Most of us are in the habit of sleeping for a set number of hours during the night. This habit is determined by several interconnected factors including daylight, temperature and mealtimes. When travelling we may change time zones, and find that our sleeping habit is not in line with local day and night hours. We find we want to sleep during part of the day and end up staying awake half the night. This is colloquially known as jet lag.
If we spend enough time at our destination we will automatically adapt to the local day and night hours; our bodies and brains will take cues from the light and temperature changes. But if it is a short trip we may need to adapt more quickly. The sooner we synchronise to the local time the sooner we can enjoy our stay.
Jet lag will cause more than just daytime tiredness. Our mental faculties are reduced, meaning we are forgetful and make poor decisions; our metabolism is affected so we may well experience cramps and nausea. Some studies strongly suggest that the cognitive compromise may still have a lingering affect for up to a month after the time shift.
- Start shifting your body clock to you destination several days before you leave. You can make 90 minute changes to your routine each day. Start by waking 90 minutes earlier or later according to your destination time.
- The schedule change includes meals. Move your meal time 90 minutes forward or back each day to align them with the destination time.
- Stay away from carbonated drinks, caffeine and alcohol for at least 24 hours before and after the flight. And don’t drink them during the flight – stick to clean water.
- Avoid sugary and processed foods. Healthy vegetables and natural food will greatly reduce nausea and physical symptoms of jet lag. Avoid heavy meals before and after travelling.
- Some find ginger or herbal teas help with stomach complaints.
- Enjoy the thrill of a new location. This help us stay awake.
- Get early morning sunshine at your destination. Sunlight strongly influence biological sleep patterns and helps keep us awake for 12 hours or more after the first exposure.
- Avoid bright lights at night before you need to sleep. White and blue light (or natural sunshine) will keep us awake for several hours.
- Avoid napping during the day as it prevent sleeping later on.
- It is almost always easier to force ourselves to stay awake for a day after arriving at our destination, and be tired the following night, than it is to try and force ourselves to sleep when we are not really tired.
- Melatonin, available by prescription in Australia and over the counter in some countries, will help many people sleep at night. Take melatonin 30 minutes before bed.
Some airline, such a Qantas, are looking at modifications to aircraft lighting, menus, temperature regulation and other factors to help traveller synchronise with destination time.
A Sydney shuttle bus will ensure that you get to and from your airport flight in good time. Being driven in a shuttle prevents any issues with adapting to or recovering from jet lag.