Holidays to far-flung destinations offer the chance to discover incredible places and truly get off the beaten track.
But long-haul flights have one side effect that can put a dampener on the start of your break, and that’s the dreaded jet lag.
Even though you plan to head out exploring as soon as you land and spend most of your time there, your brain and body are telling you to crawl into bed and get some much-needed shut-eye.
The next thing you know you’re wide awake at 3am and you can go back to sleep before dawn.
Traveling across multiple time zones can put our bodies under physical and mental stress because our internal body clock can’t keep up with the sudden change, say sleep experts.
Why do you get jet lag?
Dr Hana Patel, resident sleep expert at Time4Sleep, says, ‘Traveling across multiple time zones puts physical and mental stress on our bodies as our internal body clock can’t keep up with the sudden change.’
‘Our body clock stays in the time zone from which we traveled, so we need time to recalibrate to the new time zone.’
The term ‘body clock’ refers to the circadian rhythm, a natural cycle that lasts 24 hours.
‘During this cycle you can notice physical, emotional and behavioral changes as our bodies move and recognize different times of the day,’ adds Dr Patel.
‘Our bodies respond to these changes by sending signals to feel sleepy at night and alert during the day.’
That’s why you can feel wired at night and sleepy during the day when jet lag strikes.
Eventually your body clock will adjust, but you can speed up the process by doing what seasoned travelers do whenever you’re jet-setting around the world.
Here are nine expert-approved ways to cure that restless, jet-lagged feeling…
1. Sync with time zone
Your body clock may be telling you it’s time to sleep in the morning, but the sooner you can get into your normal routine at the new time, the better.
‘Try to adjust your sleeping and eating schedule to local time as soon as possible,’ says Lee Dobson, travel expert and co-founder of boutique travel company Travel City.
‘This means resisting the urge to nap in the middle of the day or eating at odd times depending on your home time zone.’
2. Eat healthily
It’s common to crave carbohydrate-heavy foods when you’re tired, but you’ll do better to eat healthy snacks when you’re jet-lagged.
‘Making sure you have a variety of nutrient-dense fruits that provide hydration is really helpful: berries, peaches, apples, pears and watermelon are all good examples,’ says Dr Federica Amati, nutrition scientist and scientific advisor for supplement brand D. the liver
‘Almonds contain magnesium, fiber and complex carbohydrates that can maintain energy levels without increasing blood glucose levels or insulin response.’
‘Dehydration can exacerbate the symptoms of jet lag,’ says Mr Dobson.
‘Drinking plenty of water can help your body adapt to the changes and promote overall well-being.’
And while a glass of wine can help you nod off more quickly, alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycle, so it’s best to avoid it if you want to adapt more quickly.
4. Light exposure
‘Bright light is very powerful in helping us adjust our body clocks,’ says Nicky Kelvin, editor of travel website and blog The Points Guy.
Getting outside in daylight (even if it’s not too sunny) will signal your body clock to align with your normal waking time.
‘But you should avoid light at certain times of the day, like going to sleep, because it helps prepare your brain for bed, prompting it to turn off gradually,’ says Mr Kelvin.
Similarly, the blue light from digital devices can fool your body into thinking it’s still daytime.
‘Avoid looking at them while sleeping or if you’re awake at night,’ she adds.
‘You can further reduce the impact of these digital devices by installing blue-light reduction apps or using night mode.’
5. Stay active
You may not feel like hitting the gym as soon as you land, but exercise can relieve post-flight fatigue and prevent jet lag.
‘Moderate physical activity can help reset the body clock and improve sleep,’ says Mr Dobson. ‘A brisk walk or light jog can be particularly helpful.’
6. Power napping
A short snooze can give you the boost you need to fight jet lag – but don’t forget to set an alarm and don’t stay up too late in the day.
‘Up to 20 minutes can help with disrupted sleep due to jet lag,’ says Mr Kelvin.
‘However, avoid long naps during the day in new places as much as possible.’
7. Carefully-time caffeine
‘Caffeine consumption won’t cure jet lag, but it can be a tool to help you stay alert and focused during the day,’ says Mr Kelvin.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, gulping down several espressos isn’t a good idea.
The stimulant can stay in your bloodstream for up to 10 hours, so time your tea or coffee in the morning when it won’t interfere with your sleep at night.
8. Sleep aids
Some people take jet lag medication or melatonin supplements before bed when they travel through different time zones.
Dr Babak Ashrafi, MD, Superdrug Online, says, ‘Jet lag medication helps regulate your sleep patterns.
‘It does this because it contains a natural hormone called melatonin, which helps your body sleep.’
Always consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplement.
9. Take it easy
‘Sure, jet lag isn’t fun – but if you work yourself up worrying about not getting enough sleep or risking missing your new destination, you’ll probably feel worse,’ says Lee Thompson, co-founder of adventure-travel company Flash Pack. and the CMO.
He suggests you take it easy for a few days and have calming distractions like audiobooks or podcasts to listen to when you can’t sleep.
‘Above all, take it easy,’ he says. ‘Jet lag is your body’s way of being a bit unprepared, so listen, be gentle with yourself and don’t rush it. Like everything in life, it will pass.’