Leaving on a Jet Plane, Don’t Know When I’ll be Back Again

Summer vacation is approaching.  Many families have been anticipating a break from the school and work schedules.  This is not the time for biorhythmic confusion. If you’re planning a trip which involves traveling through multiple time zones, you can’t avoid jet lag. Studies have found that it takes a full day to recover from each time zone you travel through. Our bodies are naturally programmed to do a number of things throughout a 24-hour period, such as eating and sleeping. These built-in routines are known as circadian rhythms, and when we fly they’re thrown into disarray. Moving through time zones can play havoc with our bodies. This can lead to extreme fatigue along with indigestion, bowel problems, loss of appetite, memory and concentration issues. Not a great way to start a long awaited time off! There are some common sense steps to lessen these effects.


Knowing how to prepare for a long-haul flight can mean you start your vacation feeling fresh, rather than fatigued. If you’re someone with a rigid schedule at home, try to relax that schedule during the days before your flight. Having a rigid routine of eating and sleeping will make it harder to adjust to new time zones. If you’re flexible about such arrangements, you’ll start your trip abroad with a major advantage. A Rick Steve’s Travel Tip from his popular PBS travel show shares, “An early-trip cold used to be a regular part of my vacation until I learned this very important trick: Plan from the start as if you’re leaving two days before you really are. Keep that last 48-hour period sacred (apart from your normal work schedule), even if it means being hectic before your false departure date. Then you have two orderly, peaceful days after you’ve packed so that you are physically ready to fly. Mentally, you’ll be comfortable about leaving home and starting this adventure. You’ll fly away well rested and 100 percent capable of enjoying the bombardment of your senses that will follow.”


People often end up having slept for just a few hours before a long flight. This can be blamed on pre-vacation excitement or a deliberate attempt to tire yourself out so that you’ll sleep through the flight. Last minute changes to your routine will only make it harder to adjust to new time zones.  Getting a good night’s sleep before your flight will leave you better equipped to cope with jet lag.


If possible, opt for a flight which arrives in the daylight hours. This will make it easier to stay awake – you’ll be much more tempted to get out and explore if the sun’s shining and you’ve got a full day ahead of you. There is an  expression that says, west is best, east is a beast.  If flying east, fly early in the day; if flying west, fly later in the day. This is because you’ll end up trying to get to sleep when your body is actually waking up, meaning you’re forced to get up at what feels like the middle of the night. To put it another way, your body is better equipped to cope with a longer day than a shorter one.


A350s and A380s are two of the best planes designed with  jet lag in mind.  Hi-tech humidification systems help the air retain moisture and LED lighting systems capable of creating 16.7 million shades of color simulate natural phases of the day, helping stave off jet lag. Another helpful design element is an air purification system which renews the air every two minutes.


Try and build in a stopover, so your body has more time to adapt to the new routine. This might even reduce the price of your airfare.


Tempting though it is to kick off your vacation with a pre-flight drink, the effects of alcohol at altitude will increase tiredness and cause dehydration, making it even harder to beat the inevitable jet lag. Tip your glass in celebration once you arrive at your destination.


Relying on sleeping pills for long-haul flights is not recommended, especially if you’ve never used them before. They’ll do nothing to assist your recovery from jet lag and may leave you feeling fuzzy when you land.


Avoid caffeine-heavy beverages such as coffee, cola and energy drinks. These artificial stimulants will affect your ability to sleep and increase jet lag recovery time. Your body functions best when it’s hydrated, so drinking lots of water is a great way to offset the effects of jet lag.


When you get on the plane, set your watch to the time of your destination to get yourself psychologically aligned.


Move around regularly and do exercises to keep the blood flowing.  One of the most common effects of jet lag is DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). Good circulation is key. Investing in a pair of flight socks will minimize the risk of DVT and improve circulation.


Try your best to start eating three meals a day based on the new time zone. So what if you’re having breakfast at 11 pm!


Get as much daylight as you can. Daylight makes you feel better. Unless you’ve been up all night. Which is never, ever a good idea before a long flight. Jet lag hates fresh air, daylight, and exercise.


Do some exercise to boost your endorphins and stretch out the kinks which develop on long haul flights. Most airline magazines will have a section illustrating exercises which can be done easily in your seat or aisle during a long flight.


Try to get as much sleep as you normally would in a 24-hour period – make up any shortfall with a short snooze on the day of arrival, if necessary. On arrival, stay awake until an early local bedtime. Plan a good walk until early evening. Your body may beg for sleep, but fight the urge. You’ll need to force your body’s rhythm to the local time. Your first morning in the new time zone you’ll more than likely wake up early.  Don’t try to force yourself to “sleep in.” Get up and enjoy the sunrise!