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Sleep hacks to help you deal with holiday jet lag

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Whether you are travelling on holiday or for business, jetting off to the other side of the world  or even country you are more than likely be affected by jet lag.

What is jet lag?

Jet lag is when your normal sleep pattern is disrupted after a long flight.  This happens as your body tries to adjust to the new time zone you have arrived in.  It is extremely common event.  

The reason your body finds it hard to adjust is because there has been a misalignment between the timing of your body’s internal clock of your body and the new time zones of the country you have flown in to.

Your body’s internal clock is also known as your circadian rhythm.  Basically when your body is ready to sleep or indeed waken your brain gets cues from your environment to let it know it is time to sleep or time to get up.  Your external environment determines your sleep cycle.  No wonder I find it so hard to get up in the winter when it is dark – my body is telling me I should still be sleeping!  Our brain relies on the sun coming up and the brightness to let it know it is time to get up or dark to tell it it is time to sleep.  It is a well known fact that those who live the furthest north or indeed the furthest south suffer from sleep disorders such as excessive sleep during the winter as well as depression related to the seasons.

I get so excited flying but it can also be stressful especially if you are travelling across time zones.

When flying long distances your body is in one time zone based on the light cues you were receiving and then finds it in another time zone with different cues.  This mixes things up for your brain and your circadian cues. 

What are the symptoms of jet lag?

The most important to say that jet lag is common and that some of us will experience jet lag that has minimal symptoms while others may have severe symptoms.  Below I’ve listed some of the symptoms you may experience: 

  • General feeling of illness which you can’t quite put your finger on it
  • A wave of tiredness that you can’t seem to shift
  • Finding it hard to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Waking at all hours especially very early
  • Lack of energy and alertness 
  • Feeling irritable and lack of concentration
  • Health issues such as digestive problems

Remember that the symptoms vary from one individual to the other so you may experience one, all or even none.  If you are travelling east you will have difficulty falling asleep and travelling west means you will have difficulty maintaining sleep. 

Another factor in having jet lag and that’s the aircraft itself.  Unfortunately the cramped conditions on the plane, the very poor air quality that circulates throughout the flight and the lower humidity all result in our bodies dehydrating during the flight.  This can also contribute to your jet lag. 

Ah economy class, it can sometimes feel like we are cattle!

How long does jet lag last?

This really depends on the individual however you can get these symptoms up to several days after you land as your body gets used to the new time zone.  This could take longer to recover especially if you are older as the circadian cycle of an older person is slower so would take longer to adjust. 

Hacks to help you deal with jet lag

So while I’m saying that it will take time to get over your symptoms of jet lag, there are some steps you can take to reduce the impact of the symptoms on you and your body.  Below I’ve listed several hacks to help you deal with jet lag, things you can do before, during and after your travel.  

Hacks before you fly

  • If you are flexible with your flights try you best to book a flight that goes through the night so you can sleep on the plane.  I have a blog post dedicated to how to sleep on a plain with some great tips if you’d like to read that here.  
  • Your best option for the flight is a window seat where you can lean against it with your pillow and get the rest you need.  Of course if you can upgrade to the seats with wider leg room is another bonus and allows you to stretch out and sleep your way through the flight. Our flight from San Francisco to London was a nightmare as we were too close to the restrooms.  The queue went past our seats because we had aisle ones. We got zero rest or sleep that flight but at lease we were heading home. 
  • If you can you could adjust your own personal schedule before you fly.  A few days before you go, change your bed time by 1 hour each evening so if you are travelling east then go to bed earlier and if you are travelling west go to bed later.  That will start to get your body adjusted to the new time zone you are heading to. 
Preparation is key to helping to keep jet lag to a minimum.

Hacks on the day of your flight

  • Leave plenty of time for packing and getting your documents together, make a list of things you need to remember including things you need to unplug and turn off!  That way you will be stress free for your flight. 
  • Make sure you are well rested before you travel, also make sure you are stress free.  You could try having a bath the night before, doing something relaxing and preparing well in advance for your flight.  
  • Being comfortable on your flight is important as you will be there for a number of hours.  You don’t want to sit there with tight jeans but at the same time you don’t want to be sitting there in your pjs!  Opt for something that is loose fitting and you feel comfortable in.  I would also recommend wearing a pair of comfortable shoes too such as sneakers.  Something that you can loosen the laces but don’t take off because if your feet swell you will never get them on again!
  • Bring with you anything that will help you sleep, if you aren’t sure what you might need head over to my list to see what items would make you feel more comfortable sleeping on a plane. 
  • Healthy eating and drinking water is good for you so make sure you do this and lay off the alcohol as it will make you dehydrated. 
Window seats are so much better than aisle and much better away from the rest rooms!

Hacks for when you are on the plane

  • Sleep cycles are very important so if you are not able to get the overnight flight don’t sleep for more than 30 minutes each time.  This is because if you head in to deep sleep you will feel like a bear with a sore head when you do waken up, it will also impact on your sleep pattern..  If you want to read up on your sleep cycles then head over to this fantastic post on sleep cycles and how to improve them.
  • Another reason to wear something comfortable on your feet is to help you get up and walk up and down the aisles and to stretch.  Sitting still is very bad on your back, your muscles and not to mention it can cause blood clots.  So get up and keep yourself moving as much as you can.  
  • If you are able to get some rest on the flight make sure you keep your seat belt on, and that it is clearly visible to flight crew.  This means you can sleep soundly knowing you won’t be disturbed should the plane hit turbulence and they want you to put your seat belt on.  
  • As soon as you get on the plane change your watch/time to the city you are going to.  This will help you adjust to the time zone.  
Ah hotel rooms, never as good as your own bed!

Hacks for after the flight

  • One of the toughest things when you first reach your destination is fitting in with the new time schedule of others.  However by sticking to what others are doing such as sleeping when it’s night and eating when it’s time will help you adjust.  If you feel you really want to sleep when you arrive then take a power nap and then head outside in to the light to get your body to waken up. 
  • Some people opt to take a melatonin tablet to help them sleep. This really is up to you but studies have shown that they are effective for treating jet lag.  
  • Walking outside when you arrive is a great way to get your body used to the new time zone plus it has an added benefit of exercise that will help you sleep later.  Exercise is great for giving you that extra energy burst if you want to refrain from sleeping until it is time to do so. 

Just remember jet lag is time limited so it will be gone before you know it although it is a right annoyance especially if you are ready to enjoy your holiday.  Also be aware that it will take a few days to get rid of jet lag depending on how many time zones you have crossed.  

Hacks for sleeping at your destination

As well as dealing with the effects of jet lag, you can also improve your sleep while you are holiday too to ensure you get the rest you need while on holiday.  Below I’ve listed some hacks to help you.  

  • Each morning go for a walk, not only will this set you up for a great day it will help to regulate your body clock to the new location.  Exercise will also help you sleep soundly at night too.  
  • You may feel anxious about the travel you have just completed or the jet lag but stick to the schedule in your destination knowing that the effects will only last a few days.
  • Stay clear of caffeine and too much alcohol during your trip and make sure you stay hydrated.  
  • Bring a notebook with you and write down any thing that is worrying  you before you head to bed so that your mind is stress-free.  
  • Bring ear plugs, diffusers and oils with you that you would normally use in your bedtime routine so you can continue with that routine while on holiday. 
  •  Adjust the thermostat to a cool setting to ensure a sleep free from hot flashes! 

I hope these hacks will help you deal with jet lag no matter where you are going or how many time zones you jump.  

Happy holiday and happy dreaming!

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