5 things you can do to beat jet lag

27 July 2015 by
First published: 29 July 2015

It’s holiday season, which means travelers will be battling the physiological side effects of flying – here are 5 things you can do to beat jet lag to ensure your downtime is plane-sailing.

Occuring at a three- to four-hour time difference or more, jet lag disrupts our capacity to adjust to environmental signals – daylight cues in particular.

Travelling east or west will affect your internal clock differently but it won’t dramatically ease or worsen common symptoms of jet lag such as nausea, insomnia, memory loss, lack of concentration, headaches and upset stomach.

When jet-lagged, our body’s natural rhythms and hormones governing sleep and activity patterns are out of whack. Tiredness, stress and dehydration then take their toll on passengers after spending many hours on a plane. But following Lonely Planet’s editorial director Tom Hall’s top tips can help you recover faster and minimise the impact on your holiday.


1. Shift your rhythm

One week ahead of your journey, ‘adjust your routine into the new timezone’, says Tom. If you’re going east, your sleep patterns will be a step ahead, and you’ll need to progressively get used to go to bed one hour earlier and change mealtimes each night for the three or four nights leading up to your flight; if you’re heading west, do the opposite. Once in the plane, unless you’re crossing at least two time zones and it’s night time at your destination, avoid naps and use the plane time productively by relaxing, working or walking laps every one or two hours to improve circulation and lymphatic drainage.


2. Ditch airline junk food

Regulating sleep patterns and hormonal secretions when jetting off all comes down to cutting our glucose and sodium intake as well as stepping away from stimulants like alcohol and caffeine whenever possible. Boost your intake of ginger and turmeric leading up to, during and after the flight – the spices are known for aiding digestion. Rather than reaching out for crisps or salted nuts to satisfy your cravings, stock up on superfoods like quinoa, goji berries (which enhance sleep quality), bananas (natural muscle relaxants rich in potassium and magnesium), cherries (high in melatonin) and lemon or coconut water to fight dehydration.


3. Boost serotonin levels

Fresh air, daylight and exercise are jet lag’s worst enemies. ‘Do some exercise in the sunshine as soon as possible on arrival – either a run or a walk, they will have the same effect,’ says Tom. Avoiding natural light at the right times of day is key to speedy recovery. (The iOS app Entrain, developed by researchers at the University of Michigan, helps to track your light exposure.) ‘Build some free time into your schedule to recover immediately after your flight,’ suggests Tom. Don’t plan any major business meetings or full-on sightseeing in the first 24 hours. To boost your cortisol production, get up just after sunrise and wake up facing the sun.


4. Zone out unplugged

‘Do everything you can to get on the plane in as relaxed a mood as possible,’ recommends Tom. Upon arrival in the evening, stimulate melatonin production and relax by watching a beautiful sunset until it gets dark to release the ‘sleeping hormone’. At the same time, limit your exposure to blue wavelengths coming from your phone, iPad or TV that delay the production of melatonin and thus sleep. Stay away from any digital device at least one hour before going to bed.


5. Adjust body temperature

Any variation in the body’s core temperature can dramatically affect circadian rhythms. Ideally, it should be at its lowest point at night before going to bed and at its highest peak when waking up. One useful tip is to take a cold shower at night for a western destination and a hot shower for an eastern destination to avoid disruption.