One of the downsides – maybe even the downside - of travelling halfway across the world is the dazed, irritable, and downright exhausted feeling that comes after a long flight. Yep, jet lag can be a real blight on the start of your holiday, especially when all you want to do is get on with having a great time.
Thankfully, you don’t have to spend the first few days of your hol curled up in a grumpy, sleep-deprived ball in your cabin. Jet lag can easily be reduced. With a few hints and hacks, we’ll show you how you can start your holiday feeling refreshed, energised and ready to have the time of your life.
What is jet lag?
Bear with us while we get a bit science-y for a sec, but we think it’s worth knowing what jet lag is and why it happens.
Basically, it’s a circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorder that happens when your 24-hour internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm, doesn’t match the local day-night cycle. In other words, flying across three or more time zones knocks everything out of whack, causing you to stay up later, sleep at strange hours or feel more tired than you’d usually be.
Some common jet lag symptoms
When you’re jet-lagged, you can expect to feel a combination of the following symptoms:
How does jet lag work?
Jet lag happens because your circadian rhythm is disrupted. This affects how and when your body produces hormones that play a role in your sleep and other bodily processes.
How long does jet lag last?
Jet lag lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (if you’re really unlucky). You’ll be glad to hear that, for the most part, the symptoms generally go on for around 1-1.5 days per time zone crossed – though their length does depend on the person and the type of trip.
Jet lag usually goes away by itself once your body’s circadian rhythm has adjusted to the local time of your destination. Nevertheless, you can still reduce jet lag’s effects by doing the following…
How to avoid jet lag
Upgrade your flight
Yes, really! If you can splash out on an upgrade, then it’s well worth doing. A bigger seat or a lie-flat bed should you really want to push the boat out, means a comfier trip and better, less disturbed sleep.
Arrive a day early
As well as avoiding flight delays and getting you to your embarkation day ahead of schedule, arriving a day before your cruise’s departure also gets you used to your new time zone – keeping you fresher and more energetic than you otherwise would be.
It might be pricier in the long term since you’ll have to pay for a night at a hotel, but you won’t lose the next day due to feeling zonked beyond belief.
Set your clock to your new time zone
Once you board your flight, set your watch, phone, FitBit or whatever time-keeping device you have to your new time zone.
Acting as though you’re already at your destination can have a powerful effect too. We don’t mean donning a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses mid-flight, but if it’s lunchtime at your destination, eat that in-flight meal. Or if it’s bedtime when you’re heading home, get some sleep. Doing so sends a reminder to your body that it’s morning or night, speeding up the amount of time it takes to get used to your new schedule.
Give melatonin a go
If you really struggle to get your 40 winks in a new country, then melatonin is worth trying since it regulates your body’s circadian rhythm and lets it know it’s time to sleep. You’ll want to keep the dosage low, otherwise, you could very well sleep through the next day entirely. And avoid alcohol if you’re taking it too. Speaking of which…
You might think alcohol is a good idea if you’re trying to get some sleep but nodding off after a nightcap can actually have the opposite effect. We know you’re in holiday mode but resist the temptation to booze during the flight. Along with the troubled sleep, you’ll wake up dehydrated and hungover – two things you don’t want to be on embarkation day.
Get some exercise
It’s tempting to hit the hay as soon as you arrive in your cabin, but if you have a quick doze at 4pm and then wake up at 7pm, you’ll likely be groggy, disorientated, and your body clock will take more time to adjust in the long term.
Instead, resist the urge to sleep and go for a brisk walk on the ship’s outer decks. All that fresh air and sunlight will let your body know that it’s daytime, which will keep you awake for longer and power you through to a more appropriate hour to get into bed.
How to get over jet lag
Once you’re in the throes of jet lag, is there anything you can do to make yourself feel better? Along with preventative measures like avoiding alcohol, getting exercise and over-sleeping, there’s a few different things you can do to lessen its effects if you are feeling jet-lagged, including…
Eat lighter meals
It’s tempting to overindulge once you’re at sea, but if you’re feeling sluggish, guess what’s going to make you feel even more sluggish? A heavy meal. Delicious at the time, but it’s going to wreak havoc on you before bed. Go for light meals or snacks if you’re peckish; these are far easier to digest and cause less sleep disruption.
If you’re feeling sleepy, then a quick nap can help – just as long as you don’t overdo it. Napping for too long can mess up your schedule even more, so try to keep them to less than 30 minutes and at least 8 or more hours before you go to bed.
Create an ideal sleep environment
When it’s time to get your head down proper, you want your room to make you as sleepy as possible to minimise disruptions and leave you feeling well and truly refreshed the next day.
Pack a sleep mask to block out any light, avoid looking at any phones, tablets or TVs at least 1.5 hours before you go to bed, and put in ear plugs. You’ll be in the land of nod for the next eight hours in no time.