Cape Town – Most of us experience a sensation called jetlag after a long-haul flight across different time zones, but what does it mean and how does it affect our bodies?
Jetlag is caused by time-change conflicting with circadian rhythms which has an impact on various bodily functions – from sleep-wake cycles to a reduced ability to concentrate.
To avoid feeling exhausted after long-haul flights, Cathay Pacific shares a short jetlag survival guide on how to prevent, manage and recover from jet lag.
A few days before your flight:
Adjust your sleep schedule in advance
Acclimatise ahead of time by shifting your sleep schedule a few hours before or after, depending on the destination's time zone. This should be done incrementally a few days prior to departure, however, if you're going on a long flight for a trip that is only a night or two, rather keep to in your original sleep routine.
Melatonin will get you back on track in no time as it helps to speed up the adjustment of your sleep and awake patterns. There are natural sources of melatonin such as tomatoes, olives, barley, rice and walnuts, although concentrated supplements are significantly more effective. It is best to start taking melatonin a few days before your flight and a few days after you land, this is to ensure that your body has had enough time to adjust.
Be an active traveller
Take every opportunity to be active to counteract the effects of having to sit in one position for a considerable amount of time. Skip the moving walkway and even the escalator, and opt for carrying your luggage for a while to improve blood circulation.
In the air:
Shift your schedule to the new time zone
When you board, set your watch to the time zone of your destination to help you to adjust to the time difference, if you have been adjusting towards your new time zone cumulatively, the adjustment should be minimal. Try to keep to your ‘new’ bedtime and morning routines as this will help maintain consistency of sleep patterns.
Once on the plane, switch the position you're sitting in as often as possible to keep your lower body engaged and to promote circulation. Practice self-myofascial release by using a foam roller or a tennis ball to relieve stiff muscles resulting from being seated for long periods of time.
Air travel can be dehydrating, so make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the flight. You can also bring a hydration facial mist along with you to keep you feeling as fresh and revitalised as possible. Avoid having too much alcohol as this will dehydrate you quite quickly and can also alter your sleep patterns.
Seek out sunlight
It may be difficult if you're tired, but if you arrive at noon, resist the temptation to have a power nap. Since light is the signal to your brain that helps set your sleep and wake cycle, the best thing to do is to expose yourself to as much sun as possible during daylight hours once you arrive in a new time zone.
Maintain your exercise schedule
While there isn't very much research indicating that exercise can reduce jet lag, it’s understandable that continuing your exercise routine can help you feel less fatigued and get your blood pumping. You can also try working out at the same time you normally do in your own time zone and at sunrise, for more light exposure.
Eat at your usual meal times
Harvard researchers have found that food can send cues to your body that affect your circadian rhythms, so try to set a normal meal schedule that mirrors the one you have at home. If you usually eat dinner at 8pm Eastern Standard Time, try to dine at 8pm Hong Kong time, too.
There is also a useful online tool - Jet Lag Rooster that allows you to input your flight details and it gives you recommended tips on how to minimise the effect of jetlag.
Jetlag can be become a thing of the past by taking these guided tips into consideration before, during and after your flight to ensure nothing comes between you and exploring everything your new destination has to offer.
Adapted from a press release for IOL