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Take the drag out of jet lag

A man strolling to check in at an airport/FILE

A man strolling to check in at an airport/FILE

Jet lag is a perennial problem for travellers crossing time zones, but by following some simple tips there are ways to kiss goodnight the worst effects of flight-induced insomnia.

According to Edward Frost, British Airways’ commercial development manager in South and East Africa, understanding what causes jet lag is a good place to start. Deep in your brain is a circadian clock (circ = about and diem = day), a 24-hour master clock that synchronises all the internal systems – the sleep/ wake cycle, levels of alertness, mood and digestion – so they all function smoothly.

Jet lag occurs when the body clock is disrupted by crossing a number of time zones, which puts the body into new patterns of activity more quickly than your internal clock can adjust. The symptoms can include fatigue, disorientation, changes to appetite and digestion and typically an inability to sleep.

Edward says that while it is relatively harmless, jet lag can ruin the first few days of a holiday and play havoc with a hectic business schedule.

Four main factors affect the circadian clock: light, sleep, exercise and food and by manipulating these you can moderate the consequences of crossing time zones.

1. Be well rested before your flight:

Do you best to get a good night’s sleep before you depart. A late night in the office might enable you to finish your presentation, but won’t do you any favours when you have to deliver it. Starting off with a sleep deficit only makes things worse in the long run.

2. Use light to help readjust your body clock:

When there is a mismatch between your internal clock and the actual time, sleep doesn’t start when the body is expecting it to, or you don’t get enough for your needs. As the internal clock is strongly influenced by light, the best way to control jet lag is by the appropriate exposure to or avoidance of light at specific times of the day. There’s a jet lag calculator on which will help you work out the best times to avoid light and expose yourself.

When you’re trying to get to sleep, ensure the room is pitch black. Donning an eye mask such as those provided in the in-flight comfort kits can be the best solution.

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3. Modify your eating habits and exercise routines:

Eating and exercise can both help reset the body clock to a new time zone. It is best to eat little prior to your journey and then start eating according to the new time zone when you arrive. This helps with the adjustment. Exercising between late afternoon and early evening appears to be the optimal time to reset the body clock.

4. Try to avoid interrupted sleep:

If you wake up in the middle of the night and remain awake for an hour or two only to fall asleep again just before it’s time to get up, try going to bed a little later and setting the alarm a little earlier. If you wake up and find you stay awake for longer than 20 minutes, get up and relax somewhere else, only returning to your bed when you feel sleepy again.

It’s also worth remembering that if you have input into the agenda on the business meeting, try to avoid the slot between three to five hours of your home time zone. This is when you’re most likely to be sleepiest and make mistakes.

“Jet lag is manageable if you understand it and take steps to mitigate its consequences. I find it also helps immensely to try and limit stress before and when you travel.  Simple ways to do this include checking-in online before departure, leaving yourself enough time between transfers and packing lightly. Stay hydrated onboard, don’t overdo the caffeine or alcohol and do some stretching exercises,” says Edward.


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