Most people just havent got time to lose days of their holiday or return to work to jet-lag, but the fact is, if you want to travel halfway across the world for a relatively short period of time, its going to catch up with you sooner or later. What can you do to keep the dreaded time-zone trauma at bay?
Jet-lag is just the set of symptoms we feel when our normal sleep patterns are interrupted, so its entirely possible to start doing this bit by bit before you leave. Some people like to set their watch to the destinations time zone and altering their meals and sleeping patterns in the few days before they fly, others set alarms to get used to being awake in the middle of our night.
These tactics, while undoubtedly effective for some, are unfortunately not compatible with many lifestyles, and are probably best attempted only if youve got plenty of free time before your trip, and willing travelling companions...
Flying out at night is usually a better option for beating jet-lag, as its better to get as much sleep as you can before you arrive - but, of course, this approach only applies if youre one of those lucky people who can sleep soundly on a plane. Otherwise, just try to get as much shut-eye as you can before heading to the airport.
The reason that travellers are advised to top up on sleep before taking a long-haul flight is simple: on arrival, being well-rested makes it easier to stay awake until night time in the new time zone, which will help to adjust more quickly to its rhythm. If all else fails, you can simply do as many holidaymakers have done for years, and rely on the excitement of being somewhere new to keep you up til sunset!
A new smartphone app called Entrain (available free via iTunes) has been developed using mathematical formulae to help travellers to adjust to a new time-zone as quickly as possible. Its free to download, and so far, users have reported some impressive results. The app relies upon the fact that exposure to sunlight is the main stimulus for the body to start waking up. Once programmed with information on your current time-zone and on that of your destination, it can tell you a series of steps to take that will reduce your experience of jet-lag.
Alternatively, you could go for a more tried-and-tested, low tech approach. Eye masks have been standard issue on flights almost as long as weve been taking them, so make the most of this familiar little freebie by blocking out the light when you should be sleeping. If you can keep your environment dark for long enough to get a few hours sleep, youre likely to do better at fighting jet-lag.
Some travellers swear by melatonin - a naturally-occurring hormone that the body produces at night time. It can be acquired fairly cheaply in tablet form, and taken a few days prior to departure to help adjust the bodys internal clock as desired. Doctors are divided on how well, if at all, melatonin works, but studies have found it to be more effective than a placebo, and its widespread usage by airline staff suggests it can be beneficial. Sleeping pills are not advised as a method of beating jet-lag, as they cause un-natural sleep that is of limited benefit to the body.
If you allow yourself to become dehydrated while travelling (note: drinks such as caffeine and alcohol can cause this), youre likely to suffer more badly from jet-lag symptoms. Using strong coffee as a pick-me-up or booze to make you sleepy may also confuse your body further, so dont fall into the trap of using them to trick your body into staying awake or sleeping when you want it to.
You may have heard the saying West is best, East is a Beast, and where jet-lag is concerned, this is largely true. So, if youre travelling to the United States or another destination thats due West of the UK, the good news is that jet-lag wont affect your holiday too badly, as its generally felt more severely when you travel West to East. Not so great then, if youre travelling to the Far East - or, indeed, on your return from the West.
For most people, jet-lag remains an inconvenient part of the travel experience, but by taking these suggestions on board, you may find you can keep it at bay on your next holiday.
Written by Abi Silvester, a London-based writer and editor with a passion for great food, fine wine, coffee and cats; always planning my next trip! @absinthecitycomments powered by Disqus