When it comes to beating jet lag, resetting your watch is a lot easier than resetting your brain as you jet through the world’s 24 time zones. However, following our guide to creating a jet lag-busting travel strategy will ensure your holiday or business trip isn’t defined by fatigue-filled days and sleepless nights. Don’t forget to pre book your airport parking with APH, or add a touch of luxury to your trip with our range of airport hotels and parking packages.
Our short, easy-to-follow guide to this long-haul problem is all you’ll need – before, during and after your flight. We’ve also got gadgets, drinks and smartphone apps to help make it even easier to leave your jet lag behind and get on with your trip.
Know your enemy… what is jet lag?
The first part of beating jet lag is to understand what it is. Firstly, what jet lag isn’t, is simply tiredness caused by a long flight where it’s difficult to get your usual quota of sleep.
Jet lag is a far more complex condition, which refers to disturbed sleep patterns, weakness and disorientation. These are all triggered when your body’s normal body clock – also known as your circadian rhythm – is disturbed by travelling through three or more time zones.
Jet lag is more potent when flying from west to east, because the body finds it harder to get used to shorter days than longer ones. This is caused by upsetting our body clock – deep inside our brain – which responds to a regular rhythm of daylight and darkness. When crossing time zones causes it to encounter these at times it considers to be wrong, the body clock is thrown out of sync and will pump out hormones and chemicals, which disrupt sleep patterns – resulting in both physical and mental fatigue for many days.
How long will it last?
The length of time that jet lag lasts varies from person to person, but accepted recovery times are one day per time zone for eastbound flights, or one day per 1.5 time zones for westbound flights. Put simply, this means flying back from Gatwick to Sydney will take 11 days to fully recover from jet lag, while getting over the flight home to Gatwick Airport will take just seven days.
Don’t panic… How to beat jet lag
Looking at these recovery times, it seems many flyers will be on their way home and racking up more jet lag before they’ve recovered from the outbound dose. Don’t panic though, our jet lag-busting tips will help to reduce its effects and ensure your trip doesn’t just consist of dozy days and wakeful nights.
Before you fly…
Have more sleep
Make sure you are fully rested before you fly. This will help you fight jet lag, while also boosting your immune system, which will become vulnerable to infections such as colds and flu during periods of jet lag. More importantly, being well rested will help you stay up until ‘bedtime’ in the country you’re flying to.
Introduce sleep markers
Have you got a song that helps you drift off to sleep, or perhaps you always read before going to bed. Once you’re at your destination, these ‘sleep’ markers can help fool your body clock and prompt it into sleep mode. This will help you acclimatize to the local time zone and speed up jet lag recovery times. If you don’t have a sleep ‘marker’, start introducing one a few weeks before you travel. Try doing a crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or even counting sheep before you fall back onto the pillow – yes it really does work.
Change sleep times
A few days before you fly, start to get up and go to bed earlier than normal if you are travelling east, or later if you’re flying west. Shift times by half an hour a day over the week before you fly. This will help mitigate the time ‘shift’ as you blast through international time zones.
Plan a stop-over
If time allows, including an overnight stop-over on your flight is a great way to cut the effects of jet lag. Alternatively, if you’re just stopping for a short airport transit, use airport facilities to have a shower or swim, this will reinvigorate your body and make you feel less tired on your arrival.
During the flight…
Reset your watch
The first thing to do as you step on your plane is set your watch to your destination’s time zone. This will help you and your brain prepare for the new sleep, wake cycle. It will also counter some of the confusion and disorientation caused by jet lag. You’ll know when you should – and shouldn’t – be sleeping. Use this world clock tool to work out the correct time.
Dehydration will make the effects of jet lag seem more intense, so keeping properly hydrated will speed up your recovery. Avoid salty airline meals – go for salad or vegetable-based options – and say no to salty snacks. Drink plenty of water, but shun alcohol, and limit tea and coffee because these are all diuretics. Buy a large bottle of spring water – after you’ve cleared security – because cabin staff might be too busy to bring regular drinks throughout the flight. Don’t worry about extra trips to the loo, keeping active is vital on long flights to fight the risk of DVT.
Many people find it difficult to sleep on planes, so make sure you prepare before you go. Pack eyeshades, noise-cancelling headphones and a collection of relaxing tracks on your iPod. Try taking audio books for the kids, too.
Another reason that people find it hard to sleep on planes is down to seating position. Sitting in an aisle or middle seat will result in constant disruptions, so try to secure a window seat if you’re travelling alone, or an entire row for your family.
Top tip: There are many reasons why your seat might be keeping you awake, so visit seatguru.com where you can enter your flight number and get a seat map of the plane you’re flying in and a rating for each seat. Use this information to pre-book seats for you and your family.
