JETLAG: Remedies are fairly much bunkum. But here are some tips.
I just read yet another article on beating jet lag. It regurgitated the usual ‘advice’ about time shifting and adopting the time at your destination at the start or even before your departure. This is not that article, but it is a good general overview of the whole JetLag issue and ‘solutions’.
As a traveller who, up until COVID-19, did roughly three long-haul international trips a year – for the last 25 years – I have some experience in this. Not as much as others, but some.
Content of this Post:
Beating jet lag is a myth.
There, I’ve said it. It’s the truth that no one will tell you. They have invested too much in portraying it as beatable.
You cannot avoid jet lag. We all get it to a greater or lesser extent. 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 most humans than delaying it.
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 kind of thing 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 it’s 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, 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 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 before departure. By the day of departure, you would be going to bed when you normally wake up (at 7 in the morning, you would go 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 . . .
In contradiction to Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just say no‘ campaign – when it comes to Jetlag, I say ‘yes’ to drugs.
Don’t wait until you are overseas – do a road test of your drug of choice before you leave. You don’t want to discover 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’,
‘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 time machine, which means the sun is always 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 advice, like ‘Do some exercise.’ or ‘Get out in the sun.’ is 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 sector by sector with overnight layovers in hotels in between is a great idea – especially if you time your flights to reflect your adjustment to your final destination’s time zone.
Now this advice is sometimes as impossible to observe as the time shifting to your destination, but take daytime flights sector by sector, stay in hotels overnight, and if you travel in, say, Premium Economy rather than Business, then even with the hotel costs, you will almost come out ahead in cost and jetlag. However, it will take more time. It’s often possible to see routes and flights on Google Flights, including long overnight layovers.
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 slightly over 6 hours, and they usually leave around midnight. There is no way you can get a proper night’s sleep, even if you skip meals and entertainment on the flight to get maximum sleep – it’s 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.
My last piece of advice is – to 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 trips 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 to be the point of having showers in their A380s.
Jetlag is unavoidable. Please don’t plan on avoiding it; plan on living with it and reducing its impact on your travel at both ends of your trip.
Advice that impinges on the pleasures to be enjoyed onboard an aircraft, especially if you are travelling in premium cabins is crap. Eat up, and drink up. It’s not often you get to be waited on hand and foot for all your waking hours. Enjoy it, and like a hangover, drink lots of water, exercise, eat something greasy and deal with that jetlag when it arrives.
Another version of this post appeared first in September 2018.
Good post. As you mentioned, most jetlag tips are great in theory and worthless in practice. Do what you need to and enjoy what you can when you can on your flight(s), and work out the other issues when you get to your destination.
Thanks for the compliment. I’m with you on the enjoyment and dealing with jetlag issues on arrival
Living to mimic the destination’s time works. True, it may not be possible to do completely, but even a shift of 2-3 hours can help.