How To Fight Jet Lag
Mr Robert De Niro and Ms Sharon Stone in Casino, 1995. Photograph by Universal/REX Shutterstock
Five top tips to keep you on top of your game across time zones.
Returning to work from an exotic holiday, or even just a short business trip in a far-flung land, won’t get you much sympathy from your colleagues. However, the suffering associated with jet lag – when your body is out of sync with a new time zone – is all too real. Fatigue, poor concentration, upset stomach, general confusion and malaise are all symptoms of jet lag. And you’ll get it even if you fly private.
There is, alas, nothing that can be done to totally eliminate the disorientating effects of jet lag. But there are lots of things we can do to help ease the body and mind’s transition back to normality, says Dr Cristina Ruscitto, a former member of a long-haul cabin crew, who also studied jet lag for her PhD from the University of Surrey.
“Jet lag happens when we disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms – our internal clock, which tells us when to go to bed, when to wake, and when to eat. We can send signals to our body to get it to adapt more swiftly by being mindful of when we expose ourselves to natural light and when we eat food,” she says.
If this sounds straightforward, minimising the effects of jet lag nonetheless requires a bit of work. Scroll down to find out Dr Ruscitto’s five top tips.
Adapt to the length of your trip
“There’s a difference between frequent travellers and occasional travellers. Decide whether you want full adaptation or partial adaptation. For example, if you’re going on holiday for two weeks, you want to have a nice time there, so therefore you’re trying to adapt as much as possible; you don’t want to be up all night. But for frequent travellers or for short stays, you will want to get back to your normal routine as quickly as possible, and so will not want to adapt to local time.”
Be strict about meal times
“The circadian rhythm (the body clock) gets information from the light and from meal times. It’s a very simple approach: just eat in time with dark and light cycles – ie, eat breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday, dinner in the early evening – even if you don’t feel hungry. This is much easier than trying to stay awake. Our study of 60 cabin crew members found that those who stuck to set mealtimes after long-haul flights performed better on vigilance tests and had reduced levels of jet lag by day two.”
Control your natural light
“Light is a big resetter of the body clock. Being exposed to natural light is great for adapting to local time because that is what is going to shift your circadian rhythm. The more light you’re exposed to the quicker the process. Conversely, you can use blue-light-blocking glasses if you don’t want to adapt to local time, especially if it’s just a short business trip. These glasses were originally designed so that you can fall asleep after using computer devices at night, but they are also good for manipulating the body clock if you’re in a different time zone.”
Practice sleep hygiene
“Have a routine that will enhance your ability to fall asleep. Make your bedroom cool and dark. Try not to have caffeine before you go to bed, and try not to eat for at least an hour before you go to bed. It sounds simple, but lots of people don’t have a good bedtime routine.”
“Naps of 30 minutes are great. If you’re on the East Coast and you’re trying to delay your sleep time but you’re really struggling, you can have a short nap of 30 minutes to help you stay up longer.”