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Leave the lag behind: The frequent flyer's guide to beating jet lag

Leave the lag behind: The frequent flyer's guide to beating jet lag

Crossing time zones can disrupt your body clock long after your flight home. Danielle Fox finds out how to feel fab on landing...

Jet lag. It’s the dreaded downside of international travel that can blight a business trip or vacation. And yet we still don’t have the greatest of understanding about how to tackle it. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that acute disruption of circadian rhythms (our 24 hour body clock) can cause memory problems and long-term changes in our brains. It’s not good for us. Isn’t it time we learned how to manage jet lag the right way?

Adjust your watch

The key is to get yourself into your destination mindset early on. Anticipate the change to your natural rhythms by “adjusting your body clock in advance”, advises Dr Tara Swart, neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If you live in New York and are going to Los Angeles, which is three hours behind, try to go to bed an hour later and sleep in an hour later than usual. “Easing into your destination one-third of the way beforehand will make it easier for you to adjust when you’re there,” she says.

Try some pre-flight yoga

“Yoga is the best way to prepare yourself for long-haul journeys,” says James Duigan, founder of wellness company Bodyism. Whether you do a 10 minute yoga flow sequence before boarding or book into a class before take-off, your body will be far more relaxed and mobile on touchdown. “Flights can be very dehydrating so avoid any intensive workouts where you sweat a lot before flying,” advises Duigan.

Fast on the flight

“Fasting until breakfast time in the new time zone will help re-anchor the body’s rhythms,” says Dr Swart. “When you fast, you override your need to sleep – so you won’t feel tired on landing. I have a light, protein-rich breakfast before travelling and then fast from 12 to 16 hours: I notice positive effects both mentally and physically.” If you have successfully avoided the in-flight meal (which is always heavier in salt than normal because altitude affects taste buds), on landing eat hydrating foods such as cucumber and avocado, and opt for a carb-heavy meal in the evening to help bring about sleep.

Hydrate to stay awake

Forgo that mid-flight glass of wine. “Drinking alcohol can exasperate jet lag. Instead, stave off altitude dehydration by drinking 200ml of bottled spring water every two hours,” says Dr Swart. She also suggests taking a probiotic before, during and after a big trip to counteract any disruptions to your gut’s natural bacteria. Just like sleeping and waking, the body takes time to adapt to different time zones and so does our digestive system – our gut bacteria suffer from jet lag too, as they are used to eating and digesting at certain times.

Cut out caffeine

While it might be tempting to drink coffee throughout the flight in an attempt to stay awake, experts suggest cutting it out by 2pm so you can adjust to the local time zone. “Caffeine stays in your system for six to nine hours and can interfere with a good night’s rest,” says Dr Swart. If a caffeine hit is a non-negotiable, then swap your espresso for green tea.

Take in some sunlight

Exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible in your new time zone helps reset your biological clock to that destination. Depending on whether you’re flying east or west, try to expose yourself to additional light in the morning or evening a few days before flying. (Going east? Expose yourself to morning light. Going west? Find some light in the evening before you go.) If you can’t get outside, artificial light, such as a brightly lit room, also helps – as long as it’s daytime, not night. When on the go, try the travel-sized Lumie Zest lamp, which gives off the white/blue light that boosts energy and productivity levels – perfect for hotel rooms.

Exercise after you arrive

When your body clock is awry, so are your adrenal glands, and you may find that jet lag symptoms worsen two or three days after you arrive. “Exercise is a great way to combat this and a brilliant way to reset, become grounded and more present,” says Duigan. Avoid anything super intensive like HIIT (high intensity interval training) when you touch down, he adds. “Your best post-flight workout is a 20 or 30 minute walk or yoga. Both are a great way to get your body moving, mobilise your joints and stretch out stiff muscles.”

Nap the right way

Day flights are always a better choice than flying at night, to avoid a disruptive sleep cycle – but sometimes it is unavoidable. Meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm and Buddhify are a great way to get over jet lag (just 12 minutes a day can have profound changes), and naps – when done in the right way – can be beneficial. “The ideal nap time is 90 minutes, which is one full sleep cycle,” says Dr Swart. “But make sure you set an alarm to stop going into REM (deep sleep with rapid eye movement) to avoid feeling groggy”.

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