There’s no escaping the fact that jet lag can be a real drag, or that it tends to hit harder as we get older. It definitely takes longer to recover from jet lag after midlife and it can be particularly tough on women going through the menopause or peri-menopause. You can learn how to overcome jet lag – although you probably won’t avoid it completely.
What is jet lag?
Jet lag is a temporary condition experienced when you travel across several time zones. It upsets your body’s natural circadian rhythm or internal clock, and it can make you feel rotten.
What are the symptoms of Jet Lag?
Jet lag can cause fatigue, disturbed sleep, dehydration, headaches, irritability, and “brain fog” leading to problems with coordination and concentration. It can also cause stomach upsets, including constipation or diarrhoea.
West is best but east is a beast
Chasing the sun or traveling west is supposed to cause less jet lag than heading east (against the sun), but both will upset your body clock. The further you travel, the more you’ll feel jet lagged, but you can learn how to overcome jet lag with good planning.
How long does jet lag last for?
As a general rule, it can take you one day per time zone you cross to recover fully from jet lag. If you fly east from London to Singapore, you’ll cross eight time zones. It might not take a full eight days to feel 100% again, but you should be prepared to feel less than great for a good few days. Build some recovery time into your plans and treat it as a bonus if you arrive raring to go! For longer journeys, expect to feel the effects of jet lag even longer
Check how many time zones you’ll cross on your journey here
How to overcome jet lag: 4 tricks to try before your flight
- If you’re taking any prescription medicine, consult your doctor so you can plan a coping strategy. You’ll need to know how to adjust your medication times to the new time zones you will be on during your trip and how to re-adjust on your way home.
- Ask your doctor about Melatonin, a natural amino acid secreted by the pineal gland when it is dark, aiding sleep. Melatonin levels decrease (especially at nighttime) with age, particularly during the peri-menopausal period. Taking this over-the-counter medication could help you to sleep naturally, but check with your doctor that it’s safe for you to take it.
- Start to adapt to your destination time zone before you travel. Even changing your normal routine by just a few hours a day for a week or so before you travel can make a difference. If you’re heading east, plan to be “early to bed, early to rise” and if you’re heading west, act like an owl and stay up later than usual.
- Load up with carbs, as eating a carbohydrate rich meal the evening before your flight may help you sleep. Carbs provide a source of tryptophan, which can be converted to serotonin, a sleep-inducer.
5 jet lag prevention tips – during your flight
- Drink lots of water because staying properly hydrated is a key ingredient to preventing jet lag.
- Most people need to ‘go’ every six to eight hours, but as we get older, the urge to pass urine can increase. Pick an aisle seat, so if you do need to use the bathroom frequently, you won’t need to worry about disturbing other passengers (especially if they are sleeping). You also won’t be tempted to ration your water intake, to reduce the frequency of your trips to the loo!
- Get up and move to reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis. Aim to get out of your seat, moving and stretching about once an hour during your flight.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine as both can accelerate dehydration and mess with your internal body clock. Caffeine will keep you awake when you need to rest, while alcohol can make you sleepy at the wrong time of day, making your jet lag even worse when you arrive.
- Use sleep aids to get rest at night. Sleep masks, pillows, ear plugs and blankets. Even if you can’t sleep, try to rest and avoid the urge to watch movies, read or plug into your laptop.
10 ways to beat jet lag when you arrive at your destination
- Get out and about in fresh air and (hopefully) some sunshine, as daylight will inhibit your body’s natural melatonin production
- Don’t give in to the urge to sleep until night-time in your destination, even when it’s a huge struggle
- Plan a leisurely first day, so it won’t matter too much if you have “fuzzy brain”
- Try to work your stiff muscles and joints with a little gentle exercise, but don’t push your body too hard. Yoga stretches can work very well
- Eat and drink timezone appropriately; eat lunch at lunch time and an evening meal in the evening, even if your head tells you differently. Limit any caffeine to mornings only
- Fill up with nutrient rich fruit and berries which will help to rehydrate you and keep you regular. Watermelon and cherries are particularly good
- Dine on carbs. Tryptophan is an amino acid that makes you feel sleepy and carbs such as pasta, rice and potatoes make tryptophan more available to your brain. Eat the carbs with lean protein or fish, both of which contain high levels of tryptophan
- Step away from the junk food because high levels of salt will make you even more dehydrated and bloated
- Treat sore muscles with a warm bath before bed. Your body will cool down after the bath, helping you to feel sleepy
- Recharge your batteries with a deep sleep, in a cool, dark room. Pop in some earplugs, shut the world out with eyeshades and dial the temperature down to let your body know it’s time to sleep
Jet lag and frequent flyers
If you’re a frequent flyer, and jet lag is affecting your sleep, speak to your doctor about referral to a sleep specialist; they may be able to help with light therapy or medication.
What are your tips on how to overcome jet lag? Please share them in the comments below.