to help beat it quicker!
Booking the Trip:
Book an overnight flight
When booking an overnight flight (sometimes called a red-eye flight), you’ll be arriving early in the morning at your destination. This means you have more hours of daylight on arrival which is a key factor in beating jet lag.
When your body clock is struggling in a new time-zone, being in the sunlight is one of the quickest and most effective things you can do. It helps your body adjust and get back into a steady cycle.
Book an extra day
In an ideal world, we’d all get extra days to use for a trip. If you are in a position to use an extra vacation day, add it to the start of the trip rather than the end.
This way, you can go into the trip with the assumption that you will have some symptoms (rather than avoid jet lag altogether). You can use the extra 24 hours to get yourself into the right timezone – without losing time on your itinerary!
If you are on a longer trip, my general rule is “don’t overbook your first 48 hours”. Similar to my point above, if you go in with the assumption that you will have at least mild jet lag, you wouldn’t want to pack out your itinerary too much and over exhaust yourself before your trip has really begun.
All this would do is lead you to being too tired to enjoy your booked activities and can lead to disappointment.
Before your trip:
Prepare for the change
In the days before the trip, adjusting your alarms by a few hours can trick your body into thinking you’re already in your destination. If you are heading east around the world, you’ll want to wake up earlier and sleep later. When you are travelling west you would want to do the opposite.
If you are already waking, sleeping and eating at the time of your arrival destination before you arrive, you won’t have a shock to the system!
Get uninterrupted sleep
For at least 3 days before your trip it’s best to try and have a solid night’s sleep without interruption. By being well-rested, your body is already at the top of its game to help keep jet lag at bay. If you are already fatigued and tired, you will only feel worse along your journey.
The Journey itself:
Sleep on the overnight flight
So you are on the overnight flight, scheduled to arrive early in the morning. You should sleep!
Because what this will do is get your body used to waking up in the morning of the arrival destination and will help speed up the process of being on a once-again normal day/night cycle.
Get help to sleep
One of my luckiest traits is that I am able to sleep even if I am not tired. Not everyone is as lucky, so what you can do is make yourself comfortable with a neck pillow & use a travel friendly sleep mask and ear plugs.
By blocking out the light and sound around you, you’ll find it much easier to sleep on the arrival destination schedule – even if you’re not yet tired. Plus having a pillow that supports your neck, you won’t wake up with a neck-ache at the end of your flight!
Don’t use sleeping aids
If you struggle to sleep, I really wouldn’t recommend using sleeping tablets. Sure they may help you fall asleep on the plane, but they’ll slow down any attempt at adjusting to the correct time zone. You’ll wake up feeling weary and dazed.
If you do need something to help you catch some z’s then try herbal tea instead. Many airlines have herbal teas in their drinks selections.
Food & Drink:
The same goes for caffeine. I personally do not drink any caffeine so I also never crave it. But if you think about it, caffeine is supposed to keep you awake. When you should be sleeping on the plane, drinking caffeine is doing the complete opposite and keeping you awake.
Drinking a coffee on a plane or within the last 12 hours before a flight departure is one of the worst things you can do as it can help keep your body on the cycle of your departure destination rather than the arrival destination.
Sorry no booze for you
If you are anything like me, wine on holiday (including on the plane) is something I love. However, I’ve had multiple flights where I don’t touch alcohol and I feel SO much better on those flights. Just hold off and drink your favourite cocktail once you land!
No fizzy or carbonated drinks
These are also a huge No-Go. When you are in a plane for a long period of time, the altitude and cabin pressure can sometimes cause gastrointestinal problems.
When you add in carbonated drinks, this can cause a lot of discomfort for the duration of your flight. Plus intestinal issues are also a side effect of bad jet lag. Do you really want to double your risk over a sprite?
No salty or sugary foods
Everyone has a sweet tooth of some kind. But eating foods with high sugar or salt content will not do you any favours on a long haul flight.
Combined with the cabin pressure, you run the risk of bloating as well as feeling fatigued. These food types can actually cause you to feel sluggish if eaten on a plane and that’s the opposite to how you’d want to feel at the start of a trip.
Spend time outdoors
If you arrive on a morning flight, try and spend as much of your day outdoors to maximise your time in the daylight hours. This will ensure your body gets the maximum amount of light to help synchronise to a new day-night cycle.
If you spend all of your time indoors, it can prolong your jet lag.
So, you have tried everything and you really can’t stay awake any longer. You want to nap. Now normally back at home I’d encourage you to take some time out for one but not when you’re combatting jet lag.
By napping, you are effectively helping your body-clock stay in the time zone back home. If you really have no choice, keep your sleep to 30 minutes maximum (but avoid them if you can).
Get some exercise
I am not a fan of working out – however, to help keep my body moving I always opt to walk the length of the plane aisle roughly once an hour while I am awake and in the airport terminals I try to walk around rather than just sit for hours while I wait.
By keeping your blood pumping and body moving you’re staying alert and preventing fatigue. The same goes for your arrival destination. Try a 30 min walk each day minimum, at the start of your trip to help avoid jet lag symptoms.
Summary on how to avoid Jet Lag!
And there you have it. All of the things I try to follow to give myself the best chance of minimal jet lag symptoms.
They’re not all perfect but they serve me well. By being a little more prepared you can hopefully have a stress free trip without yawning in all your photos!
While you are taking care of yourself, why not see how you can take care of the environment too whilst on holiday!