A lot of people seem to be haunted by jet lag after some time abroad. This is a situation that you definitely want to avoid. Having had a great holiday, conference or just some travelling around the world you absolutely don’t want to come back home and have to feel like a zombie several days after your arrival. But there is a way how you can at least try to avoid jet lag and have a great homecoming ;-).
I’m not a full-time traveller but have been flying around the world a couple of times now and NEVER EVER have I had jet lag in my entire life *knockonwood*. So because I didn’t want to break my good luck and you can always help your faith (if someone believes in faith) a little bit, we have a way how to avoid jet lag as good as possible.
Of course it always depends on your personal situation, it’s different from person to person and you always have to take in account what you did the day/night before your flight. But still there is a way how you can at least try to minimise jet lag if not even avoid it.
What is jet lag?
Before we start talking about how to avoid it lets make a short summary of what it really is.
“Jet lag, medically referred to as desynchronosis and rarely as circadian dysrhythmia, is a physiological condition which results from alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms resulting from rapid long-distance trans-meridian (east–west or west–east) travel on high-speed aircraft. The condition of jet lag may last several days before the traveller is fully adjusted to the new time zone; a recovery period of one day per time zone crossed is a suggested guideline.”
In other words your body is totally confused because if you travel for example from Vienna to Singapore leaving Vienna at 3pm you will arrive in Singapore at 3pm local time, which will be 9 am Vienna local time (GMT+1). This is a real example with a 4:45h stop in Dubai, which isn’t really bad especially when there are also flights with a total travel time of 25:20h instead of the suggested 17:55h.
So leaving Vienna at 3pm is somehow nice, you can still pack your things on the same day and have enough time to arrive at the airport on time, even using public transportation. But the thing is that after 5:40h you will arrive in Dubai and will have to get of the plane and wait at the airport for 4:45 h. Which basically means that your body will still be set to Vienna time and you will have to spend the time between 8:40pm and 0:45am at the airport. Of course you can try to get some sleep, but honestly that sleep is never really restful. After your 4:45h at the Dubai airport (which btw I‘ve never been to) you will have to mount yourself onto the new plane and go for another 7:30h to Singapore.
Remember — you haven’t really slept until now, although your body is really claiming some sleep — after all it is in the middle of the night (at least in Vienna).
So you get on the plane, listen to all that jabber jabber they are telling you (I know, it is important to know how to behave in an emergency case) and you are only counting the seconds until you finally can move your seat back and lay down to at least get a little bit of sleep. So after another 30 min your first attempt to find some rest fails miserably, because guess what … the family with the child that just doesn’t want to sit still is sitting right next to you 😉 There goes your restful 7 hours of your flight to Singapore. But even if there wouldn’t be any family with children next to you — getting a handful of sleep on a plane is reserved for only a couple of people, who are able to really do this. So even if you get some sleep, you will arrive in Singapore at 3pm local time (equals 9am Vienna time on the following day), which basically means that you have been up all night and are not allowed to go to bed until 10pm which means for at least 7 more hours. And that is the really hard part, because most people don’t survive those 7 hours without a nap — and that is exactly the moment were you screw your inner clock totally up and you can be sure to have jet lag for the next couple of days. So lying down at 3pm in your hotel room will automatically result in waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go to sleep again. Which means that the next day, when you should be enjoying your holiday or your trip, you will be absolutely tired in the middle of the day!
Why do people get jet lag?
Basically travelling across several time zones confuses your body. Your internal body clock will be out of synch with the new time zone you travelled to. This happens because your body experiences daylight and darkness in contrary to the rhythm it has grown used to.
So your body and your mind have a different rhythm on when to sleep, eat, be awake or be tired than what the new environment you are settled in dictates.
The duration on how long your body needs to adjust to the new environment and the new time zone depends on yourself and also on the direction you were travelling. Some people say that travelling from West to East is easier to adjust to than travelling the other way round — East to West.
What are the symptoms of jet lag?
I count myself to those lucky people who never ever *knockonwood* have had jet lag before. And listening to all the people who had jet lag before I’m really happy that my body somehow manages to get along with all different time zone changes that I put it through. Going West-to-East, East-to-West, in the morning or in the night doesn’t bother my body at all.
But honestly said I’m not sure if it’s only because my inner clock can adjust really quickly or because during our last couple of travels (while skipping more than 3 time zones) we have been trying to find the best flight time for our specific requirements. Even when the flight would be a little bit more expensive. But adding € 100 to your flight may be less expensive than losing 1-3 days while being on holiday and staying in a € 50/night hotel while fighting your jet lag.
The symptoms that I read about or people told me about differ from person to person but there are some that seem to be very common.
Jet lag symptoms:
- sleep disturbance
- trouble falling asleep (when flying east)
- trouble with early awakening (when flying west)
- increased fatigue, headaches and irritability
- lack of interest
- concentration issues
3 steps how to avoid jet lag?