When you arrive…
Firstly, don’t head to bed as soon as you arrive – try to make it as close to the ‘local’ bedtime as possible. This will start to reset your body clock and ease the effects of jet lag. If you do need to sleep, stick to naps of no more than 45 minutes (see our guide to napping). Overall, try to get as much sleep in every 24-hour period as you normally would at home. Getting a block of four hours’ sleep, which is called ‘anchor sleep’, will help you readjust to the local time zone.
The cycle of dark and light is central to resetting your body clock, so make sure you get some daylight on your arrival. Getting outside in the light and taking some exercise will stimulate your body and help the body clock adapt to its new time zone. You should also leave your sunglasses off for the first day – this will allow you to soak up more natural light – and make it through to bedtime.
Alternatively, if you’re trying to get some sleep, avoid looking at laptops or smartphones immediately before going to bed, the blue-hue from the screen is perfect for fooling the brain into thinking it’s daytime – making it even more difficult to drop off.
For visits of less than three or four days, it will probably make sense to remain on UK time – keeping meetings, eating and sleeping as close as possible to when you’d do them at home. This will help avoid any prolonged effects of jet lag.
How to nap
Heading to bed the moment you reach your hotel is jet lag suicide. You must wait until local bedtime before having extended sleep, but taking a nap is okay and will help keep you going. Here’s our guide to successful napping…
1) No more than 45 minute: Napping for 45 minutes or less will enhance alertness, concentration, improve mood and sharpen your motor skills. If you’re on business, naps will boost creative thinking, too. A top tip is to drink a cup of coffee immediately before you nap. Sounds odd, but caffeine takes up to 30 minutes to take effect, so you should wake up feeling alert and ready to go. However, sleeping for more than 45 minutes puts you into ‘slow-wave’ sleep, which will leave you feeling groggy and disorientated when you wake.
2) The perfect nap: Here’s how to prepare for that all-important nap…
a) Set an alarm so you don’t oversleep.
b) Lie down… it takes up to 50% longer to fall asleep when sitting in an upright position.
c) Cover yourself in a light blanket, but make sure it’s not too heavy and warm or this will promote longer, deeper sleep.
d) Darken the room, or use eyeshades.
e) Calm your breathing and relax muscles starting from your feet and moving upwards.
f) Relax your mind by imagining a favourite walk, or even counting sheep…
Jet lag-beating tools and tips
Preparing a jet lag strategy of when to wake and sleep isn’t easy, so we’ve put together a collection of online tools to help.
British Airways jet lag calculator: Simply enter a few details and times, and then let the BA calculator do the rest.
British Airways jet lag calculator
Dr Sleep podcasts: BA’s Dr Sleep has recorded podcasts to help flyers improve their sleep and get over jet lag.
British Airways Dr Sleep podcasts
Jet Lag Jenie smartphone app: This £1.99 smartphone app creates a customized plan for your trip and is based on your specific flight information and sleeping patterns. It will supply daily lists of calls to action, including live notifications of times to wake, sleep, get sunshine, sit in the dark and take a nap.
Get Jet Lag Jenie here
Jet lag gadgets
Want some extra help to beat jet lag? Check out these gadgets that claim to do just that.
AirSleep app: A relaxation app that is designed specifically for use on planes. The audio tunes-out cabin noise and allows you to glide into a deep relaxing sleep, apparently.
Get AirSleep here
Hoodie Pillow: A fleecy pillow that is integrated into a hood. A great way to get comfortable and grab some sleep while flying. Use the drawstring to create your personal cocoon. It cost £24.99 and comes in various colours.
Get the Hoodie Pillow here
Re Timer glasses: The device is worn like glasses and uses a green light that mimics the pattern of the sun, so users – its manufacturers claim – can reset their body clock and avoid jet lag. They cost from around £150.
Get the Re Timer glasses here
Noise-cancelling headsets: Noise-cancelling headsets are a long-haul flyer’s best friend. Block out talkative passengers, crying babies and general cabin noise with the click of a button. You can either enjoy the silence or listen to your favourite tracks. Pay anything from £20 to £250+.
Head to Google and search out a set to suit your budget.
Valkee Bright Light Headset: The Valkee device was devised by boffins in Finland – where they know all about lack of daylight – and is designed to deliver light to the brain through the ear canal. It might sound like pure science fiction, but the device is used by Finnish airline Finnair to help passengers combat jet lag. It costs around £165.
Get the Valkee headset here
1Above® flight drink: A drink that is claimed to be specially formulated for air travellers. It combines hydration and vitamin B, which will help you stave off the effects of jet lag on your arrival.