What is jet lag?
Your body works on a 24-hour cycle, known as a circadian rhythms or, more simply, body clock. These rhythms are influenced by exposure to light – sunlight triggers wakefulness; darkness triggers sleepy time – and control your body’s timeline of daily functions, including the production of the hormones that send you off to dreamland or keep you alert. When you travel across time zones, your body clock takes a while to adjust because it’s working off an internal clock acclimatised to your home country.
Depending on the time difference, that internal clock might have counted 12 hours and think it’s 9pm and ready to wind down, when the time is actually 12pm and you’re about to head out for lunch.
What the Research found
The 2017 study, conducted by Qantas Airlines and the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre saw researchers from a variety of fields – including nutrition, physical activity, sleep and complex systems modelling – joining forces to find ways to limit the impact of long-haul flying on your body clock.
While they didn’t find a cure for jet lag, they did find tweaks that will help lessen its effects by helping travellers acclimatise to the destination timezone. Quantas implemented the findings into their long-haul flights and so far, feedback from passengers has been positive. Dr Steve Simpson, director of the Charles Perkins Centre in Australia gave us the low-down on how to use these hacks in your own travel…
1. Change your bedtime.
The aim is to shift your internal clock up to 90 minutes a day for several days before you fly. Flying East? Go to bed progressively earlier – aim for 15 minutes earlier each night in the week leading up to your trip. Heading West? Aim to hit the sack progressively later.
2. Skip the dinky-drinks.
Drinking alcohol on your flight can make you drowsy, inhibiting your natural sleep-wake cycle that you’ve been training so carefully. It also has a dehydrating effect, which has been shown to worsen jet lag.
3. Just water, please.
While you’re at it, pass on coffee and spicy food, too, both of which can have a stimulating effect, causing you to stay awake when you should be snoozing. But make sure you drink plenty of water.
4. Have the chicken.
Especially if it’s served with pasta or rice. One of findings from the study was that airline meals in carbs and tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in poultry, prompt the body to produce the sleep hormone melatonin and relaxing brain chemical, serotonin, sending you to sleep at appropriate times.
5. Go for a walk.
Moving around the cabin will help with blood circulation, so you feel fresher when you reach your destination.
6. Control your environment.
Exposure to sunlight triggers your body to wake up, while darkness prompts it to sleep. When you reach your destination, make a point of opening your curtains to flood your hotel room with light as soon as you wake up. At night time, avoid screens at least an hour before bed and make sure curtains are drawn tightly so the room is dark.
Cold temps also promote sleep. If your room as an air-con, keep it on at night and have a hot shower or bath just before bed – the drop in body temperature mimics your body’s natural lowering body temperature as you fall asleep and will help send you into that slumber state.