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The Myth of beating Jet Lag

The Myth of beating Jet Lag

I just read yet another article on beating jet lag.

As a traveller who does roughly 3 long-haul international trips a year – for the last 25 years – I have some experience in this. Not as much as others, but some.

Beating jet lag is a myth.

There, I’ve said it. Its the truth, that no-one will tell you. They have too much invested in portraying it as beatable.

You cannot avoid jet lag. We all get it. We adjust best from East to West travel and worst for West to East. Travelling East causes more problems than travelling West because the body clock has to be advanced, which is more difficult for the majority of humans than delaying it.

a seat belt with seat belts and arrows

Ok – now that I’ve said beating jet lag is a myth, I suppose you will want me to back up my claim. Alrighty then:

Set your Watch to the Timezone of your destination

This is the kind of thing that is alright in theory, but a load of shit in practice.

What if it is midnight at your destination just as you arrive at the airport for your flight? You are already an hour or two late for your usual bedtime, and you still have at least an hour for checking in and getting through security, an hour of boarding, and an hour on the plane before you can recline your seat. By then its 3 am at your destination, and god-knows-what-time at your departure point.

Do you sleep for 4 hours so you are up at 7 am at your destination, and sleep deprived, or do you try and sleep for 7 or 8 hours, and thus be ‘sleeping in’ at your destination?

What about meals?

If you are down the back half of the plane, someone will clank past you with a trolley, just as your nodding off. If you are fortunate to be up the front, and your airline and class of service runs a ‘dine on demand’ catering concept, then you have more of a chance. However – in my experience ‘dine on demand’ is more of a concept than an actuality. Show the slightest hesitation, and your meal will come out at the convenience of the staff, rather than at the time of your request.

Alter your body clock in the lead up to your trip

Under this regime, you start to gradually alter your sleep and wake time to match your destination in the days leading up to your trip.

Again this is good in theory, but with a time change of around 9 hours between Australia and Europe, the recommendation is to try and shift a time zone (let’s call it an hour) a day – so you would need to start 9 or 10 days prior to departure. By the day of departure, you would be going to bed when you are normally waking up (at 7 in the morning, you would be going to bed as if it were 10 pm the night before).

Unless you are self-employed, or on holiday – the practicality of making such a change is zero!

Expose yourself to sunlight to help you adjust

Now, this is partially helpful – but you can do bugger all about this until you arrive at your destination.

Have you tried to expose yourself to sunlight on a plane? First, you will have mutinous other passengers on your flight (including me) asking you to ‘Shut that f*%king blind’, or the flight attendants will ‘encourage’ you to close your window. And by ‘encourage’, I mean lean over and slap it closed themselves if you don’t obey their initial polite request.

So, I’ve told you what amounts to useless voodoo advice – so what actually works . . .

a woman speaking into a microphone with a group of children


In contradiction to Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just say no‘ campaign – when it comes to Jetlag, say ‘yes’ to drugs.

Don’t wait until you are overseas – do a drug test before you leave. You don’t want to find out that a certain prescription sleeping pill (Stillnox or Ambien) makes you cook a three-course meal in the middle of the night. Or you could try those sleep-inducing antihistamines or melatonin (over-the-counter in the USA, on prescription in Australia). They all work, it’s just a matter of what works for you. And if you are not up for the drugs then . . .


If I have to read one more Traveller Q&A article in the Australian Financial Review Life & Leisure section where some CEO says they

‘don’t drink on the flight so they stay fresh for meetings’,

I say

‘pull the other one’.

One of the joys of flying is drinking well (fine champagne), and drinking often (they bring it to you!), not to mention that you are in a kind of time machine, that means the sun is over the yardarm somewhere in the world.

In Aircraft – old is bad, new is good

Modern carbon fibre composite aircraft – like the Boeing 787, or the Airbus A350 and A380 have higher cabin pressures and humidity than older aircraft like Boeing 777 and 747’s. Most passengers say they feel a lot better after flights in the cabins of these newer aircraft. It’s certainly true for me. In older aircraft – I seem to end up with a bit of a dull headache, whereas on these new aircraft, that doesn’t happen, even after having had a few too many champagne cocktails!

Take your Time

This is my advice. Give yourself time to adjust on arrival at your destination. Don’t load yourself up with obligations, meetings, and events. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but that parental do-gooder type of advice, like ‘Do some exercise.’ or ‘Get out in the sun.’ is actually true. Damn it! Exercise, in general, will make you feel better, and sun exposure will help reset your circadian rhythms.

Pick your Flights

Timing your flights can also help. If you have the time, doing a trip by sector with overnight layovers in between is a great idea – especially if you time your flights to reflect your adjustment to your final destinations time zone.

One of my beefs with airlines is the return sector from Asia to Australia. Most airlines only provide overnight flights to Australia from Asian destinations like Bali. The flight time is a little over 6 hours, and they usually leave around midnight. There is no way you can get a proper nights sleep, even if you skip meals and entertainment on the flight to get maximum sleep – its still only going to be about 4 or 5 hours, tops.

Although Australian airlines (Qantas and Virgin Australia) don’t tend to offer daytime flights from Asian destinations, Asian airlines do – so try Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific, or even Malaysian. The downside is that these usually leave their Asian ports very early (7 to 9 am), which can involve a 4 am start to your day.

a woman in a bathrobe standing in a bathroom

Final Advice

My last piece of advice is – have a shower at every stopover. I deliberately race to whatever lounge I have access to, and have a shower and change my clothes – especially on those nearly 24-hour trip to Europe from Australia. I go from stunned mullet – out of time and space, to something more human for at least a few hours.

I’ve never flown in Emirates 1st Class – but that seems the whole point of having showers in their A380’s.


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