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How to beat jet lag: 7 healthy tips

In partnership with Aleney de Winter

Beat the jet lag blues with our healthy tips on avoiding, and recovering from, jet lag.

woman travelling getting directions from local
woman travelling getting directions from local

Waiting at the baggage carousel after a long flight, why is it that some passengers bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and others are stumbling behind, resembling an extra from The Walking Dead? Welcome to the weary world of jet lag.

What is jet lag?

The body’s circadian cycle, often referred to as the body clock, regulates our sleep cycles in response to light and other cues from the environment, repeating on a loop roughly every 24 hours. Just like an actual clock, it is constructed from a series of interconnected oscillating components – the hormones melatonin, cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin – that work with each other to tell our bodies when they should sleep and when they should be awake.

When those collective components are placed under artificial light in a confined space for hours on end and transported through conflicting time zones at high speeds and higher altitude, the result is the discordant mess we know as jet lag. Unfortunately, this incredibly common but thankfully short-lived sleep disorder is something to which none of us are immune.

The symptoms of jet lag commonly start and stop at interrupted sleep and general fatigue lasting anything from days to weeks, but can also manifest as headaches, digestive issues, impaired concentration, mood swings and anxiety.

So, what’s the secret that leaves some people perfectly perky after a long-haul flight, while the rest of us resemble the poster children for the zombie apocalypse? Jet lag symptoms and responses can vary tremendously between individuals, so despite your best efforts it may still take a few days to properly adjust to your new time zone.

Plan ahead

Where possible, a few days before you leave, start to gradually adjust your sleep schedule your sleep to match the time zone of your destination. This will help your body adjust more quickly when you arrive. Adjusting your watch to your destination’s time zone as soon as you board your flight can also help you mentally adjust, tricking your body clock into beating jet lag.

man with backpack in city

Choose your airplane seat wisely

It pays to be picky when you’re booking your seat on a flight. If you can’t afford to fly up the pointy end of the plane, which most of us can’t, choose your seat carefully. It’s worth paying extra for a bulkhead or exit-row seat for extra legroom or, at the very least, to book a window seat on the same side of the plane that you would sleep in your bed, so you can rest against the plane wall.

To sleep or not to sleep on the plane?

While it is a good idea to try to get some shut eye on your flight, you need to factor in the time at your destination. If it’s night when you arrive on the other side, plan so you arrive suitably sleepy and ready for a good night of rest. If it’s daytime on arrival, getting an adequate amount of sleep on your flight will have you ready and raring to go. This is easier said than done, but turning off electronic devices and seat-back screens an hour before your desired sleep time can help, as the blue light they emit can delay sleep. Eye masks, noise-cancelling headphones and a comfortable travel pillow can also aid a mid-air snooze.

Be good to your gut

Avoid eating too much before you fly and snack on healthy foods like herbs, nuts, seeds and dark chocolate during your flight to avoid digestive issues. Harvard research suggests that a 12-to-16-hour fast the day prior to and during travel may trigger a quick reset of circadian rhythms.

Stay hydrated

Drink up – just not the fun stuff. Dehydration can make the symptoms of jet lag worse so drink plenty of water during your flight and avoid caffeine, sugary drinks and alcohol while in the air. You can further replenish losses on arrival by sticking to electrolyte-rich drinks like coconut water.

Consider a supplement

Inevitably, some people will turn to prescription medications to help them sleep on a flight, but these, while leaving you rested, don’t stop jet lag as they don’t help reset your body clock. Talk to your doctor about whether these options might be right for you.

Get with the program

Once you arrive at your destination, attempt to adjust to local time straight away by eating meals and going to bed at appropriate times. If you feel like you’re fading, a sneaky nap can help, but try to limit it to 20-30 minutes to avoid disrupting night-time sleep. Natural light is the biggest influencer of your body clock, so jump start the process of adjusting it to your new time zone by getting outside and soaking up the sights of your destination. That’s what you’re there for after all.

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A portrait of Aleney de Winter smiling at the camera

In partnership with

Aleney de Winter

An award-winning writer and photographer with an unquenchable inclination to wander and a passion for the world of wellness, Aleney de Winter was a curious teen with an adventurous spirit when she first set off to explore. Three decades on and a specialist travel, food, parenting and wellness writer, the only thing she loves more than new adventures is her equally itchy-footed kids