As already mentioned the jet lag issues vary from person to person and also on your flight direction — West-to-East or East-to-West — but there are some things that might help you to decrease jet lag or even avoid it in general.
#1 Book the right flight
If searching for a flight, we always try to find one with as less switching as possible. Switching the planes and especially long transfer times can be really exhausting. So we find it better to book a bit more expensive flight but have the comfort of a shorter total travel time and less switching.
The other thing that we look for while booking a flight is the departure and arrival time.For us it is always better to have a longer day than to have a shorter day. Everybody sometimes stays up a little bit longer than usual, no matter if it’s because of an exam you have to study for or a wedding you are having a great time at. People are used to having ”longer” days from time to time.
But having a shorter day and having to force yourself to go to sleep just after a couple of daytime hours is almost always not possible — at least not without medication.
So we are always trying to get flights that will bring us overnight to our new destination. There we will just have to survive very little time awake before going to bed ”at a decent local time”.
Our last flight from Vienna to Krabi was leaving Vienna at 11:20pm, making a stop in Bangkok from 3:20-6:20 pm (local time) and arriving in Krabi at 7:45pm. This resulted in us having a reeeeaaaaally long day with just a little sleep on the plane from Vienna to Bangkok.
BUT the good thing was that we arrived at our final destination in the evening at 9pm — we had to take a private transport to get to Koh Lanta, which was another 2h drive. So the only thing that we had to do after arriving at our accommodation was receiving our keys, listening to some instructional advice, fishing our PJs out of our luggage and going to bed — at a decent local time. So we slept the whole night and were awake at a normal morning hour.
Good Bye jet lag, Good Morning Koh Lanta!
To sum up: Either you can manage to book your flight so that you can go pretty soon to bed, because you will be exhausted. Or if you can’t you have to occupy yourself to stay awake as long as possible to go to bed at a decent local time.
#2 Adapt for sleeping on a plane
If you know that your travel time will be long and you will have to spend some time on airports, try to pack some things that will make your life easier and more comfortable.
Pack your toothbrush
What I always have with me, especially on longer flights is a tooth brush. Even if you fall asleep only for a couple of hours it is always nice to have the fresh kind of feeling you get after brushing your teeth. It also wakes you up and tells your body that it is day time. So while going back from Singapore to Vienna with a layover in Zurich at 6:10am I was really glad to have packed my tooth brush for a quick freshening up.
The same applies to some face washing stuff and maybe even a shirt to change.
Grab your hoodie
I really don’t know why I seam to be the only person that is always cold on planes. But after a horrible flight from Vienna to Boston, where it seemed that even the stewardess had put on their jackets and I landed in Boston ill, I tend to always put on some extra clothes when travelling by plane. A hoodie is always a good idea because you can also protect your head from a stubborn air-con ventilation if needed.
Wear your glasses
I once made the mistake to have had worn my contacts while being on a longer flight. That was a big mistake. After sleeping just for a couple of hours my eyes hurt like hell and I was not able to get my contacts out because I didn’t have my lens case with me. So from that day on I’m always flying with my glasses on.
Have your tissues
No matter if you need it to blow your nose or you are travelling to a country where it is normal to ”shower” your but after going to the toilette, it is always a good idea to have some tissues with you.
#3 Keep yourself occupied on arrival
In comparison to our last flight from Vienna to Bangkok, we didn’t have such a good flight coming back to Vienna. Our flight from Singapore was at 11:10pm with a layover in Zurich from 6:10-7:40am (local time) and an arrival time in Vienna at 9:10am. That is a situation that can be really hard to survive without jet lag.
After such a long flight and probably without a lot of sleep you are really tired and exhausted but the local time tells you that you have to be up for at least 12 more hours. So the thing that we did was trying to keep ourselves occupied. My sister and her husband were so kind to pick us up from the airport. That was not only a really nice and helpful gesture, because after a 17 hours travel you really don’t want to drag all your luggage through Vienna by public transportation. But it also helped us to stay awake. They brought us home and we had the possibility to catch up on the most important things during a 4 hour chit chat and a lot of coffee 😉
So after they left our sleepy selves at 1pm we still had some time to stay awake — but don’t worry — we had plans for that time period as well. So the next appointment was settled for 3pm — grabbing some late lunch or early dinner with my parents. With enough time to grab a shower and make the first laundry, there was no time to even think about falling asleep.
We got picked up by my parents, went for late lunch/early dinner, had some great time and got back home at around 7pm.
So now we had to survive only around 2 more hours of not falling asleep. And I have to admit that it was really hard, but poking each other and making laundry kept us awake until around 9:30pm, which is a quite decent time to go to bed.
Next day we woke up at around 6am and had a fantastic day without any signs of jet lag.
Jet lag free travelling
I think that it is possible to minimise jet lag or even avoid it totally when you put a little thought into planning your flights. So good luck with your next flight and happy jet lag free travelling 😉